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Crafty C-Mart rises to occasion in gritty start

Righty battles out of big early jams in shortest start of season, keeping Cards in position for critical win
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- The shortest start of Carlos Martinez's season may have also been among the most telling, as it showcased the focus the right-hander so often emphasizes and an ability to rise up to the biggest of moments.

Though Martinez did not factor in the decision, the yeoman's work he did to minimize potential damage early was critical in helping the Cardinals hang on for an 8-7 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday that kept them within 2 1/2 games of a Wild Card spot.

Full Game Coverage

ST. LOUIS -- The shortest start of Carlos Martinez's season may have also been among the most telling, as it showcased the focus the right-hander so often emphasizes and an ability to rise up to the biggest of moments.

Though Martinez did not factor in the decision, the yeoman's work he did to minimize potential damage early was critical in helping the Cardinals hang on for an 8-7 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday that kept them within 2 1/2 games of a Wild Card spot.

Full Game Coverage

"I know he was doing a lot of grinding mentally as well as physically to really think his way through every situation and what it was he wanted to accomplish," manager Mike Matheny said. "And he kept us in that game."

Martinez acknowledged the added onus of pitching in such a critical game without batterymate Yadier Molina, who remains in concussion protocol. Though the two met with rookie catcher Carson Kelly earlier in the afternoon to cover the game plan, Martinez also stepped up more assertively in-game.

The mental grind included two bases-loaded jams that Martinez managed to minimize. After walking in a run, he froze rookie Ian Happ with a 100-mph fastball to strand three runners in the third.

The task got even tougher in the fourth.

With the Cardinals' grip on a three-run lead fading, Martinez faced pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella with the bases full and no out. And, after a series of misfires on potential double-play balls over the past five weeks, this one, Martinez handled perfectly.

He set his feet upon fielding La Stella's comebacker to start the double play. But he wouldn't register an out. Kelly was called for catcher's interference after his glove made contact with La Stella's bat, and everyone was ruled safe.

Video: CHC@STL: Schwarber scores on catcher's interference

Martinez didn't know what had been called, only that the bases were still full.

"I was so concentrated and focused on that inning and trying to get outs that I really didn't know [what had happened]," Martinez said. "I really tried not to let it get me off the path."

He responded with consecutive strikeouts of Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant before getting Anthony Rizzo to ground out to end the threat.

"He beared down when he needed to," Kelly said. "He did a tremendous job."

"Amazing right there in that situation to get out of it with one run," added Matheny. "That's another big point in our game. I thought he held everything together well as far as his demeanor."

That included even a brief lapse in the inning when Martinez started walking off the field, thinking he had registered the third out. There were only two.

"He's got as good of stuff as anybody in the big leagues," teammate Matt Carpenter said. "When he's pitching to his capabilities, he can be as good as he wants to be. It doesn't surprise me when he gets out of stuff like that."

Martinez faced only two more batters before his night ended. It marked the first time in 32 starts this season that he hadn't finished at least five innings. More important to the Cardinals, though, was that upon his exit, they still held a two-run lead.

"I worked really hard," Martinez said. "Unfortunately, my pitch count got up [to 92], but still I was able to maintain the focus and was able to get some outs."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez