ST. LOUIS — Before Game 1 of the NLDS even got started, Pittsburgh Pirates rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole gave a press conference to explain his approach to starting Game 2 on Friday. Even though we know the St. Louis Cardinals have jumped to a one-game lead after Carlos Beltran and company pounded A.J. Burnett, nobody should expect anything in Cole's approach to change.
He's going to be fearless, even angry. That's how he always pitches. From an emotional standpoint, the closest thing to the MLB playoffs Cole has experienced was in the College World Series when he pitched for UCLA two years ago. He's not kidding himself — Busch Stadium will make that seem like Little League by comparison — but despite being 22 years old and new here, Cole sounds like he can't wait to dig in.
"It's going to be unbelievable," Cole said. "You're in enemy territory. The place is going to be loud. It's going to be rocking. I have no real experience to pull from, so I'm just going to try to keep it as simple as I can and just control what I can control."
He definitely likes to be in control. Even as the Pirates were celebrating winning the NL wild card game Tuesday night, Cole made his way to the Bucs bullpen and started his side session in preparation of his next start. Everyone else on the roster was pouring champagne over each other's heads while this guy was working. If he had been on the Dodgers when they jumped into the Chase Field pool, Cole would have taken the opportunity to swim laps.
He might burn himself out one day, but you can't knock Cole's results so far. He's been the Pirates best pitcher since August, posting a 2.21 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 13 walks in 51 innings with a .621 OPS against. And with a .356 batting average on balls in play, he's even been a little unlucky. That just makes him angrier, probably.
"I'm always angry out there," Cole said. "I think there's a quiet aggression that you need to have, that presence that you have on the mound, the poise."
Cole says he realizes his emotions can work against him, as they can against anybody, but it doesn't matter. It's how he has to pitch at this stage of his career. It might not look like he's having fun, but it's possible that Cole simply is enjoying the process.
"I don't have quite the feel that guys who have played this game for 10 or 15 years do," Cole said. "I'm just trying to prepare myself the best I can and give my team a chance to win. I'll just do that at any cost."
One of the reasons for Cole's increased success is reliance on a refined curveball, one he learned from Burnett. Cole said he wanted an off-speed pitch to go with the rest of his repertoire, which is good, but mostly hard stuff.
Burnett, who could not come through in Game 1, has hope in part because Cole is following him in the rotation.
"Gerrit’s going tomorrow," Burnett said, "and he’s not afraid to attack anybody."