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Cards' relief corps stifles Sox, continues to astound

Cards' relief corps stifles Sox, continues to astound

BOSTON -- This was a night in which no development was definitive, in a ballpark prone to problematic innings for pitching staffs, and so it's impossible to overlook what those steely souled, electric-armed young Cardinals relievers did in the clutch.

They nailed down the Cards' 4-2 win over the Red Sox in Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park, and they did so in dramatic fashion. Manager Mike Matheny demonstrated incredible confidence in Carlos Martinez, who had to navigate his way through a couple of extra outs in the eighth inning, and then he turned it over to Trevor Rosenthal, who absolutely blew through the Boston bats in the ninth.

Martinez, remember, is 22. Rosenthal is 23. It's one thing to have a stud 22-year-old starter stepping up on the postseason stage the way Game 2 starter Michael Wacha is, but on this night, the work Martinez and Rosenthal did to close the door demonstrated arguably the National League champ's strongest suit in this series.

"Our motto has been to pick each other up," Rosenthal said. "Always just try to get the ball to the next guy, get the outs, do your job."

They did that.

Martinez came on in the seventh, just after the Cards had rallied to a 4-2 lead, and he made short work of the bottom of the Red Sox's order, striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and getting groundouts out of Stephen Drew and Xander Bogaerts.

But it was the eighth inning in which Martinez -- whose blazing heat and stifling slider make for a potent pairing -- really shined. It was an inning that could have gotten away from him very easily, especially if he had any unease in the wake of giving up a double, throwing a wild pitch and allowing a sacrifice fly in Game 1.

More unease could have arose when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the inning by reaching on Matt Carpenter's error at second base. But Martinez responded by striking out Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia in succession. In an 0-2 count, Victorino was utterly frozen by an 83-mph slider with big breaking action. And Pedroia, also down 0-2, flailed at the same pitch.

"He's obviously got good stuff," said Jason Motte, the Cards' one-time closer who has been out following elbow surgery. "He has a 99-100 mph fastball, then a 98-mph sinker that's disgusting. That offspeed stuff he has keeps them thinking that they've got to look for something other than the fastball, and it makes that offspeed stuff that much better."

Rockin' rookie relievers
The Cardinals are the first team in Major League history to have four rookies make at least four relief appearances in one postseason
Pitcher G IP H ER BB K
Carlos Martinez 9 9 2/3 4 3 2 9
Trevor Rosenthal 7 8 3 0 2 12
Seth Maness 6 3 3 0 0 1
Kevin Siegrist 6 3 5 2 0 1
Totals 28 23 2/3 15 5 4 23

Yes, Martinez looked sharp, but that didn't make Matheny's decision to stick with him for the next batter -- David Ortiz -- a no-brainer. The Cards used to be run by a manager who basically invented the bullpen specialization that now runs rampant, particularly in these postseason scenarios, and Ortiz is notoriously more vulnerable against lefties.

But Matheny opted to stick with the right-on-left matchup -- one Martinez felt confident about.

"I trust myself," he said, "and I knew I had the stuff to get him out."

Ortiz had a 3-for-9 track record against lefty specialist Randy Choate, and the Cards' other lefty reliever -- Kevin Siegrist -- gave up a monstrous homer to the slugger a night earlier.

"You could tell he had good movement on the ball," Matheny said, "so it was a good opportunity to leave him in the game."

It was also a good opportunity to get second-guessed.

"I thought he had that option [of going with a lefty]," said general manager John Mozeliak, "but I think when you're looking at how Carlos was throwing, you could see that he was having a high level of confidence in him knowing he probably matched up as well against anybody as anyone at that point."

Matheny's faith was rewarded -- somewhat. The kid got the ground ball off the bat of Big Papi, but a diving Carpenter was unable to turn it into an out. So now the Red Sox had two on with two out and were one swing away from taking over again.

But before you could even get wrapped up in the heat of the scenario, Martinez escaped it. He peppered Mike Napoli with three two-seamers, the last of which was popped up harmlessly to second base. The inning was over, and Martinez put an exclamation point on it by pounding his glove and shouting into the night.

In the ninth, the sheer lack of drama was the source of amazement. Rosenthal faced Jonny Gomes, Saltalamacchia and Daniel Nava. He struck all three of them out. On 11 pitches. All fastballs, ranging from 95-99 mph.

Nasty.

In World Series history, no pitcher had ever retired the side in the ninth on strikeouts in less than 14 pitches. It's an obscure -- but telling -- statistic that demonstrates how unhittable Rosenthal looked.

"His stuff's electric," Mozeliak said. "His fastball's electric. He pounded the bottom of that strike zone, and it worked."

The Cards' bullpen tends to work well, and it works with a remarkably young cast. The Cardinals are the first team in history to have four rookies -- Martinez, Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Siegrist -- make at least four relief appearances in the postseason.

But because of the raised stakes and the dominance displayed, this was the 'pen's greatest performance of the October run.

"It felt good to get the win like that," said Rosenthal, as efficient with his words as he was with his pitches.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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