Rosenthal takes control of Cardinals' closer's role
Stepping up after Mujica loses job, rookie strikes out side in first playoff save
ST. LOUIS -- When Edward Mujica was replaced as the Cardinals' closer last month, manager Mike Matheny said he would be approaching the ninth by committee, intending to compensate for Mujica's team-leading 37 saves with a host of relievers.
But seven games into October, it's clearly a committee of one.
With Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on the line Saturday, the Cards turned to rookie Trevor Rosenthal, their newly appointed closer, for the final three outs, with a meager one run of insurance against a dangerous Dodgers lineup.
As the 46,872 fans at Busch Stadium showered him with raucous cheers, Rosenthal retired the side in order -- cutting down Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe and Andre Ethier with a fastball that often flirts with triple digits -- to earn his first postseason save.
"I was pretty locked in, but it was a lot of energy in the stadium at that time," Rosenthal said. "I think just that game was electric from start to finish. How close of a game it was -- being a one-run game -- and how great the pitching was on both sides, [I was] just trying to come in there and keep my composure."
In the final week of the season, the Cardinals handed Rosenthal the ball in the ninth three days in a row vs. the Nationals. And each time, Rosenthal came through, picking up the first three saves of his young career. In his first full year in the big leagues, the 23-year-old righty tossed 75 1/3 innings, posting a 2.63 ERA and striking out 108 batters.
"Unbelievable," catcher Yadier Molina said. "He's been good for us all year long, but the last month, he's been amazing. He's huge in the last inning right there, throwing 100 [mph]. It's tough to hit a fastball like that."
In his five postseason innings this October, Rosenthal has allowed just two hits and walked two batters while fanning seven.
"He's stepped in and done what he's done all year," veteran reliever Randy Choate said. "He's kind of got that perfect personality about it. He's Trevor, and whatever happens, happens. If he falls behind 2-0, he knows he's got that fastball that he can go to and just blow it right by guys, and he's been doing that."
Though the always modest Rosenthal insists he doesn't approach the ninth any differently than he did the eighth as a setup man, teammate John Axford, a former closer with the Milwaukee Brewers, said there's no denying the heightened stakes.
"The pressure is mounted. It's escalated a little bit," said Axford, who had 46 saves in 2011. "People want to say it's just three outs, which it is, but it's not, at the same time. It is a heightened atmosphere, and the eyes are on you a little bit more than they would be in the seventh or the eighth."
Axford said there are some pitchers who just have an innate attitude and ability to toss that final frame, and he believes Rosenthal certainly fits the mold.
"He's got fantastic stuff, that's for certain," Axford said. "He just threw a bunch of heaters out there to some key hitters on the Dodgers that can certainly hit the ball. You know, he's doing great things. He's short, he's compact, he's strong, he has other pitches other than the fastball. He can work off different ones if he needs to and if he wants to."