ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' bullpen has been mainly described this postseason in several colorful ways -- "fire breathing" and "baby faced" being among the more creative.
Other words have come into play as well: unstoppable, unbreakable, unhittable, phenomenal. On Saturday night, however, the relievers were none of that. They were, simply, mortal.
And the Cardinals still won.
On a night when the bullpen wasn't quite as sharp as it had been through the opening two-thirds of the postseason, the Cardinals still came away victorious, 5-4, thanks more to a game-ending obstruction ruling than anything else that usually wins a ballgame. The odd nature of the last moments of Game 3 of the World Series erased everything else that went right -- and wrong -- through the first eight innings, including the usually rock-solid bullpen having a couple of hiccups.
And again, it didn't matter.
"It wasn't necessarily our best outing of the postseason tonight," said lefty Randy Choate, who with 13 years of Major League service time has about 12 more than most of his bullpen mates. "But that's why we're a team. That's why have you position players come out there and get those big hits and come up clutch when maybe your bullpen doesn't come through. Everybody picks everybody up."
In a close game, even a single hit can show up on a reliever's record as a huge flub. The Cardinals' box score shows two relievers with the dreaded "BS" next to their names -- BS, as in blown save. Seth Maness was charged with one after giving up an RBI single to Daniel Nava in the sixth. Maness also induced an inning-ending double play, but unfortunately for relievers, "DP" or "WHWOOAJ" (worked his way out of a jam) doesn't show up next to "BS" on their record.
The other blown save went to a reliever who, impressively enough, has very little experience in that area, despite "save" being part of his job description. Closer Trevor Rosenthal was perfect in four save opportunities this postseason entering Game 3, but he, too, was stuck with the dreaded "BS" next to his name when the two runners he inherited from Carlos Martinez in the eighth inning scored.
Rosenthal recovered in the ninth, fanning two and inducing a groundout, and he earned the win, thanks to the craziness at third base in the bottom of the inning.
"It was a tough inning," Rosenthal said. "Carlos did a great job coming in and battling and giving us a chance. That's all I want to do. The thought is to leave his runs out there and pick him up. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that."
Relying on the rooks
|Carlos Martinez||9||9 2/3||4||3||2||9|
|Seth Maness||7||3 2/3||4||0||0||1|
His first postseason blown save and his first postseason win, both coming in his first full season in the big leagues. His composure would suggest he's much older than 23, but that could apply to any number of his teammates who are learning quickly about the difference between normal pressure -- like a one-run lead against a division rival on a Wednesday night in July -- and real, true, often gut-wrenching pressure -- like trying to protect a slim advantage in the late innings in a late October game against the American League's best team.
Yet, this group appears unfazed. Aware, yes. Intimidated? Bah.
"Overall, the way that they've been able to handle some of the struggles has been very impressive," manager Mike Matheny said. "They get back out there and pitch. And just like they've been able to handle the success, too. They've been very even-keeled, very down-the-middle and not going too high or too low all the time."
That can be partly attributed to their cohesiveness as a unit, and with a camaraderie built during their years as prospects coming up through the system. They look to Choate to help them get through the ups and downs of a full season, and other than that, they're just figuring things out, sometimes on their own and more often, together.
"It's awesome to see everybody go out there and do it, and at some point if somebody doesn't get it done, they'll throw it to a guy out there behind him," Maness said.
And a little well-placed cluelessness from time to time can't hurt, either.
"I think we're all just such great competitors, and obviously the talent is there," Rosenthal said. "And I'm starting to believe, maybe, that we're just young and don't realize the stage that we're on. And hopefully we can stay that way; stay locked in and just come every day ready to win."
Or, ready to cash in on a little luck, as they did on Saturday. Two wins away from the finish line, they don't have time, nor the desire, to dissect what went wrong in Game 3.
"We always have confidence that we can get it done," Martinez said. "We always thank God we've done it the whole year. We've got the best bullpen right now. We believe in ourselves as teammates."