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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Whoever wins, four-game slate can't be beat

Whoever wins, four-game slate can't be beat

Whoever wins, four-game slate can't be beat

If this isn't the best day of baseball, it will do until a better one comes along. This is the day baseball delivers four postseason games stretched over about a 12-hour period. Every pitch matters, so there will be tension and pressure and all that good stuff.

Welcome to October.

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So prepare to be surprised, thrilled, disappointed, optimistic and maybe even angry. And that is just in that first game.

This is the month that will change the way we think about some players. Some may have their finest hour, others their most bitter disappointment.

But that is part of the deal, too.

Nothing is guaranteed, not even for teams like the Dodgers and the Red Sox, who have looked like the best teams in their leagues for months.

The Braves may have something to say about that assessment.

Or the Rays.

Or the Tigers.

Some players live for this time of the year. As Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett once yelled to his teammates before a postseason game, "Jump on my back, boys."

Puckett has had plenty of company through the years. George Brett was not going to let the Royals lose in 1985.

He simply wasn't, and you can look it up.

Remember Chris Carpenter? Two years ago when the Cardinals got to Game 7 against the Rangers, they didn't think he was going to let them lose.

Josh Beckett was like that for the Marlins in 2003.

Derek Jeter has always had some of the right stuff, too.

These four games Friday all have distinctive plot lines, beginning with the first one, at 1 p.m. ET on MLB Network. That's the Pirates and the Cardinals playing Game 2 of their NL Division Series series at Busch Stadium.

The Pirates will be a game from elimination if they lose after getting beat by the Cardinals, 9-1, on Thursday in Game 1. But they are handing the baseball to their young ace, Gerrit Cole, the 23-year-old right-hander who made his Major League debut June 11 and was his team's best pitcher down the stretch, going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in September.

Regardless of what happens Friday, the Pirates believe Cole will be one of the anchors of their rotation for years to come. If he comes close to pitching as well as he has most of this season, the Pirates have plenty of reason to feel confident.

Two hours after those teams get started, the Rays and the Red Sox will play Game 1 of their AL Division Series on TBS. One of the storylines in this one is that Boston's Game 1 starter, left-hander Jon Lester, has had a huge bounceback season, going from 9-14 in 2012 to 15-8 in 2013.

Even the most optimistic Red Sox fans probably did not think Lester would have such a stunning turnaround in such a short period of time. Lester said he went home after last season, cleared his mind and went to work.

This is a fascinating series because the Red Sox have had four days off and, beyond that, clinched the American League East two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Rays needed a 10-2 run to get to this game.

"We're not tired," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

The Dodgers and the Braves will play Game 2 of their NLDS at 6 p.m. ET on TBS. The Dodgers are favored by many to win their first National League pennant in 25 years in large part because of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw at the front of their rotation.

Greinke starts Game 2 after a spectacular regular season that ended with him allowing 10 earned runs in his last 10 starts. The Dodgers were 22-6 with him on the mound this season.

Finally, the Tigers and the A's will play their Game 1 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TBS in a repeat of a terrific series that went the distance last season. Before the first pitch is thrown, these might be the two most evenly matched teams in the postseason.

The A's have a deep, talented pitching staff, one of the few that can match up with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. Oakland's starter will be 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who won 18 games and allowed more than three runs in just four of his 30 starts.

General manager Billy Beane originally signed Colon to show his young pitchers about mound presence, poise and getting by without great stuff. Colon has done all of that while also being one of baseball's most consistent starters.

So do you see how good it is going to be? Put your work day on hold right after lunch and enjoy. It is the world's greatest game at its October best.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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