There are a lot of highlights from this 2013 regular season, but some of the games that stand out from the regular season for me are the ones that I dubbed "reminder games" in my head. The reminder games were the ones where Pirates would come out and put together a complete and solid win after a bad loss or a losing streak. Those wins always felt huge, just because they were reminders of what this Pirate team is capable of vs. Pirate teams of the past couple of years.
Today's Game 2 was the ultimate example of that. After Thursday's night's Game 1 loss, I don't think that any Pirate fan wrote the NLDS off. Getting to this point of the season requires a certain amount of perspective, and while Game 1 was hard to watch and frustrating on almost every level possible, the universal reaction that I felt from that game was, "Well, it's all fine if the Pirates come out and flip things around in Game 2." The problem with the playoffs is that a statement like that comes with a different realization; if they DIDN'T turn things around this afternoon, suddenly the season would be dangerously close to ending.
Enter Gerrit Cole. At this time last year, I was writing season reviews that said things like, "Everyone that watches Gerrit Cole pitch says that has amazing stuff, but he's got this tendency to elevate and flatten his fastball in big situations and that results in his opponent teeing off on him. Look at what happened in the Future's Game and the International League playoffs as an example of this." Now, Cole is the guy that's on the mound in Game 2 of the NLDS with a 1-0 series deficit. He's the guy that shakes off a Carlos Beltran double without breaking a sweat, then steps up to the plate and knocks in a run of his own for good measure. After Beltran's double in the first inning, Cole put 11 Cardinals down in a row before Yadier Molina' sixth inning solo homer, and he made it look easy. By then, the Pirates had built a 5-0 lead on the back of Cole's RBI single, Pedro Alvarez's two-run homer, and fifth inning hits from from Justin Morneau (double), Marlon Byrd (double), and Russell Martin (single) that chased Lance Lynn from the game.
The big, lingering fear from last night for me was that after getting blown out in Game 1, that the Pirates were going to show up in Game 2, play a solid game, lose, and be on the verge of elimination within 24 hours of the first pitch of the series. Now, we can say for certain that's not going to happen. In fact, now the burden is on the Cardinals to find a way to win a game at PNC Park to keep the series going. As bad as Thursday's game was (and as nice as a win would've been), the main goal for the first two games of this series was to get a split in St. Louis, hand a 1-1 series to Francisco Liriano on Sunday, and go from there. The Pirates have done that, and in evening the series up today they proved that they're not just happy to have advanced to the division series.