ST. LOUIS (AP) – In June, Gerrit Cole became the first Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher to win his first four starts in more than a century.
He also won his last four to tune up for October.
The St. Louis Cardinals were just another victim for the former No. 1 overall pick who starred with his bat, too, in a 7-1 victory Friday that evened their NL division series at a game apiece.
“He was pretty calm all day,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He didn’t really look nervous at all. If I had an arm like his, I would be nervous either.”
Cole gave up two hits in six dominant innings and had a key RBI in his postseason debut, and Pedro Alvarez homered for the second straight day.
“For a young guy to go out there in his first postseason start and pitch like a veteran, wow!” teammate Marlon Byrd said. “He used his whole arsenal knowing we had to hump up and get this one.”
The Cardinals routed the Pirates 9-1 behind a dominant effort from Adam Wainwright while capitalizing on mistakes. The Pirates were poised after their first postseason victory since 1992, while the Cardinals were tentative and got another lackluster October start from Lance Lynn.
The series shifts to Pittsburgh for the next two games where celebrations thus far have been a lot more intense. Pirates ace Francisco Liriano goes for his fourth victory in four starts this year against the Cardinals in Game 3 on Sunday, opposing Joe Kelly.
“They’re going to be rowdy and they’re going to be into it, and they should be, just like our fans have been,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to go out and perform despite what else is going on”
Cole faced the Cardinals for the first time and left most of them shaking their heads, striking out five and walking one. After allowing Carlos Beltran’s double with one out in the first, he retired 11 straight before Yadier Molina led off the fifth with his third career postseason homer.
Relying on a fastball that peaked at 99 mph on the stadium radar gun and one that the broadcast on TBS had at 100, Cole had hitters helpless at times even without shadows that benefited pitchers early in Game 1.
“I just tried to stick to my game plan and do what I’ve been doing the last month, moving the fastball around and mixing in some off-speed pitches.,” Cole said. “Nothing too crazy.”
Lynn hasn’t lasted long enough to qualify for the victory in any of his three career postseason starts and yielded five runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings.
“It was a bad game,” Lynn said. “I made four bad pitches for four extra-base hits. When I made a mistake with the fastball, they were ready for it.”
Matheny chose Lynn for Game 2 ahead of rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, the decision based on the right-hander’s strong September and 9-3 record at home. Miller gave up a homer to Starling Marte in the eighth and Wacha (4-1, 2.78) will oppose Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26) in Game 4 Monday.
Alvarez doubled in the second on a ball that center fielder Jon Jay thought he should have caught, then scored on Cole’s single. Third baseman David Freese dropped Marlon Byrd’s pop fly for an error in gusting wind in the seventh inning, leading to a run.
“A lot of things went wrong,” Freese said. “We had a lot of guys talking. That ball has got to be caught.”
Jordy Mercer was walked intentionally before Cole’s single put the Pirates ahead. Pirates pitchers totaled 10 RBIs during the season and Cole had five of them, including two in his final start.
Alvarez hit a 418-foot, two-run homer in the third.
Lynn made it to the fifth for the first time, but just barely. Miller warmed up in the third and Lynn was yanked with one out after back-to-back doubles by Justin Morneau and Byrd that put the Pirates up 5-0, followed by a four-pitch walk to Alvarez that gave reliever Seth Maness a little more time to warm up.
Liriano is 4-0 with a 1.16 career ERA in four starts against the Cardinals. He dominated in three starts this year, including a complete game in St. Louis, and allowed 10 hits in 22 innings with 20 strikeouts. He was the winner Tuesday night against Cincinnati in front of a raucous crowd in Pittsburgh that was celebrating the Pirates’ return to the postseason.
Kelly (10-5, 2.69) thrived as a fill-in starter for the second straight season and won eight straight decisions.
NOTES: The last Pirates pitcher to win his first four starts was Nick Maddox in 1907. … Injured Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter threw the first pitch to his son, Sam, and was accompanied to the mound by his daughter, Ava. … Daniel Descalso made the last out in the second inning and the first out in the Cardinals’ NL division series-record seven-run third in Game 1. … Molina’s last postseason homer came in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Mets.