ST. LOUIS - In their leanest of years, the Pittsburgh Pirates never would have crossed paths with Gerrit Cole.
The Pirates had earned a reputation for passing on superior talent in the draft, mostly because they balked at the expense. It didn't seem to matter that this long-standing thriftiness led to two decades of darkness. The Pirates simply wouldn't pay. They were cheap.
Most popular baseball stories
Regime change eventually curbed those tendencies. So when Cole was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011 -- after the Yankees failed to sign him three years before -- the Pirates paid an $8-million signing bonus for the fireballer out of UCLA.
That investment paid off handsomely Friday in the Pirates' 7-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 2 of their National League Division Series.
"There really was no give," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who watched Cole, 23, bully a Cardinals lineup that had battered A.J. Burnett the night before.
This time it was the Cardinals who watched their pitcher twist in the wind before getting pulled. It was the Cardinals who groaned at critical mistakes, as they did when third baseman David Freese lost a pop-up, setting up a run.
After they were routed in Game 1, another loss by the Pirates would have sent the series back to PNC Park in Pittsburgh with the Cardinals ahead 2-0. Only lefthander Francisco Liriano, the hero of the Pirates' NL wild-card win over the Reds, would have stood in the way of a sweep in Pittsburgh's first postseason appearance since 1992.
Instead, the Pirates will have Liriano on the mound for Game 3 Sunday, a victory away from giving his team a chance to clinch the series at home in Game 4.
Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez blasted a two-run homer to straightaway centerfield in the third and Cole, Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin also had RBI hits as the Pirates tagged Cardinals starter Lance Lynn for five runs in 41/3 innings.
Rookie Cole, in his first postseason start, held the Cardinals to one run in six innings.
"The situation, obviously, can get you amped up a little bit," said Cole, who allowed only a solo homer by Yadier Molina. "So you just do what you got to do, I guess."
When the Cardinals turned up the heat in the sixth, Cole responded in kind and the radar gun touched triple digits. The Cardinals couldn't touch him, helpless against a hail of 100- mph fastballs.
"He made a good pitch on me, there's no doubt about that," said Carlos Beltran, who struck out looking in the sixth on a fastball at the edge of the zone. "What can I say? He just threw a pitch that I wasn't expecting."
The Yankees chose Cole 28th overall in the 2008 draft but he opted to attend UCLA. The two sides never even negotiated. When Cole entered the draft in 2011, the Pirates showed a willingness to spend.
"It's indicative of the way our organization and the direction of our organization is going," said Alvarez, himself a first-round pick and an example of quality Pirates selections. "We're very happy about that. Any time we can get a guy who comes up here and continues to give us an opportunity to win, that's all we can ask for."