Gerrit Cole announces his presence

ST. LOUIS -- Gerrit Cole. Remember the name.

But also remember the arm. Remember the presence. And remember the moment you first saw him step onto the October stage.

Act 1, Scene 1 of the Gerrit Cole Show came on a scorching Friday afternoon in St. Louis, where the best lineup in the National League is used to devouring the young and the innocent, the rookie pitchers who aren't familiar with what October is all about.

But not on this day. Not in this game. Not with this rookie pitcher making the first postseason start of his life for those uber-resilient Pittsburgh Pirates.

Think Josh Beckett in 2003. Think Bret Saberhagen in 1985. Think John Smoltz and Steve Avery in 1991.

This was a future star, a monster talent, announcing his presence to a world that hadn't seen much of him before this day. But then this very special episode of October Theater gave him this moment to let us know his time has come.

Gerrit Cole is 23 years old. He was still pitching for UCLA as recently as 28 months ago. He was still pitching for the Indianapolis Indians as recently as 17 weeks ago.

Not so long ago, there were questions about whether the Pirates would even keep him on their postseason roster. Only a few weeks ago, it appeared that even if they did, it would only be as a reliever in the mold of how Tampa Bay used David Price in 2008.

Well, never mind. On all of that.

Everything about this National League Division Series is different now, after the Pirates, in their words, "washed off" their Game 1 thrashing with a 7-1 drubbing of the Cardinals in Game 2 on Friday.

But mostly, it's different because the guy on the mound grabbed the wheel in the biggest game of his life and wouldn't let go, for six stunning innings. Two hits. One run. Five strikeouts. One walk. Just four three-ball counts.

Against a lineup like this? In a setting like this? In a ballpark where his team had lost six of its previous seven games and had coughed up 45 runs in the six defeats? In a postseason baseball game his team couldn't afford to lose?


It takes an electric arm and powerful inner strength to do what Gerrit Cole did on this day. But it didn't hurt, said his second baseman, Neil Walker, that the guy happens to be so young that he also brought a certain "naiveté" to the proceedings.

"I don't know if he actually even grasped the significance of this game, not just for today but for this entire organization," Walker said, after the Pirates had evened this series at a win apiece, with the next two games looming in the suddenly reenergized metropolis of Pittsburgh.

"He's as big-game as we've seen. But seriously, I don't think he's grasped it. I'm not going to speak for him. But just watching him -- I mean, enormous pitches, on the road, very big game -- and I'm out there thinking, this is really impressive. So I'm hoping that naiveté, if that's what you'd call it, continues."

Well, whatever it was, the Pirates would like to order up lots more of it. For the rest of October -- and the rest of Gerrit Cole's life.

Two years ago, they made him the No. 1 pick in the entire June draft. It's safe to say he's already turned out a little better than Bryan Bullington.

Before this game, only one other No. 1 overall pick had ever started (let alone won) a postseason game in his rookie season. That was Tim Belcher, for the 1988 Dodgers.

Before this game, only five pitchers as young as Cole (23 years, 26 days) had ever won a postseason game in which they went at least six innings and given up two hits or fewer, and one run or none. Only three of those games came in the past 90 years -- three gems twirled by Mark Prior in 2003, Ross Grimsley (1972) and Matt Moore (2011).

And before this game, only two Pirates pitchers of any age -- Bruce Kison in the 1974 National League Championship Series and Nelson Briles in the 1971 World Series -- had ever won a game like that (6-plus innings, two hits, one run or none) in the postseason.

"That," said closer Jason Grilli, after the phenom had won his fifth consecutive start, "was why they picked him No. 1."

Yeah, excellent point. To get to this tournament when you're coming from where the Pirates have spent the past two decades, you have to nail those No. 1 picks. And as this game reminded us, they've done that with Cole, done it with Andrew McCutchen, done it with Walker and done it with Pedro Alvarez, who also left his mark on this game with a double, two runs scored and a game-changing two-run homer.

It was the seventh home run Alvarez has hit on days Cole was pitching -- a development even Alvarez found amusing. And mysterious.

"I must really like him or something," Alvarez quipped. "I don't know."

But what he knows, what everyone in this clubhouse knows, is that there is something special about the guy on the mound. And all the proof they needed came in the sixth inning, when the Cardinals finally found a way to turn up the heat -- and Gerrit Cole answered.

