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October 5, 2013

MLB: Pirates ride ‘Cole train’ to even up division series with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates played a game of role reversal, and pulled even with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The hard-throwing rookie gave up two hits in six dominant innings and also had an RBI in his postseason debut, Pedro Alvarez homered for the second straight day and the Pirates beat the Cardinals 7-1 Friday to even their NL division series at one game apiece.

“Just what we’ve been seeing all year,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “You saw a focused man that was ready to go.”

A day after St. Louis got a strong effort from its starter and took advantage of mistakes to romp 9-1 in the opener, the Pirates showed poise for their first playoff win since 1992 while the Cardinals looked tentative in the field.

The Pirates now head home for Game 3 Sunday in the best-of-five series. Wild-card game winner Francisco Liriano faces Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly.

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, the 22-year-old 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 TBS had at 100, Cole had hitters helpless at times even without shadows that benefited pitchers early in Game 1.

“I just trusted myself and tried to keep it as simple as I could,” Cole said. “You just try and clear you mind after every pitch and just look forward.”

When he got in the least bit of trouble, Cole ignored chants from a second straight sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.

“You just have to take a deep breath,” Cole said. “Rip off the rear-view mirror on the car.”

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn needed some help. He 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.”

Lynn was manager Matheny’s choice 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.

Wacha (4-1, 2.78) will oppose Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26) in Game 4 Monday.

Alvarez doubled and scored on Cole’s single in the second to put the Pirates ahead — eighth-place hitter Jordy Mercer was walked intentionally ahead of Cole.

Center fielder Jon Jay said he should have tracked down the double by Alvarez.

“That’s a play I’ve got to make and I didn’t,” Jay said. “That’s on me.”

Alvarez then hit a 418-foot, two-run homer in the third.

Pirates pitchers totaled 10 RBIs during the season and Cole had five of them, including two in his final start.

Third baseman David Freese dropped Marlon Byrd’s pop fly for an error in gusting wind in the seventh inning, leading to a run.

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.

Miller worked the eighth and gave up a homer to Starling Marte.

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.

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