Matheny pushes right buttons in first playoff game
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ANTA -- The 2012 season has been a managerial learning curve for Mike Matheny, who, following in the footsteps of a legend, has had to develop as a tactician on the spot. That relative lack of experience made for additional buildup going into a win-or-go-home National League Wild Card game on Friday that was sure to test the rookie manager.
Clearly managing more aggressively than he would in a middle-of-the-summer game, Matheny, as justified by the outcome, made all the right moves.
"The little things," Matheny said, "are what add up here when you face a staff like you did today and like we will the rest of the way."
All those little things -- some initiated by the manager, others executed by the players -- added up to a win that extends St. Louis' season for at least three more games.
Matheny's maneuvering began in the sixth, when he sent starter Kyle Lohse back to the mound with a two-run lead. While Lohse's pitch count (73) was still low, he was slated to face switch-hitter Chipper Jones and the left-handed-hitting Freddie Freeman. Freeman reached on a one-out single.
Lohse secured his second out with a deep fly ball to left, prompting Matheny to turn to Lance Lynn, who closed the inning with no issue.
With his team ahead, 4-2, in the seventh, Matheny set the wheels in motion to manufacture an insurance run. He lifted third baseman David Freese for pinch-runner Adron Chambers and called for Daniel Descalso to drop down a sacrifice bunt. Descalso did, successfully moving Chambers to third.
"That's the right baseball play," Matheny said. "People seem to get frustrated with bunting, but it just shows right there that it's a good play."
It worked, because Chambers then scored when Pete Kozma put a ball in play.
Matheny did deviate some from his usual late-inning script that had worked so well during the regular season. Again, urgency played a role in doing so. Though he showed a willingness to let Edward Mujica face left-handed hitters during the regular season, Matheny turned to lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski when the left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward stood in Mujica's way of closing out the inning.
Matheny's decision to call on Rzepczynski, instead of lefty Sam Freeman, was a bit unexpected for another reason, too. It was the rookie Freeman who had gotten most of the more critical matchup assignments over the final month of the season.
It was the experience factor, Matheny said, that made Rzepczynski the right choice.
"We need him to believe in himself," Matheny said. "He knows now that he's our guy. He had some ups and downs this season, but he's too good of a pitcher for him to ever doubt how much he means to our club."
It was business as usual calling upon Mitchell Boggs in the eighth, though a 19-minute debris delay forced Matheny to turn to closer Jason Motte a batter early. Motte, who covered five four- or five-out saves during the season, retired four to end Friday's game and pick up his sixth postseason save.
Matheny won't get the benefit of carrying extra relievers and bench players on his roster in future postseason rounds. But for at least a day, he did quiet skeptics who wondered if he'd be able to match wits with a more experienced manager on this type of stage.