Triumphant triumvirate: Rookies save Cards' season
After Wacha flirts with no-hitter, Martinez, Rosenthal close out tight, do-or-die Game 4
PITTSBURGH -- Imagine Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak meeting with his staff in Spring Training, scribbling on a whiteboard, conjuring up what the team would have to do to stave off elimination in October.
OK, first, a 22-year-old rookie takes a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Then, another 22-year-old rookie delivers a crucial strikeout to send it to the ninth. And finally, a 23-year-old rookie closer finishes the job.
But that was the mound recipe in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, as Michael Wacha flirted with history, Carlos Martinez shut things down in the eighth and Trevor Rosenthal closed the door in a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Pirates on Monday that sends the series back to St. Louis for a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT on TBS.
And so it was that three rookie arms saved the Cards' season.
How does that even happen?
"It's a lot of things, but I think the most important part of that is they're given opportunities, and when they get that opportunity, they take advantage of it," Mozeliak said. "Obviously, this business is about performance, and they've proven they can perform."
But to this degree is bordering on ridiculous, perhaps in the realm of the unprecedented.
Fewest hits allowed by a team in the postseason
Certainly, one veteran pitcher who has a few postseason notches on his belt and a storied career in the books knows just how special Monday's pitching performance was.
"We just watched three young kids out there tonight in their early 20s in the biggest game of their lives with no room for error go out and dominate a game," injured ace Chris Carpenter said. "It was a pleasure to be a part of, a pleasure to watch, and I'm not sure you're ever going to see another one like it."
Wacha's performance stands as one of the greatest in postseason history for a player of his age and experience, to be sure. But it all would have been for naught if not for the final five outs being delivered by Martinez and Rosenthal.
For Martinez, stepping in once Wacha left the mound was an opportunity for instant redemption. It was Martinez who took the loss in Game 3, giving up a double and walking a man before being replaced, two runs eventually charged to the young right-handed Dominican.
Come Game 4, the ball was right back in Martinez's hands in a crucial moment, and he delivered. Martinez entered with one out and a runner on first, and after pinch-runner Josh Harrison was caught stealing, he finished off the inning with a strikeout of Jose Tabata, dropping an 81-mph curveball on him after starting him off with a 96-mph fastball.
"I was very excited that they trusted me in a very tough situation, but I felt confident with my stuff, and I'm thankful I got the job done," Martinez said, with fellow pitcher Jaime Garcia interpreting.
That set the stage for Rosenthal, who might not be deemed the closer officially but certainly officially enough to take on the toughest ninth inning of the season. After nailing down the first two outs, Rosenthal walked No. 2 hitter Neil Walker, bringing NL MVP Award candidate Andrew McCutchen to the plate and manager Mike Matheny to the mound for a brief visit.
"It was basically just an opportunity to breathe," Matheny said.
"It was an opportunity to enjoy the moment and get focused back up," Rosenthal said. "We've got all the confidence in all my teammates that they're trying their hardest, so it's easy to go out and have confidence in yourself when you know you have a team like that backing you up."
Sure enough, Rosenthal finished the job by getting McCutchen to pop out to short right-center field, sending the series back to St. Louis.
"You dream of two outs in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, the best hitter up and getting out of that spot," Rosenthal said. "Luckily, the bases weren't loaded. But it's a great opportunity to be in that situation."
Opportunities have come to some of the youngest members of the Cardinals' roster this year, and earlier than the master plan would have dictated. But right down to the tightest moments of the postseason, they have delivered, showing they're as prepared as they can be for the situation the trio of youngsters faced Monday.
"We look at age, and we're not afraid to give some of these young guys a chance," Mozeliak said. "I think it says a lot about our player development, because these guys are prepared. They come up here and they're ready to contribute."
"I'm definitely young, so there's a lot of things to learn, and I just take it day by day right now," Rosenthal said. "But this team does a great job of making everybody feel as one. That's how we work. We have all the confidence in the world for each other. It's a lot of fun to go out and play when you have that atmosphere."