Pirates bounce back in Game 2, even NLDS with Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso is tagged out by Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson during Game 2 of their National League Divisional Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Oct. 4, 2013. (SCOTT ROVAK/USA Today)
You won’t find Greg Smith’s name in Pittsburgh Pirates box score.
And he’s not in the Detroit Tigers results in the Saturday bugles, either.
Smith, now an assistant general manager with the Pirates, had an impact on the post-season success of both his Bucs and the Tigers.
His guy (“no, no ... our guy,” corrected Smith), right-hander Gerrit Cole, pitched six dominant innings on Friday afternoon, allowing one run in a 7-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of their NLDS before 45,999 fans at Busch Stadium evening the best-of-five series at one win apiece. Game 3 goes Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
Smith and the Bucs chose Cole, No. 2 man on the UCLA Bruins staff, with the No. 1 pick in North America in the 2011 draft and gave him an $8-million signing bonus to give up class. UCLA ace Trevor Bauer went third overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“We thought Gerrit had a higher upside,” said Smith in the Pirates clubhouse. “He had an extra gear and would be a big arm on a power staff.”
Cole, who turned 23 last month, displayed a fastball peaking at 99 mph on the stadium radar gun and one pitch at 100 on the TBS gun, in this his 20th major-league start.
In a must-win for the Bucs, Cole allowed a solo homer to Yadier Molina and a double to Carlos Beltran. That’s it. That’s all.
“From my lens, he maintained his tempo after the homer,” said Smith. Cole retired six of seven after the home run and set down 11 in succession before Molina, making his 61st consecutive Cardinals post-season start (second only to Jorge Posada, 68), homered in the fifth.
“They’re really a tough offence,” Cole told reporters. “They don’t strike out a whole lot and they work counts and pick times to take, times to ambush. It’s critical to make quality pitches early, not only to get ahead, but to minimize damage.”
Scouting for the Tigers in 2004, Smith was involved in selecting Justin Verlander from Old Dominion with the second overall pick over college arms Philip Humber (third overall, Rice University, to the New York Mets), Jeff Niemann (fourth, Rice, Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and Jeremy Sowers (sixth, Vanderbilt, Cleveland Indians).
“He got it done for us at the plate and on the mound,” said centre fielder Andrew McCutchen, after Cole’s two-out single in the second scored Pedro Alvarez with the game’s first run.
For Cole, it was his eighth hit in 35 at-bats and he’s 4-for-8 with men in scoring position, with six RBIs.
“I figured Lynn would come after me, so I tried to stay short and up the middle,” Cole said. “I don’t really have an approach. I try not to break my bat.”
Cole threw 86 pitches — 56 for strikes — giving him 191 innings this season. After 150 a year ago, he’s not on the save-your-arm plan that the Washington Nationals had for Stephen Strasburg.
Alvarez hit a two-run homer in the third, giving Cole a 3-0 and seven homers with 20 RBIs in games started by the rookie.
“I must really like him,” said Alvarez. “It’s a coincidence. That’s about it.”
For Cards manager Mike Matheny, it was the first time he’d seen Cole in person.
“He had good life to the ball,” said Matheny. “He was not making a lot of mistakes and had enough horsepower if he needed to challenge somebody that he could. He came out very aggressive.”
Cole’s final inning didn’t see one Card get a hit and nary a runner to second, but it was a stressful 23 pitches as pinch hitter Adron Chambers flew to the track in centre on the second pitch, Matt Carpenter walked on six pitches, the dangerous Beltran struck out looking at the eighth pitch and No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday bounced out on the seventh pitch.
“Actually the ball started getting up a little bit later,” said Bucs manager Clint Hurdle. “He threw almost 25% of his pitch count in the last three hitters.
“He was dynamite from pitch one, the angles of the breaking balls, good location with the fastball, very aggressive. He pitched with intent, conviction. He executed. A big game performance for Gerrit. It was what we needed.”
Cole fanned five, including Holliday in the fourth and Beltran in the sixth, both looking.
“He has all the faith in the world in the game plan and trusts it,” said Hurdle. “When it came to shove time and a couple of at-bats got strung out on him, he got a couple of called third strikes. There really was no give. He kept attacking and made sure they were going to beat him with the bat.
“They weren’t going to beat him any other way and he had good enough pitches that that really didn’t happen.”
If there is a Game 5 at Busch Stadium, it will likely be Cole starting rather than A.J. Burnett.
MORNEAU GOES DEEP ... ALMOST
Homerless in his first 27 games wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, Justin Morneau came close Friday afternoon.
Morneau hit a first-pitch breaking ball from Cardinals’ Lance Lynn off the top of the wall in left centre as he was in the midst of two, two-run Pittsburgh Pirates rallies during their 7-1 win.
The former Minnesota Twins MVP scored in the fifth when Marlon Byrd doubled. Russell Martin later singled home Byrd for the first of his two RBIs. And Morneau singled to left centre in the third, trotting home on Pedro Alavrez’s homer.
“Pedro has been swinging the bat well, but it’s nice to do my share,” said Morneau. “At this time of year, all that matters is winning. I’m having good at-bats. I can’t really control where I hit the ball.”
Morneau was impressed with his starter, rookie Gerrit Cole, calling him a bulldog, “out there attacking hitters, really going right at ’em.”
“The confidence he has, the way he handles himself reminds me of Justin Verlander,” said Morneau. “The biggest thing is that early he’s throwing 93, 94 mph and all of a sudden you look up and he’s hitting 98, 99. That’s the way Verlander was and is now. He can sense the times when he needs that (extra velocity), Gerrit is like that, too. We’re lucky to have him.”