Colin Dunlap: Cole Must Start If Game 5 Occurs
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The other shoe dropped for A.J. Burnett on Friday afternoon.
It was Gerrit Cole’s gigantic shoe, vehemently stomping out the possibility that Burnett should touch the baseball again in this best of five, National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
By virtue of a virtuoso performance from Cole, one in which he went six innings, gave up two hits, yielded a lone run and struck out five in a 7-1 win that evened the series at a game apiece, Cole made a definitive statement to the Cardinals, who were seeing him for the first time in his career.
He should, without any question, have made a conclusive statement to a man within his own clubhouse as well: If this series ends up going to a Game 5, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle must do the glaringly obvious thing and start Cole over Burnett.
Really, it is a no-brainer. It must happen.
I know it. You know it. Hurdle knows it.
It is one thing, however, to know what the correct decision is and quite another to push allegiance and other factors aside and elect to make such a decision.
Here’s hoping Hurdle makes the right decision if this series drifts to a Game 5 at Busch Stadium, a place where Burnett has a 13.50 ERA and has realized more horrors than Amityville.
This isn’t a time for loyalty, not a time to worry about feelings or how someone will have their mood impacted by being told they aren’t going to get the baseball when it was expected.
Instead, October baseball is a time for making sure the man who gives your ballclub the best opportunity to win gets handed the baseball —- and, right now, Cole is that man over Burnett.
And, know what? It ain’t even close, people.
What Cole did on Friday afternoon was a far cry from what happened on that same Missouri mound only 18 hours earlier, when Burnett scuffled to last a little more than two innings and was battered, beaten and trampled for seven earned runs and walked four.
Everything that Burnett lacked on Thursday evening, Cole possessed on Friday afternoon at The House That Budweiser Built.
Burnett struggled to work ahead of hitters; Cole routinely threw that ever-important Strike One.
Burnett’s fastball looked flat and rode on the same plane; Cole’s had a biting action and popped in on left-handed hitters at the very end, sawing them off.
Burnett never made it to the point where his off-speed mix was effective; Cole utilized his straight change masterfully as the game advanced.
Burnett looked out of sorts from the get-go, struggling to find a sense of rhythm; Cole worked with the tempo of a supreme orchestra, beat-by-beat, dictating pace from the first pitch he threw.
In sum, what the 36-year-old veteran of playoffs back to 2009 couldn’t do, the 23-year-old fresh-faced kid making his first postseason start in his rookie season did —- and much, much more.
Cole didn’t just play a part in this Game 2 victory against the Cardinals, he was the unabashed star, the guy who propelled the Pirates back into this series after Burnett had made a mess of it.
After Game 1, when Burnett was demolished, Hurdle told the assembled media: “I do think [Burnett] is capable of going out and throwing a gem the next time he’s out, wherever that might be. I think he’s going to have the opportunity.”
For the Pirates’ sake — and to give them the best chance at winning — that opportunity shouldn’t come in this series.
Gerrit Cole made sure of as much.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.