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NYM@PIT: Walker singles home Sanchez to cut deficit

PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole's comeback party on Saturday at PNC Park was well attended. The revelry among partygoers was brief however, as if 38,930 looked at one another and everyone said, "I thought you were bringing the refreshments."

They stayed thirsty for a win, as Cole's early struggles painted the Pirates into a corner they could not get out of, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Mets.

Cole -- in his first game back since he went on the disabled list June 4 with right shoulder fatigue -- appeared to suffer from what could best be described as "game-speed shock." He had progressively aced a trio of simulated games, convincing team staff he did not need a rehab assignment before returning.

"I was sharp in the sim games. The delivery was great," he said. "But today I just wasn't very sharp. Balls out over the plate, a little bit elevated, flat. I didn't expect to be nails coming out, but I expected to be better than I was."

Standing atop the mound in a striking, yet unfamiliar, crimson-highlighted Pittsburgh Crawfords uniform, Cole didn't look like himself.

He didn't pitch like himself, either.

Multiple run-scoring hits in an inning. Runs in consecutive innings. Runaway pitch count. Everything was very un-Cole-like.

"It took us a few innings to figure out how to pitch in these uniforms," manager Clint Hurdle said in jest. "He's been out a while. There are many experiences this young man will go through, and this is one of them, being down and coming back."

Lesson learned, nodded Cole.

"If I had to do it over," he said, "I'd take a little focus off the hitters and put more on just myself. I was a little too results-oriented early, trying to avoid the hits. That's a mentality we can have maybe in September, but it's important now to just be able to nail your delivery, and throw quality pitches. That kinda escaped me today."

The Mets jumped him for three in the first -- Eric Campbell's RBI double and Kirk Nieuwenhuis' run-scoring single sandwiching a run-scoring wild pitch -- and Daniel Murphy added a two-run single in the second.

Cole settled down enough to put up a couple of zeros before ending his four-inning stint with 93 pitches. But he had already given up five runs for only the second time in his 32-start career.

"I put us in a hole we couldn't get out of," said Cole, whose next turn will come in Friday's opener of the holiday weekend series against Philadelphia. "Looking forward to taking the ball next time."

A weird fourth inning invited the Bucs back in the game. Andrew McCutchen led off with a double and with one away Josh Harrison reached on an infield single. The next five batters didn't put a ball in play -- yet the Pirates came out of it with two runs.

Consecutive walks of Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Chris Stewart by lefty Jon Niese forced in the runs. Then Starling Marte, batting for Cole, and Gregory Polanco fanned.

To be precise, plate umpire Toby Basner told Marte he had fanned on a pitch low and on the inside margin of the plate. Marte objected with body language. From the dugout, Hurdle did so with actual language.

"He threw strikes. He made pitches," Hurdle said of Niese's escape. "A questionable call to Marte went their way, it didn't help."

Those two strikeouts brought to .164 (12-for-73) the Pirates' average this season in bases-loaded situations.

The Bucs got one run closer in the fifth, on Walker's RBI single.

Niese survived that brief fourth-inning loss of his control to go six innings, allowing seven hits and the three runs.

"I think I was the worst pitcher in the world in the fourth. And in the fifth the dumbest pitcher, and then I went back to where I was," Niese said. "That fourth was scary, not too many times do pitchers feel that way -- where you're trying like heck to throw a strike, and you can't. It's a bad feeling, but I was able to get through it."

As did Cole, who was already looking forward to the next round.

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