With four pitches that topped 100 mph on the gun, when he needed them most, after an afternoon through which he'd mostly cruised at 95-97.

"I looked up at the board, and he went from 95-96 to 100," gushed Marlon Byrd. "It was like he said, 'Aw, I'll just add another 3-4 miles per hour like it's nothing.'"

"The last time I played with somebody like that," said Grilli, "it was a guy named Verlander."

Grilli knows, obviously, that he can't toss a name like Justin Verlander's out there and liken him to just anyone. But what Jason Grilli saw in that sixth inning -- what they all saw -- was about as Verlander-esque as it gets.


Grilli The last time I played with somebody like that, it was a guy named Verlander.

"-- Pirates closer Jason Grilli

Cole cruised into the sixth with a 5-1 lead and only two baserunners allowed all day -- one on a first-inning double by Carlos Beltran, the other on a fifth-inning Yadier Molina homer. He'd thrown only six pitches from the stretch all afternoon. He was controlling this game like Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic.

But then, with one out, he issued his first walk of the day, to Matt Carpenter. And up stepped Señor Octubre, Beltran, to see what Gerrit Cole was made of.

Beltran plowed through one of his vintage eight-pitch at-bats, as another packed house at Busch Stadium, finally awakened from a quiet afternoon of sunbathing, erupted to life. Rally towels swirled. Vocal cords shrieked. Beltran wriggled in the box. It was a classic October moment.

With the count at 1-2, Cole unleashed his hardest pitch of the day -- an exploding four-seamer clocked by Pitch f/x at 100.76 mph. Beltran barely laid off it. Plate ump Wally Bell correctly called it high.

Beltran fouled off two two-strike pitches. The count ran full. And then Cole froze him with a 98-mph smokeball on the inside corner. That was two outs.

Asked if he'd noticed that sonic boom emanating from the seats, Cole admitted: "You can kind of feel the energy, but I mean, you know, you end up getting so focused that it doesn't even faze you."

Yeah, guess not.

After Beltran trudged back to the dugout, muttering, it was Matt Holliday's turn. Cole poured in a cutter for strike one, then unleashed a pair of back-to-back scorchers right out of the Verlander scrapbook -- 100.85 mph for strike two, 100.49 mph barely off the inside corner for ball one, as 45,999 witnesses oohed and aahed.

Before this at-bat, seven grueling pitches long, was over, Cole would launch two more rockets -- one at 99.77 mph that Holliday would fight off, then one more 100.3-mph laser beam that Holliday would bounce to short. That was the third out. And if this was Gerrit Cole's first defining October moment, we can't wait to see the next one.

"You just do what you've got to do, I guess," Cole aw-shucksed afterward.

But his manager wasn't ho-humming this particular exhibition. Clint Hurdle knew exactly what this was.

"It was impressive, down on the field for me, in the last three at-bats," Hurdle said. "It took 21 pitches to face the last three guys. And again, he stayed on point with conviction and was just going to keep going at them. He made a huge effort for us today, when it was very much needed."

And not just with his arm, either. Cole also drove in the first run of this game, with a two-out RBI single in the second inning, after the Cardinals had intentionally walked the No. 8 hitter, Jordy Mercer, to get to him. For future reference, the Cardinals might want to write down that Cole is now 4-for-9 (.444) with runners in scoring position this year -- receiving a total of nine plate appearances in his minor league career.

Asked afterward if he considered himself a good hitter, Cole replied: "I don't know. I don't really have an approach up there. So I just see him and try not to break my bat."

But however he did it, Cole did achieve this important feat in Pirates history: He's the first Pirates pitcher ever to drive in a postseason run before he allowed a postseason run. But what was slightly more important was what he did for his long-downtrodden franchise, with his golden right arm.

"Games like that," said Walker, "are a good example of how, with guys like that, much is given and much is expected. To go on the road and split this series against a team that, offensively, is the best in the league in my opinion, is huge. For us to get up early [for a noon start] and keep our foot on the gas, and, after yesterday, not let anything trickle over into today, that's an impressive thing. That was big for this organization."

And it doesn't happen unless the Ace of the Future finds out he's ready for the big time at just the right moment. He's given his team an October masterpiece to hold onto. And now their postseason -- and Gerrit Cole's career -- might never be the same.