If you can't beat a guy named Gerrit Cole, how do you beat a fellow named Francisco Liriano?
That's the challenge facing the St. Louis Cardinals after their 7-1 loss to the rookie Cole and his Pittsburgh teammates in Game 2 of the National League Division Series Friday.
Cole, pitching in his 20th game in the major leagues, held the Cardinals to two hits and one run. Next up for St. Louis in Game 3: Liriano, the Pirates ace and seven-year veteran, who was 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA this year
That includes a 3-0 mark and 0.75 ERA in three games against the Cardinals.
"You know what? It's going to be tough," Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran said in a quiet Cardinals clubhouse Friday afternoon. "No one said it was going to be easy. We're going to go out there and hopefully have a better plan against him than we had in the past games he pitched against us.
"It's even. We're going to go to their house, and there's no doubt they've been able to play well against us there. Hopefully we go there and score early. And we have confidence in the guys we have on the mound, also."
All September, the Cardinals pushed to finish with the best record in the National League, 97-65, good enough to give them home-field advantage through the NL playoffs.
All that vanished in the span of three hours Friday afternoon -- at least for this playoff round.
And with Liriano going Sunday and the next two games at PNC Park, there may not be a next postseason series for the Cardinals.
"We wanted to get a game; we got a game," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose Bucs won seven of 10 at home against St. Louis this season. "We didn't lose sight of the fact that we had an opportunity today. We moved upon it. We've done this before.
"And now we're getting back to our house, which has been a good place for us to play. And we'll have Liriano on the mound. So from that standpoint, we're set up as strong as we could want to be set up for Game 3."
Don't expect the Cardinals to be faint of heart, though, not as battle-tested as this group has been the last two postseasons. Can Pittsburgh be any tougher place to play than Washington was in the 2012 NLDS, or Philadelphia in the 2011 NLDS? The Cards never had home-field advantage in those best-of-five series, and won Game 5 on the road both times.
A Game 5 in this series, if the Cardinals can get there, would be back home next Wednesday.
"I guess if we had a group of guys that had never been in an atmosphere like that before, you just wonder," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But we've had a lot of conversations, small groups and as a club, guys talking about the energy they get even from the other team and the other team's fans.
"They're going to be rowdy, and they're going to be in it, and they should be -- just like our fans have been. It's a great opportunity for us to go out and perform despite what else is going on."
Another silver lining on the Cards' playoff cloud: Any momentum they had after Game 1 Thursday disappeared in Game 2 less than 18 hours later. Maybe that augurs well for Game 3 on Sunday.
"People always talk about momentum, and this and that, but I've always said I don't really buy into it (carrying over to) the next day," St. Louis third baseman David Freese said. "I think it all just starts over the following day."
You'd expect that from two teams separated by the narrowest of margins in the NL Central this year: The 97-win Cards were 9-10 against the 94-win Pirates, and you can't get any closer than that.
"I think it's probably what a lot of people expected it to be like," Freese said. "We know each other so well. It's going to go down to the wire; I think a lot of people expect that. Obviously Liriano has done a heck of a job against us, and that place is going to be rocking, but we're going to be ready.
"We've just got to put together good ABs. And when we have a chance to capitalize and get guys across the plate, we've got to come through."
Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the Belleville News-Democrat since their playoff run in 1985. He can be reached at 618 239-2512, or at firstname.lastname@example.org