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Clutch Martínez rewards Cards' 'utmost faith'

Embattled righty works scoreless 9th to set up walk-off
@JoeTrezz
October 7, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- The boos began trickling through the Busch Stadium shadows when the bullpen door swung open. They were not the dominant sound. But they were enough to be audible amid a crowd of 42,203 anxiously on its feet.

ST. LOUIS -- The boos began trickling through the Busch Stadium shadows when the bullpen door swung open. They were not the dominant sound. But they were enough to be audible amid a crowd of 42,203 anxiously on its feet.

The Cardinals had just clawed back to tie Monday’s win-or-else Game 4 of the National League Division against the Braves, having shaved away a one-run deficit on Yadier Molina’s game-tying eighth-inning single. Now here came the ninth and Carlos Martínez, their embattled closer, on for the third time in four games -- roughly 24 hours after his erratic, emphatic blown save sent the Cardinals to defeat in Game 3.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 STL 7, ATL 6 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 ATL 3, STL 0 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 ATL 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 STL 5, ATL 4 (10) Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 STL 13, ATL 1 Watch

“Believing in individuals and teams only gets tested when things are a little bit -- aren’t going your way,” manager Mike Shildt would say later. “And so, the easiest thing in the world is to punt on somebody.”

There were some in the crowd that did. Shildt did not. And Martínez responded, recording perhaps the three biggest outs of St. Louis’ season-saving 5-4, 10-inning win on Monday. Called on to preserve a 4-4 tie in the ninth, Martínez worked around a leadoff double by Ronald Acuña Jr. to retire Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson and post his first scoreless outing of the postseason. That put the Cardinals in line to win it on Molina’s walk-off sac fly in the 10th.

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“Everybody in this clubhouse has the utmost faith in Carlos,” said Matt Carpenter, who committed a fielding error that helped Atlanta jump ahead in the fifth. “We knew he’d come out in that moment and pitch really well and he was able to do that. I don’t think people realize how much pressure that is. Not only the magnitude of the game, but when people are expecting you to fall apart.”

The fear of unraveling existed because Martínez, who did not address the media after Monday’s game, had previously spent this series unraveling at the most inopportune times. The converter of 22 of 23 save opportunities since inheriting the closer’s role in late June, Martínez allowed six runs over his first two appearances of this series, three each in Game 1 and Game 3. Along the way, he’s been bothered enough by budding on-field tension with Acuña that Shildt conceded the need to gauge Martínez’s mental state Monday morning.

That conversation came prior to first pitch, in the Cardinals' food room, and elicited what Shildt called “a beautiful response.”

“He’s got that cornerback mentality, you know?” Shildt said. “And it was almost like, ‘What do you mean? I’m good, ready to go’ …I looked him in the eye. I’ve known him.”

Shildt said: “The one thing I sincerely appreciate about Carlos is his competitive spirit. And you know, he’s got verve to handle these types of situations, but what I did want to make sure of is that his head was in a good space and that he was properly going to focus on executing his pitches.”

That Martínez did validated the confidence his teammates, to a man, have showed publicly throughout his topsy-turvy Division Series. Minutes after the paint dried on Sunday’s late-inning loss, Shildt said he wouldn’t waver from Martínez should another high-leverage situation arise. Adam Wainwright, whose seven-plus stellar innings Sunday were negated, said he hoped “one moment doesn’t define his season.” Carpenter and others expressed hope he’d get a chance at redemption.

Now with the Cardinals facing another all-hands-on-deck, win-or-go-home situation in Game 5, the chances are he’ll get another shot to rewrite the script.

“Carlos is our guy,” Molina said. “He did a good job today. He’s had a tough series, but he did the job tonight.”

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.