Miller shows he, like other Cards hurlers, up for spotlight
ST. LOUIS -- Shelby Miller has been such a cog in the Cardinals' rotation for the last two years that it's easy to forget that until Tuesday, he had never made a postseason start.
Judging from that performance -- in a 3-2 win over the Dodgers -- and his general emergence as one of the Cardinals' most reliable starters, it's highly unlikely he'll ever again be on the outside of an October rotation looking in.
While the Dodgers opted to go with Clayton Kershaw on short rest in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, the Cardinals never wavered from their intent to hand the ball to Miller. Early in this game, it became evident they made the right call.
Miller, who posted a 3.74 ERA and threw a career-high 183 innings during the regular season, did precisely what the Cardinals needed him to do, holding the Dodgers to two runs over 5 2/3 innings in what turned into St. Louis' series-clinching win.
"That was a, 'I told you I could do it, and I told you last year I could, and you didn't let me,'" Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Good for him. He proved us all wrong and it was nice to see him do it."
Miller was edged out last year not so much because of performance, but because of circumstance. Michael Wacha was on the rise, coming within one out of a no-hitter in his final regular-season start. That led the Cardinals to want to include him in the rotation, and Miller became the odd man out. There were also some concerns that late in the season, Miller may have been getting a little tired.
He instead pitched out of the bullpen, logging just one inning.
What a difference a year makes. Miller's presence in a strong Cardinals' rotation, coupled with the fact that an early clinching situation makes for a more rested club when the NLCS commences this Saturday, indicates the Cards could be a force in the next round.
"Shelby's a talent," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We've always known it. In terms of getting out there and having an opportunity to get this start, I think it meant a lot to him. More importantly, he earned it. You look at the year he had. He found ways to be successful and adapt and adjust."
Miller simply soaked it all in as he watched his teammates celebrate around him.
"It means a lot," he said. "This was my first postseason start, and to just be a part of this was amazing. I'm just happy for the team overall. The way we came out and won this game at the end, the way we finished it, you really can't ask for more in front of the fans at home."
Miller noted that he "followed" catcher Yadier Molina the entire game, working in perfect sync, even through a rough patch at the end.
"He didn't call too many breaking pitches," Miller said. "He called some cutters; I got two doubles plays on cutters. For the most part, I just followed him. The fastball location was good until the end got a little shaky mechanically. Follow Yadi the whole time, and you'll be OK if you make quality pitches."
Said Molina: "We got on the same page from the first pitch. He was amazing, locating that fastball and he threw that curveball. He pitched great for us."
Collectively, the Cardinals' pitching staff compiled a 3.86 ERA over the four NLDS games. Take out Adam Wainwright's uncharacteristically poor outing in Game 1, during which he allowed six runs over 4 1/3 innings, and the Cardinals are left with very few flawed performances from top to bottom.
In a postseason where the bullpens are either making (Cardinals) or breaking (Dodgers, Tigers) their team's fortunes, St. Louis is enjoying a textbook run, capped by effective results from the relievers.
The ninth inning wasn't easy breezy for closer Trevor Rosenthal, who yielded a walk and a base hit in an effort to nail down his this save. But he retired Carl Crawford on a forceout, becoming the second Cardinals pitcher to save all three wins in an NLDS.
"I didn't think about it too much until it was over," Rosenthal said. "Obviously you know the situation, but you're going out there and facing a tough lineup. You try to make some good pitches, and now, we celebrate."