Cole shines bright on playoff stage
ST. LOUIS — A moment has yet to be too big for Gerrit Cole.
He took the mound amid a sea of purple in the 2010 College World Series in an elimination game against Texas Christian.
“Omaha is famous for adopting their underdog teams,” Cole said. “It was a pretty electric atmosphere. … They came in with a lot of momentum, (and) we had no choice other than to shut them down.”
Cole struck out 13 and carried a one-hitter into the seventh to lead UCLA to the championship series.
Cole made his major league debut against the defending World Series champion Giants on June 11 before 30,614 at PNC Park, the largest crowd he had pitched before. Cole allowed two runs over 61⁄3 innings and at one point retired 13 consecutive batters.
On Friday, Cole took the mound amid a sea of red at Busch Stadium. The moment never had been too big for Cole, but he never had a moment like this, starting Game 2 of the NLDS with his team desperate to avoid a 0-2 hole against the Cardinals.
Cole, again, rose to the moment.
He helped even the series by allowing one run and two hits over six innings in a 7-1 victory. He walked one and struck out five.
“It's fight or flight,” Cole said. “You have an option to make a pitch or give up a double.”
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2011 draft retired 11 in a row after allowing a double to Carlos Beltran in the first.
After giving up a home run to Yadier Molina in the fifth, his only blemish, he retired the next three batters.
“You can kind of feel the energy. We fell behind (Jon) Jay 2-0 after Yadier went out, and the crowd was getting up for that,” Cole said. “You end up getting so focused that it really doesn't faze you. ... I try to block out everything that could pose a distraction or could take my focus somewhere else.”
Of course it helps to have a fastball reaching 99.5 mph and 99.6 mph on consecutive pitches to Matt Holliday in the sixth. The 100 mph fastball has not faded through the season, but Cole had added a swing-and-miss curve that Beltran whiffed on twice in the sixth for a strikeout.
It was Cole's off-speed pitch that surprised Matt Carpenter in the third inning. Carpenter has the eighth-lowest swing-and-miss rate in the majors, 4.1 percent. Cole threw an 87 mph changeup for strike two, and Carpenter swung and missed at a 98 mph fastball.
“Coming in, his off-speed pitches were used primarily for chase,” Carpenter said.
“I think I saw five off-speed pitches today, and he threw all of them for strikes.”
Cole keeps thriving in the moment, but he's also evolving as a pitcher at the most critical point of the season. He's 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA since Sept. 1.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Cole's focus has sharpened as the stakes have grown more important.
“He loves to compete,” Hurdle said. “He has what I call big-boy pants. He's been wearing them since he grew up. This guy expects big things out of himself.
“He was dynamite from pitch one. He pitched with intent, conviction. He executed. A big game performance for Gerrit. It's what we've been seeing all year.”
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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