Pirates' pressure-proof rookie Gerrit Cole stares down potent Cardinals offense to tie NLDS

ST. LOUIS -- In one sense, what Gerrit Cole did Friday wasn't surprising. Cole, the National League rookie of the month in September, has proven himself at this level. He took the mound at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, went toe-to-toe with Yu Darvish and stopped a four-game Pirates losing streak with seven innings of shutout baseball.

He can hang with the elite.

Yet, the 23-year-old rookie had not gotten a taste of the best offense in the league before Friday, and, for the Pirates to avoid going home trailing, 2-0, in the National League Division Series, they needed a good start from Cole.

Pirates fans hope Jumbotron yields jumbo win

Fans gathered at PNC Park this afternoon to watch the Pirates take on St. Louis in game 2 of the NLDS. (Video by Doug oster; 10/4/2013)

Hurdle, Cole discuss win

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and pitcher Gerrit Cole discuss their team's win over the Cardinals in game two of the National League Division Series Friday in St. Louis. (Video by Matt Freed; 10/4/2013)

They got it.

Cole stifled the St. Louis Cardinals in a 7-1 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS at Busch Stadium, tying the five-game series at 1-1 heading to Game 3 Sunday at PNC Park.

Cole displayed no hint of rookie inexperience or insecurity, instead bearing down against the highest-scoring offense in the league.

"He didn't really look nervous at all," said catcher Russell Martin. "If I had an arm like his, I wouldn't be nervous either."

After a one-out double in the first inning, Cole retired 11 consecutive batters. That streak ended when Yadier Molina homered to lead off the fifth. Cole then retired the next three batters in order. He did not walk a batter until he had one out in the sixth.

"He's a bulldog," Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau said. "He's out there, he's attacking the hitters, he's going right at them."

Cole (1-0 in the postseason) allowed only two hits and one run across six innings and became the first Pirates rookie to win a playoff game since Tim Wakefield won two in the 1992 NLCS.

"I just tried to stick to my game plan and do what I've been doing the last month," said Cole, who, in five September starts, posted a 1.69 ERA. "Moving the fastball around and mixing in some off-speed pitches. Nothing too crazy."

The Busch Stadium crowd, quieted by a 5-1 Pirates lead through the first five innings, worked itself into a towel-waving frenzy in the sixth.

But then, Cole put on a show. A one-out walk to Matt Carpenter brought Carlos Beltran, who doubled in his first at-bat, to the plate. Cole threw Beltran four different types of pitches, including a 100 mph fastball, before striking him out looking on a 98 mph two-seamer that ran back over the inside part of the plate.

"You can kind of feel the energy," Cole said. "That sixth inning, I had to make some pitches, but, you know, you end up getting so focused that it doesn't really faze you."

He hit 100 again in the next at-bat, against Matt Holliday, who grounded out to end the inning.

"He's got that effortless velocity," Martin said. "It doesn't really look like he's maxing out when he's out there. He's able to keep his mechanics. If he keeps his mechanics all the way through, then the velocity is there."

Lance Lynn couldn't keep the Pirates away from the outfield wall. Extra-base hits undid him. Lynn (0-1) allowed five runs and seven hits, including a home run and three doubles, in 41/3 innings.

Morneau and Pedro Alvarez each had two hits. Morneau has a hit in each of the three playoff games, and Alvarez is 3 for 7 with two homers in the NLDS. Starling Marte also homered Friday.

A defensive miscue helped the Pirates take an early lead.

With one out in the second, Alvarez hit a fly ball to left-center field, but Jon Jay broke in first as the ball sailed over his head for a double. With two outs, Lynn intentionally walked Jordy Mercer to face Cole, who responded with a single up the middle to score Alvarez.

Alvarez saved Jay the trouble in the third. After Morneau singled and narrowly avoided being doubled off on a lineout, Alvarez lined a homer to dead center that built the lead to 3-0.

"That's huge against a team like the Cardinals, [against whom], there is never enough breathing room," Alvarez said.

Morneau lined an opposite-field double in the fifth. Marlon Byrd's high fly bounced off the right-center warning track, between Jay and Beltran, and into the stands for an RBI double.

"We had some trouble with the ball in the air today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Not an excuse, but the ball traveled differently today than probably any other day during the season."

Lynn then walked Alvarez, and Matheny removed him. Reliever Seth Maness allowed an RBI single to Martin, widening the lead to 5-0.

While the Pirates offense went to work, Cole was working on a streak of consecutive batters retired, which Morneau said helped the Pirates keep the pressure on Lynn.

"He's the type of person that loves this type of atmosphere," Andrew McCutchen said of Cole. "He showed up today, had stuff working and kept us in the game. That's all we could ask."

Afterward, the Pirates headed for the flight home with the series tied, courtesy of an offensive rebound and a young starting pitcher who was, manager Clint Hurdle said, "Dynamite from pitch one."

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com. Twitter: @BrinkPG. First Published October 4, 2013 8:15 PM


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