Consider me a little disappointed in the pre-game news conferences for Wednesday’s National League Wild Card Game.
I’ll admit, my expectations weren’t very realistic, but I saw the discussion going much differently in my mind.
I envisioned something very similar to a scene from Marvel’s “The Avengers,” where Loki tells Tony Stark, “I have an army,” and Stark answers almost immediately, “We have a Hulk.”
I was waiting to hear Cubs manager Joe Maddon tell the assembled media about how he has Jake Arrieta, only to have Clint Hurdle retort moments later, “Well, we have Gerrit Cole.”
That’s exactly how Pirates fans should see it.
You can go on being scared of Arrieta and his historic second half of this season (which I would be insane not to tip my hat to, by the way).
But I say Cubs fans should be equally afraid of Gerrit Cole.
The Gerrit Cole that started the 2015 as a good young pitcher on the cusp of becoming great, and then in his second start of the season, went out and struck out nine batters with one run allowed in six innings against the Detroit Tigers, the hottest team in Major League Baseball at the time.
After the game Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera — arguably the best hitter in baseball the past half-decade — called Cole “one tough guy,” and also said Cole has “a good chance to be special in this game.”
“You’ve got to put in a tough fight because this guy can pitch,” said Cabrera.
Maddon called Cole one of the best athletes he’s seen pitch all year.
“Everybody talks about his phyiscal ability, but athletically this guy’s outstanding,” he said. “And beyond that, if you watch him field his position and swing the bat and run, he’s a great athlete.”
If you’re not sold on that Gerrit Cole, how about the one who has lost to the Cubs only once in nine starts against them in his career with a 2.88 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 56.1 innings?
That Gerrit Cole has logged five of his seven career wins against Chicago at Wrigley Field.
Arrieta called him a “tremendous competitor” and a “really young guy who is pitching beyond his years.”
“We’ve seen him against us a couple times this year,” Arrieta said. “He’s been really good. Everything he throws is plus. And he’s tough, he really is.”
Then of course, there’s the Gerrit Cole who has allowed only three earned runs in 11 postseason innings with 10 strikeouts.
Hurdle leans on that experience, plus Cole’s showdowns against elite pitchers in the past.
“I think that’s one thing he’s really grown into over the years that young pitchers can get caught up in,” Hurdle said. “His first two starts were against Cy Young Award winners. I think the first three or something crazy like that.”
Hurdle’s recollection was pretty close. When Cole was called up by the Pirates in June of 2013, his first three starts were against Tim Lincecum (two NL Cy Young Awards), Zack Greinke (2009 AL Cy Young Award) and Jered Weaver, who finished in the top five of the AL Cy Young voting three seasons in a row.
Cole beat them all.
The Pirates have an ace who not only matches up well against the game’s best, but also has something Arrieta doesn’t have: a proven postseason track record.
Arrieta hasn’t pitched in a do-or-die game like this yet. Cole lives for them.
And the last time he pitched in one, he lasted five innings with two earned runs allowed and five strikeouts against the St. Louis Cardinals, but lost to another stud in Adam Wainwright in Game 5 of the 2013 NLDS.
Cole says he was more nervous for that game, but he’s keeping his focus on his next start as well.
“I feel like when you’re in these situations you want to face the best,” he said.
“You get into a situation where your back’s up against the wall and you don’t have any option but to go out swinging, so you might as well go for it.”
While the Pirates’ hitters might not do that so well against Arrieta Wednesday night, you better believe their top pitcher will be ready to land some shots of his own.
“I know he’s going to come out with an intense mindset, ready to get after it,” Arrieta said of Cole.
“He respects everything about the game and he fears absolutely nothing about the game,” said Hurdle.
And because Gerrit Cole will be the man on the mound for first pitch at PNC Park, the home fans shouldn’t fear anything, either.