Gonzales gets chance to perform on big stage
Rookie reliever escapes jam to help Cards earn extra-inning victory
PHOENIX -- Having already coughed up a four-run lead while running through his most trusted relievers and holding back his closer for a late save situation, manager Mike Matheny thrust rookie left-hander Marco Gonzales onto the biggest stage of his young career in Friday night's 7-6 win in 10 innings against the D-backs.
Hours after preparing himself to relieve Michael Wacha just a few innings into the game, Gonzales entered to preserve a 6-6 tie in the ninth. He walked the leadoff batter and watched the inning get extended on a two-out throwing error by Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals' sole hold on the National League Central lead was at stake as Gonzales next faced Nick Ahmed with the winning run on second.
"We just didn't want to leave anything over the plate," Gonzales said of the approach. "Talking to [catcher] Yadi [Molina], having another young guy at the plate looking to get a base knock and win the ballgame there, we weren't going to leave anything for a strike."
After falling behind in the count, 3-1, Gonzales turned to his trusty changeup. Ahmed swung through two of them to send the game into extra innings. The Cardinals scored immediately after, rewarding Gonzales with his fourth win of the season.
"He's got a lot of faith in his pitches, and he should," Matheny said of the team's No. 1 pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. "He knows those are pitches he can throw in just about any count. And just to have that kind of disposition on the mound in a situation like that, I think, says a lot about him."
Gonzales, who has positioned himself for a postseason spot in the bullpen with a strong September return, said afterward that the biggest challenge was staying mentally sharp throughout the duration of the game. By the time he entered, he had fully warmed up three separate times, equating to about three innings worth of pitches.
Matheny had Gonzales throwing early in case Wacha needed to be pulled in the first couple innings.
"It's tough to stay mentally there and to grind with your team and be in every inning, and hopefully be ready when your number is called," Gonzales said. "I think separately I had some adrenaline going three separate times, so it wasn't like a continuous buildup. I had thrown enough to be ready to go into the game each time for sure."