Rookie pitchers don’t usually make big playoff starts. People constantly point to David Price as an example of a rookie who pitched in the World Series, but Price only pitched in relief in the ALCS and World Series in 2008. Last night’s Cardinals starter, Adam Wainwright, pitched in the post-season in 2006, but it was also in relief.
One of the rare situations where a rookie starter played a big role was with Justin Verlander in 2006. He started game two in the ALDS, game two in the ALCS, and games one and five in the World Series for the Tigers. Gerrit Cole draws a lot of Verlander comps, and his start today in game two of the NLDS as a rookie is just another parallel.
Cole will make his first playoff start this afternoon, going up against the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time in his career. He enters a situation where the Pirates are down 1-0 in a best-of-five series, and you could argue that today’s game is the key to winning the series for either team.
“I believe he’s a young man that has the wherewithal to go out and compete in a large venue on a large stage,” Clint Hurdle said. “He has always expected a lot of himself. He sets his bar extremely high. Where this goes, only time will tell.”
If there’s one person who might know about what it’s like pitching in a big post-season game in your rookie year, it’s former Pirates pitcher and current Pirates announcer Bob Walk. In 1980, Walk was a rookie, and pitched game one of the World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies. I spoke with Walk today, and he noted that in your rookie year, everything is new, so pitching in the playoffs is just another thing going on in that year.
“I didn’t realize at the time how important that was, how difficult that is to play in the post-season,” Walk said. “At that point, rookie year, I thought ‘I’ll be in the World Series a number of times. This was easy this year.’ I never made it back. I guess I’m happy that I didn’t realize at the time how tough it was, because maybe I would have put a lot more pressure on myself.”
Walk also noted that Cole has the tools necessary to compete on this stage, rookie status or not.
“He’s a much better pitcher than I was,” Walk said. “He can go out and he’s got dominating stuff. Probably the best fastball of any starter, at least in the National League. He’s very cool and calm. He’s got a great game face out there on the mound. His competitiveness is off the chart. Very serious guy. I don’t think that anything going around [today's game] is going to have any effect on him at all. If he doesn’t have a good game, it won’t be because of nerves.”
Hurdle agreed, noting Cole’s abilities and makeup.
“I am confident in his competitive edge that he carries with him,” Hurdle said. “I think it will help fuel him along with this. And the fact that we’re one down, he’s kind of old school that way, but that means we need to win and he’s going to do everything within his power to get us back evened up.”