Rookie is ready: Cole to start Game 5 in St. Louis
After subduing Cards at Busch Stadium in Game 2, rookie gets nod over Burnett
PITTSBURGH -- The towel-waving bedlam during player introductions at PNC Park grew several octaves higher and many decibel points louder on Sunday when the crowd heard, "No. 45, pitcher Gerrit Cole."
On Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on TBS), Busch Stadium will likely be every bit as loud when Cole's name is announced as the Pirates' starting pitcher in the deciding fifth game of the National League Division Series. But it'll be the booming rumble of boos and catcalls.
Cole faced down Busch, and the potent Cardinals lineup, by giving up just one run and three hits in six innings of the Bucs' 7-1 victory in Game 2. Cole's work that day made it a series after the Cards won Game 1 in lopsided fashion. This time, Cole was the logical choice to start the game that will send the winner to the NL Championship Series.
"We have one game to win," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, whose team will face St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. "As I've done and I've challenged the guys to do, we need to do the best we can to win that next game. I believe that matchup is the best we can do to beat the Cardinals in Game 5."
If the crowd at Busch bothers Cole, he can let the memory of the warmth of his home fans drown out the noise. But he proved in Game 2 that he can block out noise fairly well.
Key stat: Dating back to Aug. 16, Cole has turned in nine consecutive quality starts, including in Game 2 of the NLDS.
Key stat: Wainwright has won his last five decisions, including Game 1 of the NLDS, posting a 1.71 ERA (eight earned runs in 42 innings) over that stretch.
At Busch Stadium
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA
2013: 18 GS, 10-6, 2.46 ERA Career: 129 G, 98 GS, 54-32, 2.65 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA
2013: 4 GS, 2-0, 2.57 ERA Career: 23 G, 19 GS, 10-4, 4.61 ERA
Loves to face: Matt Holliday, 0-for-3, K Hates to face: Yadier Molina, 1-for-2, HR
Loves to face: Marlon Byrd, 4-for-20, 9 K Hates to face: Andrew McCutchen, 13-for-31, 4 2B, 3B, HR
Why he'll win: Making his first career postseason start, Cole tossed six stellar innings against the Cardinals in Game 2 at Busch Stadium, allowing one run on two hits, walking one and striking out five.
Why he'll win: Wainwright was overpowering in Game 1, tossing seven dominant frames in which he allowed one run on three hits, walking none and striking out nine, improving his career playoff record to 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA.
Pitcher beware: Opposing batters hit .347 against Cole over his first 25 pitches of a game during the regular season.
Pitcher beware: Wainwright had a 6.09 ERA (23 earned runs in 34 innings) in the first inning during the regular season.
Bottom line: Cole has to make sure he's not overly amped for a decisive Game 5, especially coming off his Game 2 performance. He needs to be as cool under pressure as he was then, and then some.
Bottom line: The key for Wainwright will be to repeat his performance from Game 1, as if Games 2-4 never happened. It's one game for the right to advance to the NLCS, and Wainwright can rely on his big-game experience to put the Cards over the top.
"I'm sure that there's going to be even more electric atmosphere over there at Busch," Cole said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. "But for the most part, they have seen me now a few days ago. But at the same time, I've seen them. So it's just going to come down to executing a handful of pitches and being able to hit the spot or execute the pitch when I need to."
The Game 2 performance made Cole, 23, the clear option over veteran A.J. Burnett, who gave up seven runs on six hits and four walks while lasting two innings and not retiring any of the eight hitters he faced in the third frame of the Game 1 loss.
Cole was drafted first overall out of UCLA in 2011, and he made his big league debut this June 11 and didn't check a matchup with St. Louis off his list until Friday's postseason gem. He showed he could handle a tough lineup -- Carlos Beltran's solo homer was the only mark against him -- in a difficult venue.
Now Cole will try to repeat the success with the season at stake.
"It's obviously a great opportunity for me to go out there and give my team a chance to win," Cole said. "This is obviously an exciting time, a high-pressure situation, and this is what you prepare for all year. This is why you work out in the offseason, for moments like this, to be mentally and physically ready to go. It's extremely exciting and I can't wait."
Hurdle had Cole and Burnett go through their regular between-starts routines, and the manager kept the decision close to his vest until after Monday's 2-1 loss at PNC Park in Game 4.
Burnett was 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA against the Cardinals in six regular-season starts. However, the Cards left him with an 8.10 ERA in three regular-season starts at Busch, and the speedy way in which Game 1 unraveled was too much for Hurdle to ignore.
"It's a very hard decision," Hurdle said when announcing the decision to go with Cole. "It's a difficult decision, because he has meant so much. We've asked so much of him while he's been here. It has been a very challenging park for him. If this was any other venue, he would have gotten the ball. But for me in this venue this game, Cole is going to be our guy.
Pitchers starting an ultimate postseason game at age 23 or younger
WS 8 *
* -- Series went eight games due to a tie in Game 2
"A.J. wants the ball every day he's scheduled to pitch. That's one of the things that's gotten him to this point in his career, having success that he's had. You want to treat men professionally. Sometimes we don't agree on things. We have to find a way to get this together to give our team the best opportunity to win in all aspects."
Hurdle said he wasn't sure if all his starters, Burnett included, would be available for bullpen duty.
"We are going to talk to the guys," Hurdle said Tuesday. "[Left-hander Francisco] Liriano pretty much poured his whole tank out the other day [in Game 3 on Sunday]. He's been dealing with a little bit of the flu. I think he's better.
"A.J.'s preparation is such that I don't know; we'd have to talk to him. But he's been doing this for so many years. He takes a nice routine to get in line to go. So I'm not sure. I do feel confident that we've got the pitching we are going to need to play, but we are going to have that conversation again."
The Pirates' offensive surge and Cole's effectiveness took the energy out of the Busch Stadium crowd on Friday in Game 2. Cole, who drove in a run with an early single, became stronger as the game continued. His fastball velocity went up a few ticks in his later innings, and he had plenty left when Hurdle removed him. The rookie finished with five strikeouts against one walk.
Injuries to Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald opened the door for Cole to be called up in June. Four months later, he is being asked to help the Bucs break down the door to the NLCS.
"I didn't know how long I was going to be up, because I did understand the situation with Wandy and J-Mac," Cole said. "So I kind of took it one game at a time and didn't try to think about it too much. And then all of a sudden, I felt like we were in September. And all of a sudden, I had gotten a lot better and the games started to get more intense, and the race started to go down to the wire there.
"I just realized that I had been taking the same approach since I did when I came up, and [I needed to] just take it one game at a time, one start at a time and just take care of business in between those starts that I got on the mound."