• Explaining possible tiebreakers for postseason
The Bucs had been setting Cole up for the start for more than a month, aligning his schedule so he could face a series of postseason-bound teams and be ready to pitch Pittsburgh's first postseason game, whatever it turned out to be.
• Is Cole #AwardWorthy? Vote now for Best Starting Pitcher
But they made it official Saturday around 3:30 p.m. ET, when manager Clint Hurdle told Cole that he would indeed be the starting pitcher for the Bucs' third straight must-win Wild Card Game.
"I had a pretty good feeling. We had already decided," Cole said an hour later. "We just hadn't made it official yet."
The 25-year-old right-hander made it all but official with the way he pitched all year. Cole finished his regular-season schedule 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts in 208 innings over 32 starts.
"This is our guy," Hurdle said.
• Shop for Pirates postseason gear
Cole likely will line up opposite Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, an NL Cy Young Award candidate who went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings.
It will be Cole's third postseason start, and it could be his first at home if the Bucs lock up home-field advantage.
As a rookie, he won Game 2 of the 2013 NL Division Series in St. Louis, then came back and took the loss in a win-or-go-home Game 5.
"I'm fortunate to be able to pitch in the postseason my first year and draw from experiences like that. I'm just going to treat it like any other game," Cole said. "Obviously there's big ramifications, but that's the nature of the business. Just deal with it. Don't treat it any differently."
That was the attitude Cole took into his final five starts this season -- two against the Cardinals, one against the Dodgers and two against the same Cubs team he'll face Wednesday night. Over that stretch, he went 4-0 with a 2.36 ERA as the Pirates won each of his five starts.
His next outing will come under a brighter spotlight, with even more at stake. But the Pirates believe Cole is ready, and their young ace is honored by the assignment.
"It's special. I think I've said it all along as he's continued to put me in big games: It's a vote of confidence," Cole said. "It's trust. It's acknowledgment for all the hard work you put in to put yourself in that position.
"At the same time, this is a team game. It's not about one player. We have to go out and win the game. I've just got to keep us [within] a stone's throw, I guess."