Pirates blast Cardinals, even NLDS
ST. LOUIS — It seems nothing fazes the Pirates.
After being routed by the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of the National League Division Series, the Pirates started a rookie pitcher in Game 2 at Busch Stadium. It's a best-of-five series, so the stakes were high.
“You lose two games, that's a tough hole to dig out of,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Thrust into a critical moment, right-hander Gerrit Cole came up big. The 23-year-old newbie dominated the Cardinals for six innings and also hit an RBI single. Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte added home runs. The bullpen contributed three scoreless innings.
The Pirates beat the Cardinals, 7-1, and went back to Pittsburgh with a chance to wrap up the series at PNC Park.
By splitting the first two games, the Pirates stole home-field advantage. Game 3 is set for 4:37 p.m. Sunday.
“We're very confident, going home,” said right fielder Marlon Byrd, who hit an RBI double and scored two runs. “There'll be another ‘blackout' going. We've got our fans on our side. The Cardinals are a great team, so we'll have to keep our focus.”
The atmosphere at PNC Park was electric Tuesday, when the Pirates trounced the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card game. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is expecting the same type of welcome but is not worried about it affecting his team.
“If we had a group of guys that had never been in an atmosphere like that before, you'd wonder about it,” Matheny said. “But we've had a lot of conversations, in small groups and as a club, talking about the energy they get, even from the other team's fans. We encourage our guys to enjoy it.”
Friday marked Cole's first postseason start and the first time he had faced the Cardinals. He admitted he was “pretty nervous” before the game.
“But that's typical,” Cole said. “I just tried to stick to what I've been doing the last month, moving the fastball around and mixing in some offspeed pitches. Nothing too crazy.”
Cole yielded only two hits: Carlos Beltran's double and Yadier Molina's homer. He amassed five strikeouts and still had his fastball humming at 98 mph in the sixth inning.
“To be that age and on that stage, to go out and perform like he did, it was huge,” catcher Russell Martin said.
Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn did not make it out of the fourth inning in either of his first two postseason starts. On Friday, he lasted through the fourth but was gone before there were two outs in the fifth.
With one out in the second, Alvarez hit a fly ball to deep center field. Jon Jay took an awkward route, and the ball flew over his head and bounced into the seats for a book-rule double.
Martin struck out on a checked swing. Lynn opted to intentionally walk Jordy Mercer — who was plugged into the lineup for his bat after the Pirates scored one run in Game 1 — and pitch to Cole.
“It's happened before,” Mercer said. “But (Cole) swings the bat pretty well.”
Lynn tried to run a 94 mph fastball for strike two, but Cole grounded it up the middle for a single. Alvarez beat the throw to the plate with a nice slide.
“I figured Lynn was going to come after me, so I just tried to stay short and stay up the middle,” Cole said. “I don't really have an approach up there. I just try to see (the pitch) and not break my bat.”
Cole is the first Pirates pitcher to collect a postseason RBI since Game 1 of the 1991 NLCS, when Doug Drabek doubled in Steve Buechele at Three Rivers Stadium.
In the third, Justin Morneau hit a one-out single. Alvarez launched a 418-foot homer that landed on the grassy slope below the center-field batter's eye.
In games that Cole has pitched, Alvarez has produced seven home runs and 20 RBI.
“I must really like him or something,” Alvarez said, grinning.
Andrew McCutchen struck out to start the fifth. Morneau and Byrd hit back-to-back doubles to make it 4-0. After Alvarez walked on four pitches, Lynn was replaced by righty Seth Maness. Martin then bounced an RBI single into left field to put the Pirates up 5-0.
After giving up a double to Beltran in the first inning, Cole retired 11 straight batters. Molina snapped that string with a leadoff homer in the fifth.
Cole seemed to lose some of his edge — but none of his velocity — in the sixth. Pinch hitter Adron Chambers' flyout drove McCutchen back to the wall. It was the third well-struck ball off Cole in a span of five batters.
Matt Carpenter walked, and the Pirates' bullpen got busy.
But Cole refused to break. He struck out Carlos Beltran looking with a devastating 98 mph two-seamer that ran back over the inside corner. Martin didn't have to move his glove.
Matt Holliday ended the inning by grounding out.
The Pirates scored an unearned run in the seventh. Byrd reached on a fielding error and scored on Martin's sacrifice fly.
Marte hit a solo homer in the eighth.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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