That being said, our second catcher probably isn't going to play much. So John's preparation, overall preparation, I just think it comes down to experience. The levels of experience, also, just dugout experience, all the different parts of it that come with being that back‑up catcher. John has done a lot of it, but he's been a catcher a little bit longer than Tony, and I think that's going to help us.
Q. You mentioned yesterday about the bullpen being about as rested as it can be for this point, in particular Melancon, with him not pitching for quite some time. Is that maybe the biggest benefit for him to have the time down and in particular his cut fastball?
CLINT HURDLE: Yeah, I don't think we've needed to continue to push him out there to prove anything in a game. There comes a point in time you need to trust people, and we've trusted our guys throughout the season. He's put the work in on the side.
Last time out I think I saw a much better finish to the pitches than we had seen. It could have been just a little lull in the action. It could have been the wear and tear of 70‑plus appearances that maybe got him a little bit out of sorts over a seven‑day period.
So outside of that, I think he's back in a very competitive state. His mind is in a good state. He's ready to go. As we know, our best bullpen this year was with him pitching in that eighth inning with Grilli pitching in the ninth. Watson's emergence gave us another eighth inning option that's going to help us move forward.
Q. Before a big game like this, are you a big motivational speech kind of guy? How do you approach addressing the team before a moment like this? Do you go for quotes or anything, kind of rah‑rah kind of stuff?
CLINT HURDLE: No, I don't have rah‑rah in me. I speak to men. And I challenge men. We've had a program set‑up all year. It hasn't changed because of the venue, it hasn't changed because of the opposition, and it's not changed because of the degree of the game or the fact that we're in postseason.
We prepare our men every series. We have a little, at the most, a ten‑minute coach‑up, coach‑forward program. We speak one highlight from the past series, one thing we want to accentuate for the forward series. I get two minutes, the other eight coaches get one minute, and we go. That's it.
Q. A.J. and Gerrit are two different guys in terms of age, experience, stuff in a lot of ways. How did you go about managing the two of those pitchers and building relationships with the two of those pitchers?
CLINT HURDLE: I actually have seen a little bit of myself in both of them, and I really think that this game in life has challenged me across the board enough times that I like to let ‑‑ I believe if you give people room, they'll tell you who they are. They'll show you who they are if you use your eyes and ears.
I think over the course of the season, for those of you that have followed our club, you've seen a different Gerrit Cole at the end of the season than you saw when he first walked in the door. What we did is we asked him questions; he shared answers. We gave him freedom and opportunity to make adjustments. Didn't tell him what we liked and didn't like. Figured the game would sharpen or rub some of the edges off, the experience of being around and seeing behavior modeled by guys like Burnett and Liriano, Grilli, Melancon, that would all rub off on him as well.
With A.J., I think it was getting A.J. to a more comfortable place again, getting that kid back out to the backyard. He had been through a lot in the venues he had been through. He had always been counted on a lot. I think coming maybe to a smaller pond and telling him you have to be a bigger fish. You have to be a horse. You have to be our guy.
We shared some things with him. We didn't really ask him what he wanted to do. We told him what we needed him to do for us to make significant steps forward with our pitching, and he embraced every single one of them. I do think in its own way it's helped reenergize and reignite him.
Q. Why did you decide to go with Gerrit over Travis, especially considering Travis' pinch hitting this year?
CLINT HURDLE: Travis' pinch hitting was one of his strongest assets this season. We've got three pinch hitters that have done well off the bench. Travis was one of them. Tabata is probably going to hit in front of anybody that he's not starting in the outfield. Josh Harrison has hit over .200 with a couple of pinch‑hit home runs.
You look at the sequence of relievers out of the bullpen, which guys are better, right‑handers or left‑handers, or do you have opportunities where right‑handed hitters are better versus some of their right‑handed pitchers.
Also I think what you need to take into play is a couple of what‑ifs. You have to prepare for five games. We'd be hard‑pressed to replace Alvarez. What options do you have if Harrison isn't involved? You have Mercer, but then where's your extra infielder? You don't have an opportunity to move Barmes.
There are different concepts to look. In Morneau's case, if he went down, you still have Sanchez. Could Jones be a viable need to fill in there as well?
A lot of things to look at. Not an easy decision by any means. But at the end of the day we feel we're best suited to take on this five‑game series with Harrison and Jones in play.
