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Cole over Burnett the right choice

Commentary

October 9, 2013
The Altoona Mirror

PITTSBURGH - Clint Hurdle called it a difficult decision, but it really wasn't. Starting Gerrit Cole in Game Five of the playoffs over A.J. Burnett makes perfect sense.

It only gets complicated because of Burnett's personality, his veteran status and the unusual relationship he seems to have with Hurdle.

When Hurdle asked himself who gives the Pirates the best chance to win this game, in this park, against this opponent, the answer came up clearly: Cole.

It was probably tough to break the news to Burnett, but this is the postseason. Nine months have been whittled down a scenario where the Pirates either win or go home.

That means Cole, who pitched so well against the Cardinals in Game Two. It means Burnett, who pitched so poorly against them in Game One, sits and gets to show how good a team-first guy he is.

Cole was the Pirates' best and most consistent starter in September. He hasn't flinched in big games, even though he's a rookie. He's been able to stay focused and deliver quality work.

The Hurdle-Burnett dynamic is odd. Hurdle is a big presence, a John Wayne-type who is loud and unapologetically full of swagger.

But those qualities seem to diminish a bit around Burnett.

They've had some clashes this year that have been out in the open. Little things matter, too.

There was a game where Burnett was hit by a batted ball. He signaled that he was OK, and Hurdle retreated to the dugout without even crossing the foul line to check on him.

Would Hurdle do that with any other pitcher? Doubtful.

Managers often face hypothetical questions that start, "If you had to win one game..." This time the question is real.

The Pirates have to win this game, against the Cardinals, and in St. Louis.

Under those circumstances, Gerrit Cole is the choice that makes sense.

Here's hoping A.J. Burnett is cheering the loudest for him.

Prediction time

So who's going to win?

I have no clue. Seriously, it's been that kind of series. Flip a coin.

The Pirates have managed to split the four games played so far even though the top two batters in the lineup (Starling Marte and Neil Walker) have contributed almost nothing.

Pedro Alvarez has provided the power. But if we know one thing about Alvarez, it's that he can easily follow a massive home run with a hopeless strikeout.

It should be a pitching battle with Adam Wainwright facing Cole, but that comes with no guarantee, either.

The Pirates are packed for an extra long trip. If they win, they'll head to Los Angeles immediately for the National League Championship Series.

If they lose, it's back to PNC Park to clean out the lockers and head home for the offseason.

Which one will it be? Flip a coin. That's as good a guess as any.

(Mehno can be reached at: johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com)

 
 

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