CHICAGO — As hard as he is for opposing hitters to figure out, Gerrit Cole insists he is taking a simple approach on the mound.
Cole outpitched Jon Lester as the Pirates hung on for their seventh straight win, beating Chicago 3-2 Friday to delay the Cubs' playoff celebration.
"There's a lot of extra noise that happens in September, and I think the simpler you can keep things, the better it is," Cole said.
Pittsburgh increased its lead for the NL's top wild card to 41/2 games over the Cubs, who would have secured their first postseason appearance since 2008 with a victory. Chicago would clinch with a loss by San Francisco to Oakland on Friday night (for the result, go to tampabay.com/sports).
Mark Melancon held off a rally attempt in the ninth for his major league-leading 51st save in 53 chances.
Chris Denorfia led off the ninth with a double and scored on Starlin Castro's one-out triple to right, exciting the crowd of 40,432.
Melancon then struck out Jorge Soler and Javier Baez on knuckle curves in the dirt.
Cole's 18 wins are the most for a Pirate since John Smiley went 20-8 in 1991. Cole is 7-1 in nine starts against Chicago.
"I know that he's got a competitive chip that's special," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "When you combine that with a very elite skill set and a desire to be 'the guy' … he's shown that ability in September."
Cole also had an RBI single in the third.
"Great game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "As a baseball fan, you were totally entertained. That's what it's supposed to look like."
With an afternoon game today, Maddon was not planning to stay up for the Giants game. He said the only way he would check the score "probably when I get up to go to the bathroom at night."
Asked how the Cubs might celebrate, Maddon said, "Maybe via text.