McClellan cleans up for Motte

McClellan cleans up for Motte

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it's turning out to be a good thing that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa decided not to name a closer when the team broke camp last week.

The Cardinals have two saves through the first five games of the season, but neither have come from the man that most thought had won the job coming out of Spring Training.

After blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning and taking the loss on Opening Day, Jason Motte came in on Friday in the ninth to try to close out another two-run lead, this time against the Houston Astros.

It was the first time Motte had pitched since giving up four runs to the Pirates on Monday afternoon, but the rookie again couldn't get three outs. He was pulled with one out after giving up two singles. He watched as Kyle McClellan threw just five pitches to get the final two outs and secure the win.

"When I saw [La Russa] come out, I wasn't really sure if it was just to talk," Motte said. "He brought in Mac, and Mac got a strikeout and groundout -- beautiful. It was just one of those things."

Motte got ahead of the leadoff man, Ivan Rodriguez, 0-2 before throwing three straight balls to bring the count full. Rodriguez then singled up the middle to bring the tying run to the plate.

After a popup by Michael Bourn, Jeff Keppinger singled to right to put the tying run on base and force Motte from the game.

"I had Pudge, 3-2, and he pretty much knew a fastball was coming and hit it right back up the box," Motte said. "The next guy, popup, and then a hit. It's just one of those things. My confidence is fine. I felt better with my slider, and I kept the ball down better than I did the other day. I felt good."

McClellan had been throwing a side session when the ninth inning started, because he needed some work after not pitching in four days. But when Motte got into trouble, the phone rang, and McClellan picked up the pace.

McClellan needed just three pitches to strikeout Kaz Matsui and two to retire Hunter Pence on a groundout.

"Even the ball was nasty," La Russa said. "He threw four perfect pitches and one that was smart. I mean really good pitches."

While Motte has struggled in his two save chances, McClellan joined Dennys Reyes as the second Cardinal to earn a save in as many days. Coming into the spring the two would have been near the bottom of the list of candidates to close games.

"We're a bullpen and were a team and we have to do whatever it takes to get a win on that day," McClellan said. "That's just the way we have to go about it and that's our goal. As long as we get it done, we don't care who does it."

The Cardinals led the Major Leagues in blown saves with 31 in 2008 and blew two save chances on Monday, adding to the anxiety of Cardinals fans who are hoping a repeat doesn't happen.

La Russa knows that Motte, who had 18 strikeouts and one walk over 12 1/3 innings in Spring Training, will soon emerge from his recent funk -- he just hopes it happens quickly.

"Someday soon he will look at these and he won't laugh at them, but he will learn from them," La Russa said. "But we're not at that point yet."

Thankfully for La Russa, he has plenty of other options just a call away.

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.