While teammates celebrated Wild Card win, rookie continued prep for NLDS Game 2
ST. LOUIS -- PNC Park was a black wave of madness Tuesday night. Hearing was out of the question and thinking couldn't have been easy after the Pirates beat the Reds in the National League Wild Card Game. Viral video captured one fan who was overjoyed enough to leap from the Roberto Clemente Bridge to a luckily safe water landing.
But at the height of the party, with Pirates players skipping and hugging on the field, rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole dug his spikes in the dirt in front of the pitching rubber on the bullpen mound. He ignored the party long enough to coolly execute a throwing session, the way he has between his starts since making his Major League debut June 11.
Pittsburgh is savoring every step of a postseason ride that it hasn't had a ticket for since 1992, and both the city and the team have every right to do so. But forgive Cole, who had just turned 2 when the Bucs last went to the playoffs, for not stopping to enjoy it all. He hasn't taken that step back since he arrived, so why do it after the game with the Reds? Instead, the young righty put all his focus toward his next outing, which will be Friday afternoon's Game 2 of the NL Division Series (1 p.m. ET, MLB Network) against the Cardinals.
Through the wild champagne-splashed clubhouse celebration, even through the plane ride to St. Louis, to this very moment, you could line Cole's path to the mound with bouquets and he won't smell them. He'll also have to ignore a charged-up red-clad crowd at Busch Stadium that will arrive feeling the afterglow of Thursday's 9-1 Cards victory in Game 1.
"I need to be able to take care of my routine and be able to feel comfortable out there," Cole said. "Allowing yourself to take a step back and enjoy what's happening and kind of take in the whole atmosphere and the distractions that come with it, being where I am now, and this is a whole new experience for me ... I just want to keep my head down and stay the course.
Key stat: Cole finished the regular season with a streak of eight consecutive quality starts dating back to Aug. 16.
Key stat: Lynn went 9-3 with a 2.82 ERA at Busch Stadium this season versus 6-7 with a 5.15 ERA away from home.
At Busch Stadium
2013: N/A Career: N/A
2013: 16 GS, 9-3, 2.82 ERA Career: 39 G, 29 GS, 18-8, 2.97 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: N/A Career: N/A
2013: 5 GS, 2-1, 5.60 ERA Career: 11 G, 9 GS, 4-2, 5.03 ERA
Loves to face: N/A Hates to face: N/A
Loves to face: Andrew McCutchen, 4-for-26, 10 K Hates to face: Starling Marte, 6-for-13, 2 2B, 3B
Why he'll win: In seven road starts this season, Cole posted a 2.38 ERA (12 earned runs in 45 1/3 innings) and a 0.95 WHIP.
Why he'll win: Lynn has allowed three earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (1.09 ERA) over his last four starts.
Pitcher beware: Opposing hitters are batting .347 against Cole over his first 25 pitches in a game.
Pitcher beware: Lynn has a 4.50 ERA in his postseason career, giving up seven earned runs in 11 innings (5.73 ERA) in the playoffs last year.
Bottom line: Cole needs to take advantage of the fact that the Cardinals have never faced him, and keep his composure in his first career postseason start.
Bottom line: Lynn has to have a short memory and forget about his last two outings against the Pirates (10.61 ERA), focusing instead on pitching like he has all season at Busch Stadium.
"I don't have quite the feel that guys who have played this game for 10 or 15 years do. I'm just trying to prepare myself the best I can and give my team a chance to win."
Despite the two-plus-inning, seven-run nightmare of a start from A.J. Burnett in Game 1, Cole will have plenty of bullpen help if he needs it. Jeanmar Gomez ate up four innings on Thursday, which prevented the 'pen from being taxed.
Of course, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is trusting and expecting Cole to pitch well and deep.
"We can go a number of different ways [Friday] along with Cole to give us our best shot, get a win and get out of here," Hurdle said.
Even if he hasn't savored them, Cole, the first overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, has filled his first Major League experience with unforgettable memories. He finished the regular season with an 11-7 record and a 3.22 ERA in 19 starts after being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Cole assured himself of postseason opportunities by going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in five September starts.
By September, Cole had found the feel for using his fastball and slider at the Major League level, and he began to trust a curveball that the Bucs suggested he add to his mix. As a result, the rookie finished the month with 39 strikeouts against 12 walks, and a .212 batting average against, in 32 innings.
"He's been extremely impressive," Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. "[He has] gone out there the last two weeks and basically said, 'I'm going to take this on my shoulders and do what I need to do to help this team win.'"
It's Cole's approach of looking forward instead of back that should come in handy Friday, since he has no memories of the Cardinals to draw upon.
"I have no idea," Cole said. "I know that I'm facing [Matt] Carpenter, [Carlos] Beltran, [Yadier] Molina, [Matt] Holliday, [David] Freese, [Jon] Jay, I'm not quite sure. They're just great hitters. So whether you've seen them a bunch of times or not, you know what they're capable of doing. You know in a playoff atmosphere anything can happen.
"So I don't think that it's an advantage that I've seen them, and I don't think they view it as one either. It's playoff baseball. Anything goes."
If there is an area of concern, it's the first inning. However, Hurdle's meticulous planning might have helped mitigate the potential for problems.
Opponents have scored 13 runs, 12 earned, in Cole's 19 first innings. But nine of those runs have come during six of his starts at home, where Cole is pitching to the first batter of the game. So if it does take Cole a half-inning or so to settle into the game or fight the spin of a delirious crowd on Friday, his teammates will be batting during that time.
Hurdle said he wasn't worried about Cole's ability to handle the postseason trappings.
"He has what I call big boy pants," Hurdle said. "He's been wearing them since he grew up. ... He's expected big things out of himself. This will be a great new challenge for him, a great new opportunity, and we're confident it's one he can meet."
Throwing a bullpen session during a celebration of a big postseason win may be unusual, but Cole wasn't doing it just to show how cool he is. He normally would have thrown it before the game, but the Pirates held him off in case Francisco Liriano, Tuesday's starter, ran into trouble. Liriano didn't, and Cole needed to stay on schedule, delirium be darned.
Cole hopes his start Friday creates more happiness in Pittsburgh, even if he's not inclined to participate.
"Maybe after the year is over, I think that will be the appropriate time to take a step back and look at what we've accomplished," Cole said. "But for right now, especially for me, it's important to stay focused and important to keep my mind right and my head down and prepare for this next start."