With all the headlines today about the infield fly rule call made by umpire Sam Holbrook, a lot of things are getting overlooked. The first that comes to mind is the gift the Braves were given in the 2nd inning when Kyle Lohse struck out David Ross, but home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg called time in the middle of Lohse’s windup. Ross was given another pitch, and of course he hit a 2-run HR. So, I’m just going to go ahead and say things evened out.
I’m here to talk about the things that are getting overlooked, most noticeably, the great job rookie manager Mike Matheny did handling the pitching staff. Matheny pulled Lohse at the right time in the 6th inning, going with Lance Lynn to get the final out. Lohse was starting to get the ball hit hard off of him, and Matheny made the right call at the right time. The plan from there, as it has been in the Cards success in the latter part of the year, was to go to Edward Mujica, then Mitchell Boggs to Jason Motte. Mujica gave up 2 hits and a run the 7th, and as much as I was against it at the time, Matheny went to Scrabble to get the final out. Scrabble immediately gave up a hit to Jason Heyward, and was left in to face Chipper Jones. I thought this was the perfect spot for Trevor Rosenthal, but Matheny left Scrabble in instead, turning Jones around as a RHH, and got him to ground out to Daniel Descalso at 2B.
As bad as Scrabble has been this year, I really questioned this move. Matheny, in what is basically a game 7, had brass balls, and this was only the first time he was tested late.
To start the bottom of the 8th, Boggs walked Freddie Freeman. Boggs got what should have been a DP off the bat of Dan Uggla, but Pete Kozma had trouble with the exchange, and the Cards only got the force at 2nd. Ross singled to CF, which brought up Andrelton Simmons. It will go down in the box score as a pop out to Kozma as the infield fly rule was called, and here’s when Matheny was at his best.
I don’t think there’s any question you take out Boggs after the delay and a couple of hundred Braves fans making complete fools of themselves by throwing beer bottles, shoes, and many other things on the field. I knew Motte had already been warming up, but that 20 minute delay put a wrinkle in things. If you bring in Motte, you know you’re going to have him rest again in the top of the 9th before going back out, which means he has essentially been out there for 2 full innings in terms of his arm cooling down between pitches. Before the 9th, Motte would have to escape from the 8th. After walking Brian McCann to load the bases and falling behind Michael Bourn 3-1, Motte came back and challenged Bourn with 2 fastballs, both right down the middle, and Motte comes out the winner as he strikes Bourn out. Kudos to Yadier Molina for going out and calming down Motte when the count was 2-1 as well.
Again, I would have been tempted to go with Rosenthal or Joe Kelly to start the 9th. Its unchartered territory, and in the most important game of the year. Matheny again made the right move in the end, even though Motte gave us all a scare in the 9th. With 2 outs, Jones singles and then Freeman doubles. Motte gets Uggla to groundout to 2B to end the game. The Cards run off the field, and if you go back and watch the postgame, Braves fans throw things on the field again.
The players executed, but Matheny had to make some very tough calls, starting in the 6th inning. For all of those who question him on a regular basis, it’s time to move on to something else. Of course I question Matheny now and then, but the hate directed at this man by some this year needs to stop. Matheny is the real deal, John Mozeliak and Bill Dewitt knew what they were doing hiring him, and he’s going to be here for a very long time IMO.
This is not only a big win for the 2012 Cardinals, but a big win for the future. Matheny got to feel what it’s like to manage in a game 7, and will get at least 3 more postseason games under his belt. Getting that first win in the playoffs isn’t something that he will have to dwell on in the offseason. I could go on about the benefits of last night’s win and the future of Matheny and the Cards, but it’s time to start preparing for a playoff preview for the Washington Nationals.
I’ve done a little bit to this point, and all I can say so far is that the Nationals are a complete team. They can do it all, but so can the Cardinals. I see that for the most part the “experts” are picking the Nationals in 3 or 4. I’m starting to think the Cardinals like being the underdogs. They may not be at 100%, or even close to it, but I’ll take Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter together against any team. AW and Carp have been there, done that, along with Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese and many others. We have Carlos Beltran on our side this time, hungry to win his first title with a ton of postseason success. I like our chances. Aside from Jayson Werth, the Nationals don’t have playoff experience. I haven’t read USA today since they picked the Tigers in 3 in the 2006 World Series. Hopefully, someone will pick the Nationals in 2 for the NLDS.