Oh, how things can change in a day. My daughter woke me to exclaim that the first snow was falling on Boulder, and a few hours later our Pirates, who’d been so thoroughly embarrassed in St. Louis yesterday, trounced the Cardinals 7-1 to tie the 5-game series as it heads to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Pedro Alvarez, who after just three postseason games now has more playoff home runs (2) as a Pirate than Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla combined, continued his impressive hitting in the series. Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau both contributed offensively, although Morneau batting cleanup is still a veritable head-scratcher, and Starling Marte had a stolen base and a game-sealing home run. Oh, and Jason Grilli, who got three quick outs in the ninth, seems to have his velocity and his fire back, which is delightful news if you’re a Pirates fan and very bad news if you’re a Cardinals fan.
But the story of game two of the NLDS was 22-year-old rookie pitching phenom, and former #1 overall draft pick, Gerrit Cole. He mowed down the mighty Cardinals – full of high-priced perennial MVP candidates, All Stars and World Series champions – with confidence, moxie and even what Cole calls “angry pitching.” Most impressive from Cole, who should have started game one of this series if Clint Hurdle wasn’t so worried about offending A.J. Burnett, was a 98mph called third strike to perennial MVP-candidate Carlos Beltran (who is tied for the career postseason HR record with Babe Ruth) at a critical point in the sixth inning. Most fun was watching Cole stroke an RBI single in the second inning after St. Louis coach Mike Matheny unwisely chose to intentionally walk Jordy Mercer with two outs to get to Cole, whose OPS with RISP in the regular season was .920. The kid can pitch, and the kid can hit. Guess Matheny didn’t do his homework.
Two major stories emerged from game two:
#1 The series is tied, and anything can happen from here on, but a clear advantage goes to the Pirates at this point, as it’s essentially now a three-game series…and one in which Pittsburgh has home-field advantage. Games 3 and 4 will be at PNC Park, which will be hosting just its second-ever playoff game. The atmosphere will be nothing like Busch Stadium – it’ll be more like a hockey game, as it was in the NL Wildcard game on Tuesday, when Pittsburgh fans unleashed 21 years of pent-up energy on Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto and his mates, clearly rattling the Reds on the way to a 6-2 victory. (Astoundingly, tickets for games one and two in St. Louis were available this week starting at $15, while tickets to game three in Pittsburgh are sold out, with seats at Stubhub.com starting at $148)
Pirates ace Francisco Liriano, who was undefeated with an 0.75 ERA against the Cardinals in the regular season, takes the mound Sunday afternoon, and Pittsburgh fans have got to feel good about that. St. Louis will be going with young right-handed starter Joe Kelly, whose win/loss ratio and ERA were quite good, although his WHIP, at 1.355, suggests he could be St. Louis’ Jeff Locke. That bodes well for the Pirates, though anything can happen. But the best case scenario, and one that’s certainly possible, is that the Pittsburgh baseball club rides the Cole Train and Liriano to the World Series if the Pirates’ bats stay loud.
#2 The Bull saw red today, and that’s a wonderful thing. But Pedro “El Toro” Alvarez is going to earn a hell of a lot of money in arbitration this winter, possibly a $10 million salary for 2014. He’s under Pittsburgh’s control for the next couple years, but he now has 38 HR and 103 RBI in 2013 if you combine the regular season and playoffs, and he will do well in arbitration with those numbers. He is one of the most enigmatic players in sports, seeming to always either strike out, ground out, or crush a no-doubt home run. Alvarez hit a disturbingly low .230 with an amazing 36 HR in the regular season, a feat that most likely just a couple other players in the history of baseball have ever accomplished. His agent is the infamous Scott Boras, so the Pirates (hello, Mr. Nutting) better be ready to open their wallets for Alvarez, and soon…unless they pull another Aramis Ramirez and trade a power hitter about to enter his prime for a bag of balls.
Anyway, to anyone lucky enough to be attending game three in Pittsburgh on Sunday: Save your voices ’til then, because you know sometime today Joe Kelly had a thought bubble over his head reading, “Oh shit, I have a two-syllable last name…”