ST. LOUIS -- Embroiled in a vigorous battle in the standings over the latter stages of the season, the Pirates have been playing high-stakes games for some time now. Outs, particularly at the end of games, have been at a premium. So with that being the case, it's fairly remarkable that manager Clint Hurdle could make this statement about his relievers on Wednesday afternoon:
"For Oct. 2," Hurdle said, "it's as well-rested a bullpen as you can have."
The Bucs had a workout Wednesday at Busch Stadium, after knocking off the Reds in Tuesday's National League Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh. Prior to that, the Pirates hadn't played since Sunday. Pittsburgh also had an off-day last Thursday, before its season-ending series against Cincinnati.
"The bullpen is fresh," Hurdle said. "We're in a good place out there, a very good place. Our guys are ready to go, so we're looking forward to just the freshness of it, so we don't have that carrying any kind of issues. Couple days, nobody's tight, nobody's sore."
Despite holding onto a four-run lead in the ninth on Tuesday, Hurdle elected to go to closer Jason Grilli to seal the Wild Card win. He threw a 1-2-3 inning in what was his first outing since Friday.
Setup man Mark Melancon has pitched just once (Saturday) since Sept. 23, and appeared in just 11 games in September. Tony Watson threw one inning Tuesday, and Justin Wilson last appeared on Saturday.
"Our guys have definitely logged our fair share of work, but it's no different from anybody else this time of year," Grilli said. "It's September, October -- we're riding the highs of what this is. It doesn't matter. We're all feeling good. And the adrenaline, as tired as we are, as anybody is, if you're getting to the postseason, the adrenaline wipes and erases away the feeling of being tired."
Bucs set NLDS rotation, will go with Cole in Game 2
ST. LOUIS -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle set his pitching rotation for the rest of the National League Division Series, opting for rookie Gerrit Cole to go in Game 2 here over another well-rested right-hander, veteran Charlie Morton.
Hurdle favored Cole for Friday afternoon's start (1 p.m. ET, MLB Network) for two reasons.
"The way he has pitched on the road, and that the Cardinals haven't yet had a look at him," Hurdle said. "Not wanting him to sit too long also played into it."
Cole was 4-2 with an ERA of 2.38 in seven road starts. He last appeared in a game on Sept. 24, giving him 10 days' rest between starts.
Francisco Liriano, the winner in dominant fashion of Tuesday's NL Wild Card Game, will return to PNC Park to pitch Game 3 on Sunday. He will be followed, if the best-of-five series is still unresolved, by Morton, and if still needed, by A.J. Burnett's return appearance in Game 5.
Depending on how the series goes, Morton thus could have an opportunity to start a third seminal game for the Pirates in two weeks. He started the Sept. 23 win in Chicago that clinched a postseason spot for the Bucs, and the Sept. 28 win in Cincinnati that clinched home-field advantage for the NL Wild Card Game.
Pirates prepare for 'sea of red' at Busch Stadium
ST. LOUIS -- For many of the Pirates, the scene at PNC Park on Tuesday night was unlike anything they'd ever seen. The same could be said for what may come on Thursday, when that same kind of raucous crowd will be turned against them.
"I thought the atmosphere last night was great," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday of the PNC Park crowd at the National League Wild Card Game. "You could hear it, you could feel it just through the TV. But the fans there are excited, and rightfully so. We have the same thing here. That's playoff baseball."
Even Pirates manager Clint Hurdle referenced the "sea of red" which is expected to be out en masse on Thursday (5 p.m. ET, TBS) at Busch Stadium for Game 1 of the NL Division Series. More than 40,000 rocked PNC Park on Tuesday night. Busch Stadium's total capacity, including standing room, is 46,861.
"It's a great crowd here," Hurdle said. "It's a sea of red. It's going to be a sea of red. They'll be enthusiastic. It will be fun. It's going to be competitive. I'm very confident in [A.J. Burnett]'s abilities and demeanor, so I don't anticipate any restrictions from A.J. or any complications due to the crowd."
Burnett echoed Hurdle's thoughts about pitching in a rowdy atmosphere, and the pitcher said he didn't expect it to faze him the way some say it did for Reds starter Johnny Cueto on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
"I don't think I'll drop the ball, but I've had crowds get on me before -- really loud ones -- so I'll be ready for anything," Burnett said.
Pirates closer Jason Grilli likened Tuesday night's atmosphere to a "hockey mentality," And center fielder Andrew McCutchen said he expects Cardinals fans to turn it up a notch, as well.
"It's going to be big," McCutchen said. "But, honestly, I don't think it's going to be bigger than it was when we were at home in front of our home crowd. I honestly don't think anything could be bigger than that. Coming here, I know it's going to be a big crowd. They've been here before, so you kind of know what to expect. They know what to expect."
Bucs bring back Stargell Stars on caps
ST. LOUIS -- As sharp-eyed television viewers quickly noticed on Tuesday night, the Stargell Stars made a comeback on the Pirates' caps during the National League Wild Card Game against the Reds at PNC Park.
It was not a completely faithful revival of Willie "Pops" Stargell's incentive of awarding little gold stars to Pittsburgh teammates for exceptional performances.
For instance, even after hitting two home runs in the 6-2 victory over Cincinnati, Russell Martin still only had the one star with which he started out. And everyone in a Pirates uniform had them, even those on the bench or not on the active roster.
The inspiration behind the new Stargell Stars -- black five-pointed stars with a gold "P" in the middle -- was bench coach Jeff Banister, the longest tenured man in a Bucs uniform.
"I was privileged to know Willie, and he taught me what it meant to be a Pirate," Banister said. "He had so much influence on what this organization was -- and what it is again becoming. I felt it was very appropriate for Willie to be a part of this.
"I'd had the thought all year. I was just waiting for the right time. It was time."
First number, last word
15: National League teams that have played in a Division Series before the Pirates' first appearance, which starts Thursday. Yes, there are a total of only 15 NL teams now -- but the Houston Astros were in six NLDS before their move to the American League.
"He leaves me out there when he thinks I need to be out there -- and takes me out when he knows I don't want to come out." -- Burnett, on Hurdle, whose hooks have occasionally gotten a rise out of the right-hander
• With his two clouts Tuesday night, Russell Martin became the first catcher in history to hit postseason homers for three teams, following his earlier blows for the Dodgers (2008 NLDS Game 1) and the Yankees (2012 ALDS Game 1).
• In the same game, Andrew McCutchen (two walks and two singles) became the first Pirates player to reach base on his first four postseason plate appearances.
• The three home runs in the National League Wild Card Game -- Marlon Byrd had joined Martin -- marked the Bucs' first three-jack postseason game since Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.