One the Cards walked wonderfully.
First, a little background. La Russa made 75 pitching changes this postseason. The previous record? Sixty-two. He didn't always push the right buttons, as evidenced in Games 2, 5 and 6, but he kept riding each arm at his disposal for all it was worth.
This was a bullpen unit that evolved and emerged late in the year. Veteran right-hander Dotel and reliable lefty Marc Rzepczynski both came aboard in the Colby Rasmus swap right before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and it wasn't until the end of August that Motte became La Russa's go-to option in the ninth. The Cardinals' late run coincided with the bullpen's increasing reliability in the season's waning weeks.
"Jason Motte stepping up in the closer's role did more than any single thing to help us win this deal," said outfielder Lance Berkman. "It really solidified the back end of that bullpen."
Which brings us back to Game 7.
The Cards had a 5-2 lead and needed nine outs when Carpenter was pulled with a man on second and none out in the top of the seventh. With left-handed pinch-hitter Endy Chavez coming to the plate, La Russa went with Rhodes. Rangers manager Ron Washington countered with the right-handed-hitting Yorvit Torrealba, and Rhodes got him to fly out harmlessly to center field.
But the biggest outs belonged to Dotel, who struck out Ian Kinsler and got Elvis Andrus to weakly fly out to end the inning. That was particularly significant, given that the left-handed Josh Hamilton was looming. Had Dotel been unable to retire either of those two, La Russa would have had to burn his only other available lefty, Rzepczynski, earlier than he hoped. Instead, he got through the inning unscathed, and the Cards added an insurance run in the bottom half.
It was Lynn in the eighth, the guy who was unwittingly summoned in a tight situation in Game 5, leading to him intentionally walking the only batter he faced.
This time, Lynn's presence was no accident. And with the heart of the Rangers' order at the plate, he delivered. The right-hander got Hamilton to ground weakly to second, got Michael Young to ground to first and then struck out Adrian Beltre on three pitches. The crowd erupted, and Lynn let out a fist pump and a primal scream. The World Series title was just three outs away.
"Lynn was throwing bullets," Berkman said.
The final outs belonged to Motte, though La Russa, even with a 6-2 lead, had something creative in mind in case Motte looked shaky. Right-handers Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli were due up, followed by the left-handed-hitting David Murphy.
"If Motte struggles, I don't know if I'd do it, but I was going to play him in the outfield," La Russa said. "I've never done it before in my life. But take him out, bring in Rzepczynski for the left-hander [Murphy] and bring [Motte] back for Kinsler."
Why go through all that trouble?
"Because you know it can get away from you," La Russa said. "That's part of the stress of those last innings, because it's a real small margin of getting those last outs."
All of this was moot because of Motte. In 12 pitches, it was all over. He got Cruz to fly out, Napoli to ground out and Murphy to fly out, and the Cardinals were champs.
"I just tried to throw strikes," Motte said. "I got behind at first, but then I was like, 'I've got to start throwing strikes, get ahead of guys.' And it worked out."
Indeed, it did. We will remember this Fall Classic for many things, and the Great Bullpen Blunder of Game 5 will surely be among them. That was, of course, the game in which "Motte" somehow sounded like "Lynn" (if his name was heard at all) on La Russa's call to the 'pen, and it resulted in a costly cough-up that put the Cards on the brink of extinction.
But aside from that bizarre bit of bullpen buffoonery, there is no denying that the Cards' relief corps outlasted that of the Rangers, and that's a substantial reason why the World Series title now rests in St. Louis.
Rangers relievers put up a 7.44 ERA in the Fall Classic, the ninth-highest ERA for a World Series bullpen among those that worked at least 10 innings.
"Those are the guys that got us here," Washington said. "And those guys were in position to take us further, and it didn't get done."
The Cardinals, by comparison, had a 4.55 mark from their relievers. Nothing special on paper, but the difference between a gassed unit and a resilient one was most evident in the way a late lead was nailed down with the World Series on the line.
"It didn't happen [in Game 6]," La Russa said. "It happened for us [in Game 7]."