In their biggest game in 20 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates will turn to a 23-year-old rookie, Gerrit Cole, to pitch Wednesday’s NLDS Game 5 in St. Louis against the Cardinals. The Pirates are looking for their first postseason series win since 1979. Facing St. Louis Cardinals ace and 19-game winner Adam Wainwright, the Pirates will have little margin for error in their quest to defeat the Red Birds and make the National League Championship Series. And they’ll turn to the 2011 Amateur draft first overall pick to get the job done as he did in Game 2 when he hurled 6 innings of 2 hit, no run ball in a win. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had little hesitation in tapping his rookie over veteran A.J. Burnett (via MLB.com)
“We have one game to win, 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.”
“It’s a very hard decision,” Hurdle said. “It’s a difficult decision, because he [Burnett] 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.”
Unlike Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitching on Monday night on short rest, Cole will be on normal 5 days rest so there should be no issue with being out of his routine. In the process, Hurdle is skipping his Game 1 starter A.J. Burnett, who gave up 7 runs in 2 innings in a bad loss. The decision was pretty clear cut, still, tapping a rookie over a veteran is not the norm in the postseason.
Cole seemed ready to step up to the challenge of the Busch Stadium crowd, having pitched on that same mound in his Game 2 victory:
“You can kind of feel the energy that sixth inning [of Game 2], I had to make some pitches, but you end up getting so focused that it really doesn’t faze you.”
“They’re a really tough offense,” Cole said after Game 2. “They don’t strike out a whole lot, and they work counts and pick times to take and pick times to ambush. So it’s critical just to make quality pitches early, not only to get ahead, but to minimize damage.”
October is where pitching legends are made, and Cole is getting a chance early in his career to prove himself. Baseball fans will remember Wainwright proved himself in his rookie year out of the bullpen with 9 2/3 IP, 0 ER, a W and 5 saves on the 2006 World Championship Cardinals team. Will the veteran prevail, or the upstart rookie. Who else can’t wait for Game 5?
– David Whitlock
Pittsburgh Pirates Gerrit Cole masterful in major league debut