The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 8, 2013

Youngsters blazing trails in division playoffs

PITTSBURGH — This isn't your father's Major League Baseball postseason.

Or even Michael Wacha's father's postseason.

The 2013 baseball playoffs are all about young arms. That was evident on Monday, as Wacha was almost perfect in leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of their National League division series at PNC Park.Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal combined to limit the Pirates to one hit. For the game.

Wacha is 22. Martinez is 21. Rosenthal is the old man in the group at 23.

Forget grizzled old veterans. Youth and power arms are buzzwords in baseball. Whether it's Oakland's Sonny Gray, Atlanta's Julio Teheran or Cleveland's Danny Salazar, managers are giving young pitchers more and more pressure-packed starts.

Need more proof?

The Pirates, with their postseason hopes on the line in the decisive Game 5, will hand the ball to 23-year-old Gerrit Cole on Wednesday in St. Louis. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle could have gone with A.J. Burnett, the 36-year-old veteran who has eight career postseason starts, including two in the World Series, but instead he opted to go with the youngster.

And, no matter what happens at Busch Stadium on Wednesday, it was the right decision.

Burnett couldn't get an out in the third inning of Game 1, giving up seven runs to the Cardinals before mercifully being lifted. Cole, on the other hand, was fantastic in Game 2. He held the dangerous St. Louis offense to one run on two hits in six innings.

“We have one game to win,” Hurdle said in announcing Cole as his starter. “As I've done and I've challenged the guys to do, we need to do the best we can to win that next game. I believe that matchup is the best we can do to beat the Cardinals in Game 5.”

Hurdle refused to announce his starter prior to Game 4. And there's no reason to believe that his watching his hitters be utterly baffled for 7 1⁄3 innings by a pitcher who had made nine career starts in the majors prior to Monday had anything to do with his decision.

The simple fact is, Cole is the better option for Pirates, especially at Busch Stadium, where Burnett has been awful. With everything riding on Game 5 – and much of that outcome likely dependent on how the starting pitchers perform – Hurdle had to go with the hot hand in Cole.

Cole declined my interview request and Burnett was not in the clubhouse after the game. It's likely that Burnett, as competitive as he is, is unhappy with Hurdle's decision. But as a team leader, he must understand it.

“It's a difficult decision,” Hurdle said, “because he has meant so much (to the Pirates). We've asked so much of him while he's been here. (Busch Stadium) has been a very challenging park for him. If this was any other venue, he would have gotten the ball. But, for me, in this venue, this game, Cole is going to be our guy.”

Burnett has been terrific for the Pirates in what he has done for the team on the field and off it. He's been a vocal leader and mentor for the young pitchers. He's been great for the city and its fans.

But his track record won't do him or the Pirates any good on Wednesday. They need to win, and they need Cole – who was 2 years old the last time the Pirates were in the postseason – to lead the way.

Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.

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