The Cardinals have already seen the Pirates’ best pitcher. The guy they’ll be getting in Game 3 ain’t bad, either. Just ask the Cincinnati Reds about Francisco Liriano, who shut them down to put the Pirates into the National League Divisional Series Tuesday night.
Liriano has been great, but the Pirates’ best pitcher right now is Gerrit Cole, who stopped the Cardinals in their tracks in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1.
Nobody in Major League Baseball has been pitching better than Cole since the end of August. He was 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in September with 39 strikeouts in 35 innings.
If there is a Game 5, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will have the choice of starting Cole or A.J. Burnett, who was shelled in Game 1. Starting Cole would probably hurt Burnett’s feelings, maybe even insult him, since he’s a grizzled – not to mention pierced and tattooed – veteran. Cole is, after all, a rookie. But he has to give the ball to Cole.
If Burnett makes a peep, he should be told not to let the door hit him on his tattooed butt on the way out of town.
• Ben Roethlisberger is 1-7 in his last eight starts at quarterback for the Steelers. He hasn’t been the main reason for those seven losses but he made major contributions in most of them. You’d have to spend some time with the Steelers’ media guide to find the last time a Steelers’ starting quarterback lost seven out of eight starts.
Tommy Maddox managed to do it in the Steelers 6-10 season of 2003.
Kordell Stewart didn’t do it in the 7-9 season of 1998.
Nor did he do it when the Steelers went 6-10 in 1999. He finished 1998 1-6, but won his first two starts in 1999. Stewart was benched in 1999 in the middle of the ninth game and turned into a wide receiver. The Steelers were 5-3 at the time.
Mike Tomczak took over and “led” the Steelers to a 1-6 finish.
There was some seriously bad quarterbacking going on in those days, but only Maddox managed to lose seven out of eight starts. None of those quarterbacks was the beneficiary of a great supporting cast or a brilliant offensive coordinator.
The common denominator is probably a bad offensive line, but the previous groups had a guy named Jerome Bettis carrying the ball.
Rookie Le’Veon Bell made his first start last week against the Vikings and showed some promise, but he’ll need to gain about 7,000 more yards before he can be mentioned in the same paragraph with Bettis.
• It’s not a good sign when the Steelers make an in-season trade with the Arizona Cardinals for a guy who’s ranked by one scouting service as the 68th best pass blocking tackle in the NFL. Especially when he’s apparently being brought in to replace the guy who’s ranked 69th, Mike Adams.
Steelers fans, meet Levi Brown, described by his coaches in Arizona as “disappointing.”
Hey, disappointing is a step up from disastrous.
• Roethlisberger is holding onto the ball too long. His fumble on the 6-yard line in the last minute of the loss to the Vikings is on him.
The Steelers have two Super Bowl trophies that they wouldn’t have if he hadn’t made a habit of holding on to the ball a little longer than any sane quarterback should since showing up in 2004, but he’s also been around too long to be fumbling in that situation.
He’s been around way too long to be fumbling multiple times per game.
Get rid of the ball.
• Your opinion of former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice probably depends on your political affiliation, but the NCAA’s decision to appoint her to the committee to select the final four teams for its college football playoff should not be criticized.
It should be ignored. The same as any football “championship” that is determined by a committee should be ignored.
Here’s hoping that there are at least five undefeated teams at the end of the season.
• Wondering why baseball games are taking so long? Blame it on TV? More commercial time in between innings is part of it, but former pitcher Jim Kaat, who worked Game 2 of the Pirates-Cardinals series on the MLB network, kept track of the time players spent adjusting their batting gloves in a recent game.
It was 35 minutes.
• Steve Clark is the play-by-play voice of the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League. When he heard that the Wayne Gretzky statue in Gretzky’s hometown of Brantford, Ontario, had been vandalized, suggested that the town build a statue of enforcer Dave Semenko right beside it. “No one will touch it then.”
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.