Q. Is there any adjustment that you have to make coming from that atmosphere that you guys had a couple of nights ago, absolutely insane in Pittsburgh, coming back on the road? And then the second part to that is do you think it's important to have A.J. out there in Game 1 given all of the postseason experience he has on a team that doesn't have as much?
CLINT HURDLE: I think we're excited for the opportunity to be here. Anytime you come to St. Louis in the postseason, it's significant and special until you've worn a uniform and gotten in it.
It's going to be cool for us. It's obviously their home game. It should be a sea of red. They should be loud for their home team. It should be exciting for them. We left here with a bad taste in our mouth. We've played them competitively ever since I've been in a Pirate uniform. So it's not like we don't think we can get things done in this ballpark. We're very confident of our ability to play and win a game here. We have to go out and do it.
And setting the entire rotation up is the guys that have followed our club. We went through this two weeks ago. Down to this game, through the Wild Card game, into the opening of an NLDS of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to have it structured. We didn't make any adjustments, because Liriano would have fallen on the game that he fell on to pitch the Wild Card game, and A.J. would open here. That's how important it was to us. We planned it out a while ago.
Q. Gerrit Cole may not be a typical rookie, but might be an atypical situation of a rookie pitching Game 2 on the road in a postseason series. What about his make‑up do you like in that situation?
CLINT HURDLE: He loves to compete whether it's anything he does. This man wants to come out on top. He did through college. Every conversation I've had with anybody that's been tied to him, since he started pitching in competitive baseball and competitive situations, and I've talked to a bunch of different people, what we've seen through our player development staff, I mean, it is what it is.
There is a lot of young talent in the series on both sides. I think both organizations have grown their men up to be able to produce and get you results in a very challenging atmosphere professionally done.
Cardinals have a lot of fresh arms out there, a lot of young talent in their bullpen that they've grown up to be able to step up in these situations. And that's what we feel we've done with Gerrit. He has what I call big‑boy pants. He's been wearing them since he grew up. This guy is expected ‑‑ he's expected big things out of himself. This will be a great new challenge for him. A great new opportunity, and we're confident it's one he can meet.
Q. I know you're only a couple hours away from Game 1. But would you mind talking to the point of the tradition of these two teams? St. Louis has a deep tradition, so do the Pirates, kind of a classic match‑up in that regard.
CLINT HURDLE: Well, it is. I've always been intrigued by tradition within the game, and these are two of the more historic organizations. I'm fortunate that I've gotten to spend time in both the uniforms.
When I came over to the Cardinals organization, it was special. We didn't have a very good year. It was in between times, actually. They were so good in '85 and so good in '87, and I happened to be here in '86. But just the fan base, the Busch family, the players that have come before. When you got guys up on the microphone. When Jack Buck's following your team around. When Red Schoendienst is still on the field and Herzog still comes around, you know? It drips with tradition, with respect, with integrity, with professionalism. It's the way our organization has been for so many years as well.
Now to reignite that, not just with our fan base, but with our player development group, our scouting group, our Minor League system, the city of Pittsburgh.
The sign that I saw the other night was a sign that I said that one they made for me. It was "We're back." And this organization here has proven sustainability, which is the biggest challenge in life and in sport I alluded to yesterday. And that's our next step. It's always good to get here. It's a great accomplishment to get here once. But the sustainability that the organization can build over time that truly is what separates organizations.
Q. Getting back to Cole for a second. He's pitched well ever since he got called up this year, but he really has seemed to step to the next level in the last seven, eight, nine starts. What's caused that jump in performance?
CLINT HURDLE: Well, I think there are a couple of different factors. It's overall mound experience, overall league experience. He's adapted well to road games. You know, the numbers are a little strikingly better on the road for whatever reason. I don't know why.
The development of the curveball has really I think fine‑tuned his entire pitch selection. He's gotten out of that 10‑ to 12‑mile radius with the slider, the changeup, from 88 to 98, everything was falling on the curveball was about five miles slower than that. It's made the fastball play bigger. He's throwing it at different angles and it's become more of a swing and miss pitch for him, and the strikeout numbers have jumped since that pitch was put into play. That breeds more confidence along the way as well.
Q. Regarding Liriano, was there anyone in the organization who really pounded the table to sign him this off‑season? Was anyone most responsible for identifying him?
CLINT HURDLE: Neal Huntington.
Q. Is that the answer?
CLINT HURDLE: Neal Huntington, yeah. Neal Huntington, absolutely. This was one that he had on the bull's eye. I heard the talk and all the conversations, and I saw all the names processed. At the end of the day, this is the guy Neal kept running to.