ST. LOUIS -- Some aggressive hooks in the middle innings left manager Mike Matheny in an unfamiliar spot on Wednesday night. When Game 3 of the National League Championship Series resumed after a three-hour, 28-minute rain delay, the Redbirds needed six outs to secure a win, but they'd used all three of their primary bridges to closer Jason Motte.
So Matheny didn't try to build another bridge. He went straight to Motte, asking the right-hander to get all six of those outs and preserve the victory. Motte delivered with scarcely a hiccup, making all of Matheny's earlier machinations end up looking quite nice. It wasn't easy, though.
Starter Kyle Lohse battled through a difficult but ultimately successful 5 2/3 innings, but he needed 108 pitches to get that far. When Lohse took the mound to start the sixth, rookie Trevor Rosenthal was already warming. Matheny knew his starter was on the edge.
It was no secret that rain was imminent, complicating matters even further, since any pitcher might see his outing interrupted for a long period of time. The risk with each pitcher was that he might face only one batter before the skies opened, burning a key arm and shortening the bullpen. Matheny said that he tried not to worry too much about the weather, but it was an undeniable element in all equations.
Lohse got two quick outs, putting himself in position to get through the sixth and make things a lot less complicated for his manager. But a pair of singles from the bottom two spots in the Giants' order chased him, putting the wheels in motion.
Not a lot of Motte
Fewest pitches thrown in a two-inning postseason save since 2000
Rosenthal replaced Lohse and induced a force-play grounder from Angel Pagan, but he was lifted after the one batter as the storms continued their march toward downtown St. Louis. Per his usual m.o., Matheny turned to Edward Mujica for the seventh for the No. 2-3-4 spots in the Giants' order. But after one-out singles by Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey, Matheny pulled the trigger quickly, calling on his usual eighth-inning man, Mitchell Boggs, to face Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt.
That decision, perhaps more than any other, shaped the rest of the game. Under normal circumstances, it could be reasonably figured that Boggs might get three, four or even five outs before handing the ball to Motte for the ninth or only part of the eighth. But as the rain picked up, it looked more and more likely that there would be a delay between the Giants' last out of the seventh and their first batter of the eighth.
That's exactly how it turned out. The skies opened during the Cardinals' half of the seventh, and the game was delayed. Boggs couldn't come back, so Matheny's options were to go straight to Motte or to turn to Fernando Salas or Marc Rzepczynski.
"Fortunately, Trevor came in and did a nice job of getting us out of the [sixth] inning," Matheny said. "Then Mujica got in a little bit of trouble, and Boggsy came in and did a terrific job. [I realized] the rain was close, though, at that point, and [we were] taking a risk that we might not get him out for the eighth, which is his customary spot."
When the game resumed, the Cardinals were batting with two men on and two out. If Jon Jay had delivered an RBI or two, stretching the lead to three or four runs, Matheny might have gone in a different direction. He had Salas up alongside Motte during the Cards' turn at bat, but when the score remained 3-1, it was Motte's game.
Motte breezed through the eighth on nine pitches, then needed only 10 more for the ninth. He was not only effective, he left himself potentially able to pitch again in Game 4 on Thursday.
"We were really hoping he would go out and be able to do what he needed to do and do it efficiently, and he did both," Matheny said. "He was terrific."
Motte was the first pitcher to get a save of six outs or more in an NL playoff game since Brad Lidge, pitching for the Astros in Game 2 of the 2005 NL Championship Series against the Cardinals. Phil Coke of the Tigers recorded a six-out save three days before Motte, but prior to that, no pitcher in either league had done it in the playoffs since Mariano Rivera in the 2009 World Series.
The outing equaled the longest of Motte's career, and it was the first time he'd gone so long and recorded a save. He recorded six outs five times in the 2012 regular season, as well as in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. Motte had 10 previous two-inning appearances in his big league career, including that game in Washington on Friday.
"You can't really go out there and pace yourself," Motte said, "because if you worry ... that eighth inning gets out of control. I was just trying to give it everything I had, every single pitch in the eighth and see what happens. I was able to get out of that pretty quick and then went back out in the ninth."