Gerrit Cole got too much of the plate when facing Carlos Beltran in the first inning Friday and paid for it, so he made sure to be more precise at a pivotal juncture for the Pittsburgh Pirates in their 7-1 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS.
Working with a four-run lead in the bottom of the sixth, Cole stared in against Beltran with a man aboard and one out. A home run here, while not devastating like it was when Beltran went deep in Game 1, would have gotten the St. Louis Cardinals back in the hunt. Beltran also had doubled in his first at-bat against Cole, who was keenly aware of the danger.
Peppering him with an array of pitches ranging from 87-100 mph, Cole found himself with a full count. Even a walk would have brought Matt Holliday to the plate with the tying run in the on-deck circle. Cole had to be better. So, he went with his best pitch, what Greg Maddux says always is the best pitch, no matter the pitcher: A well-placed fastball.
It sizzled and slithered along the inside corner at 98 mph, close enough that Beltran let it pass, but darting back and catching just enough of the plate for umpire Wally Bell to signal strike three. Beltran questioned Bell civilly before turning around and heading back to the dugout. After the game, Beltran said Cole had put one over on him.
"He made a good pitch on me, there's no doubt about that," Beltran said. "What can I say? He just threw a pitch that I wasn't expecting."
Cole finished the inning against Holliday, needing seven pitches but getting him to ground to short. After 86 pitches, he was done. But the way Cole was pumping fastballs at 98-100 mph in his final inning , he probably could have pitched beyond it.
"I didn't think that was it," Cole said. "I thought I was going to have one more (inning), but that's not my call."
The last great chance for the Cardinals to get back in the game had passed peacefully for the Pirates. They made Cole work, though, which seemed to be why manager Clint Hurdle pulled him.
"He threw almost 25 percent of his pitch count in the last three hitters he faced," Hurdle said.
Consider the challenge won by Cole.