Neshek provides sturdy bridge to Rosenthal
Superstitious setup man shakes off Game 2 hiccup in 1-2-3 eighth inning
ST. LOUIS -- Pat Neshek was locked in and focused as he warmed up in the seventh inning of Monday night's Game 3 of the National League Division Series, preparing to preserve a typically solid outing by starter John Lackey.
But he was also feeling a little torn. This had nothing to do with his nerves jangling because of what happened a couple of days earlier vs. the Dodgers in Los Angeles; no, Neshek was feeling conflicted because while he was warming up, a Kolten Wong home run ball was headed right toward him, and he had to fight the urge to catch it.
Apparently, this is somewhat of a thing. At least six of the left-handed-hitting Wong's 12 regular-season home runs have landed in the Cardinals' bullpen, which is located in right-center at Busch Stadium. Neshek has caught all of them.
It doesn't stop there. Neshek has had the baseballs authenticated by Major League Baseball, and he then offers them back to Wong. Every time, Wong has declined.
"I ask him, 'Do you want them?'" Neshek said. "He's like, 'No.' So I just kept them in my locker."
On Monday, Neshek was faced with a dilemma as he watched the ball sail right toward him. Stop warming up to catch it? Or let it go?
Neshek, fearing disapproval from up above, opted to let the ball go.
By "up above," we mean where the baseball gods live. Truly, that is who Neshek was thinking about. Those pesky baseball gods, who may think it would be fun to make him pay for briefly turning his attention away from warming up for three seconds to catch the ball.
You know what they say about ballplayers being superstitious? All true.
"I wanted to catch it," Neshek said, chuckling. "But I thought the baseball gods wouldn't like it. It would have been so cool to catch it. But, I'm warming up."
If we are to believe the BG's (baseball gods) played a role in any of this, clearly, Neshek made the right choice. He pitched valiantly in the eighth inning, needing just nine pitches to retire Dee Gordon (groundout), Yasiel Puig (strikeout) and Adrian Gonzalez (flyout).
Neshek didn't view this necessarily as redemption after giving up the decisive homer to Matt Kemp that pushed Game 2 in favor of the Dodgers. But he was glad to have gotten back on the mound so soon after that outing.
"You go into it with the realization that you're probably going to get the ball again," Neshek said. "Just be ready. You just try to do your job."
The life of a relief pitcher is an interesting one. He is rarely noticed when he simply get the outs he's supposed to when called upon. When he blows it, however, the attention is solely on him.
The difference in Game 3 between the Cardinals and Dodgers came down to who had the better bullpen. After a 3-1 St. Louis win, the fact that the Cards have a chance to close out the NLDS on Tuesday in front of their home crowd has a lot to do with the role Neshek and closer Trevor Rosenthal played in this victory.
"Any time our pitching staff does well and guys are scoring runs, you just want to contribute and compete and be a part of it," said Rosenthal, who nailed down his sixth career postseason save with a scoreless ninth. "You just fall in line and do what everybody else is doing. To be a part of that is a lot of fun."
Rosenthal's inning wasn't without its tense moments. After he struck out Kemp, Hanley Ramirez singled up the middle. Carl Crawford followed with a base hit to shallow center. Rosenthal then had some issues with his footing due to a wet mound, delaying game action for a minute or so while the grounds crew fixed the issue.
Rosenthal then coaxed fly balls from Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis, sealing the win. He has logged saves in both of the Cardinals' NLDS wins.
"From the sample size of experience I've had in the past couple of years, we're fortunate to have great pitching, great depth," Rosenthal said. "It's exciting, especially in these situations where they're really close games. It's pretty cool."
Maybe not as cool as catching a Wong home run on the fly, but this will do, too.