Cole allowed a first-inning run after a Tommy Medica single put the Padres up 1-0, but rallied to dominate San Diego down the stretch. He finished with one run off four hits through six innings of work, walking just three compared to the double-digit strikeout tally.
The Pirates avoided a series sweep at the hands of the Padres, who had won four consecutive games heading into Thursday's finale. The three-game skid marks the second such streak this month for Pittsburgh, who was swept in a weekend frame against the Cardinals in the first week of September.
With the win, the Pirates improve to 88-65 and remain atop the National League Wild Card standings.
Pittsburgh's offense finally woke up after a quiet series, pounding out 10 runs on 14 hits in its biggest offensive output this month. Second baseman Neil Walker paced the club with a 4-of-5 performance, adding three RBI. In total, five Pirates recorded multiple-hit games.
Ian Kennedy (6-10) picked up the loss for San Diego, giving up six runs on eight hits and lasting just 3⅔ innings. The Padres fall to 71-81 and sit 15½ games out of the Wild Card.