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Pirates' Gerrit Cole baffles Cardinals in huge victory to even NLDS
That's because if the National League division series goes five games, they are certain to see him again here next Wednesday, rather than veteran A.J. Burnett, who suffered his usual Busch Stadium indignities in Game 1 here on Thursday.
When asked about that likelihood, both manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage smiled and did not suggest anything even remotely to the contrary after Friday's game in which the Cardinals' hitters got a rude introduction to Cole in a 7-1 Pirates win. That victory evened the series at one game apiece before games in Pittsburgh on Sunday and Monday.
Cole, the top draft pick in the country out of UCLA in 2011, held the Cardinals, who never had seen him in person, to two hits and one run, Yadier Molina's homer, in six innings. The Cardinals made him work hard really only at the end, forcing him to throw 21 pitches out of his game total of 86 to the final three hitters he faced in the sixth inning.
Afterward, Cole said he thought he was going to be given another inning but he said, "That's not my call." Even so, he closed the sixth as if it might be his last, jumping from the mid-90s to 98-, 99- and 100-miles-an-hour fastballs, much like Detroit ace Justin Verlander has made a habit of doing in his career.
Cole allowed that the credibility of the opposition and the situation of the game "obviously can get you amped up a little more, so you just do what you got to do, I guess," he said.
"It's fight or fly. You have an option to make a pitch or you give up a double."
First baseman Justin Morneau, who faced Verlander plenty when he was in the American League, said, "(Cole's) demeanor, the way he portrays confidence and the way he attacks hitters . . . remind me of (Verlander). The way he was 93, 94 early in the game and the last inning he pitched, I saw him hit 100, 98 and 99. That's the kind of way Verlander was and is now. He can sense the time when he needs to turn it up and I think Cole has that ability. He has a chance to be a real special pitcher."
This, of course, is why the Pirates, when they were their woeful selves were able to draft Cole, a Newport Beach, Calif., product, first in the country after his junior season at UCLA.
Cole said his biggest big game in college had been at the College World Series in 2010 when he faced TCU at Omaha, Neb.
The stage was higher and the lights brighter Friday but Searage said that the big-time competition in college probably helped prepare Cole for his moment against the Cardinals.
"His maturity is beyond his years," said Searage. "Going to a school like UCLA helped him speed up that process, especially being in the limelight the way he was. But he's also got a good support group around him with A.J. and (Francisco) Liriano and Russell Martin.
Martin drew high marks from both Searage and Hurdle for his guidance of Cole.
"Russell has a good idea about 'X's and 'O's' and what's working for the kid _ what he can use and what he should stay away from," said Searage.
Cole has an arsenal unlike most.
"He's got four pitches he can throw for strikes any time he wants," said Searage. "He respects the other team but he's not intimidated by them."
Martin said, "It was just like a normal game to him. He didn't seem anxious or nervous. He had a great September, too (Cole won his last four starts, giving up only four runs), so he took the last stretch he had and was able to feel confident."
One of Cole's wins was a 1-0 triumph at Texas on Sept. 9, the night after the Pirates had lost their third straight game in a horrible weekend series with the Cardinals.
Martin, who spent most of his career with the Dodgers, said first-year comparisons to Los Angeles great Clayton Kershaw, whom Martin caught in his big-league infancy, were not out of line.
"(Cole) probably has a better fastball than Kershaw," said Martin.
"When Kershaw came up, he had a big curveball but as he went along, his off-speed (pitch) got better. It's the same case for Gerrit. When he came up, his slider and curve weren't sharp but, in talking to A.J. and some of the guys, he was able to make some adjustments to make those pitches better."
And, as Morneau said, "He can hit."
A .207 batsman for the season, Cole knocked in the go-ahead run off Lance Lynn in the second inning with a two-out single after an intentional walk ahead of him.
"I kind of figured Lynn was going to come after me, so I just tried to stay short and stay up the middle," said Cole.
"I really don't have an approach up there. I just see it and try not to break my bat."
But Morneau, the 2006 American League Most Valuable Player when he was with Minnesota, said, "He's a guy you want up there with runners in scoring position. He's a gamer. He's a baseball player.
"He doesn't assume because he's a pitcher that he's not up there to drive in that run."
Morneau said Cole, 23, "really seems like he's bought into the program. Sometimes when guys come up when they're young, they can be a little selfish."
Cole got some help from Pedro Alvarez, who hit his second homer in two days against the Cardinals. Last year, Alvarez torched the Cardinals for seven homers and 23 runs batted in for just 15 games.
Hurdle, talking about the No. 2 player taken in the 2008 draft, said, "(Alvarez) is another young man we've got that continues to have new paths.
"I mean, this is a show-up game for us. Whether you're going to win or not, you don't know. But we've got to show up."
None more so than Gerrit Cole.
"You saw a focused man that was ready to go," said Hurdle. "He was prepared."