Now in his third year in the majors, Cole is in the process of exceeding them all.
The Pittsburgh Pirates ace-in-waiting struck out 10 over 8 1/3 dominant innings, and his teammates pecked at Syndergaard just enough to pull out a 4-1 win Friday night. Cole (6-2) gave up six hits -- all singles -- while lowering his ERA to 2.05.
"When he's executing pitches, he's as good as anybody out there," Pittsburgh catcher Chris Stewart said.
The 24-year-old's 50th major league start might have been his best. Save for a wild pitch that allowed Juan Lagares to score an unearned run in the third, Cole overwhelmed the Mets. His only hiccup came in the ninth, when he came within two outs of his first complete game, only to be undone by a single and his only walk of the night.
There was no protest from Cole when manager Clint Hurdle came out to get him in favor of closer Mark Melancon -- not that Hurdle would have listened anyway.
"He was on DL twice last year," Hurdle said. "He threw 111 pitches. He had a shot to close it down. It didn't happen there. He'll do that one of these days."
Melancon retired the only two batters he faced for his 10th save. Stewart had two hits and an RBI for Pittsburgh. Jung Ho Kang, Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco also drove in runs as the Pirates dropped New York to 7-13 on the road.
"Even up in the ninth inning, [Cole] is still throwing 97," New York manager Terry Collins said. "Slider was absolutely devastating at times in the middle of the game. We knew going in he was going to be tough to hit."
The scuffling Pirates have relied heavily on Cole to be the stopper during an uneven opening quarter of the season. Cole halted Pittsburgh's latest slide with his longest start of the season, as he kept the Mets off-balance with a rapidly improving breaking ball and a fastball that topped out at 99 mph. His defense chipped in -- four double plays on the night -- whenever the Mets appeared ready to mount a threat. Stewart also threw out two runners trying to steal second base, which boosted Pittsburgh's caught stealing total to 20, the best in the majors.
"We played a game we've played a handful of times before and we need to play more of," Cole said. "We were crisp on both sides of the ball and got results because of it."
Syndergaard (1-2) struck out the first four batters he faced and fanned five in his third career start but surrendered four runs, three of them earned, in six innings. Initially called up to fill in while Dillon Gee recovers from a groin injury, Syndergaard will stay with the team when Gee comes off the disabled list and New York experiments with a six-man rotation.
"I feel like I've had some pretty good success here, and I'm looking forward to making my next start," Syndergaard said. "It's all about having a short memory."
Syndergaard kept pace early but allowed the bottom of the Pittsburgh lineup to peck away at him. Alvarez doubled with two outs in the second and scored when Polanco snapped an 0-for-19 slump with an RBI single to right. Stewart followed with a double.
Pittsburgh added two more in the sixth, thanks in part to a throwing error by Syndergaard and heady base running by Kang, who took second on a wayward pickoff attempt, then stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly.
That was more than enough for Cole, who came within two outs of Pittsburgh's first complete game since July 28, 2014.
Pirates: RHP Charlie Morton will return to the starting rotation Monday, when Pittsburgh begins a three-game series with Miami. Morton hasn't started a game in the majors since September. He underwent offseason hip surgery, and rehab took longer than expected. He is coming off a solid start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday. Vance Worley (2-3, 4.17 ERA) will move to the bullpen as a long reliever.
The three-game set continues Saturday, with a prime pitching matchup as New York's Matt Harvey (5-1, 1.98 ERA) faces Pittsburgh's resurgent A.J. Burnett (3-1, 1.38). The 38-year-old Burnett is second in the majors in ERA and coming off seven scoreless innings in a win over the Cubs on Sunday. Harvey has not given up a run in his 16 innings and is the fifth pitcher in team history to surrender zero runs with nine strikeouts in consecutive starts.
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