ST. LOUIS -- With Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright starting Games 1 and 2 of this National League Division Series, Joel Pineiro never would have guessed that his Game 3 start on Saturday against the Dodgers would come with the Cardinals trailing 0-2 in the series and needing a win just to keep their season alive.
But that's the situation the 15-game winner finds himself in as he prepares to make his first postseason start.
"We're not thinking about that," Pineiro said Friday afternoon at Busch Stadium. "We just know we need to come out and play hard.
"We've got to take it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time. It's going to come down to execution. They're going to have a game plan. I'm going to have a game plan. Whoever executes it right is going to be out in front."
And despite the Cy Young Award-caliber seasons of both Wainwright and Carpenter, Pineiro has quietly had an impressive season as well. The righty's 15-12 record may not be as glossy as those of the other two, but he doesn't look pale in comparison when looking deeper inside the numbers.
Pineiro had 21 quality starts out of 32, and was one of the Cardinals' chief stoppers, with six of his wins following defeats. He had a 2.87 ERA in 15 starts at Busch Stadium.
Loves to face.: Mark DeRosa, 4-for-25, 5 SO Hates to face: Albert Pujols, 4-for-9, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Loves to face: Andre Ethier, 0-for-7 Hates to face: Manny Ramirez, 14-for-32, 4 HR, 7 RBI
Why he'll win: Been much steadier since August trade
Why he'll win: Allowed just 19 extra-base hits at home this year
Pitcher beware: Finished six innings just twice in past eight starts
Pitcher beware: Had 4.64 ERA in past 12 starts
Bottom line: Has confidence on his side
Bottom line: Remains wild card in St. Louis rotation
"Carpenter and Wainwright have been so outstanding that in comparison, sometimes Joel gets lost and doesn't get the attention he deserves," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "But for a great majority of his starts, he gives you that same kind of baseball."
"We're excited to send him out there. I think he'll give us a chance -- a real good chance."
Pineiro went 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 11 starts with the Cardinals in 2007 after he was traded midseason from the Boston Red Sox, and he signed a two-year, $13 million contract extension soon after the season ended. His ERA jumped to 5.15 in 26 games in 2008, when he went 7-7 and allowed 22 home runs while battling an injured groin.
Things turned around for Pineiro when pitching coach Dave Duncan approached him during Spring Training about throwing a sinker. The right-hander declined to make the switch when the two talked about it in 2008, but Duncan was able to convince him the second time around.
"He said, 'I have a feeling that if you trust the sinker and use it the right way, you will have success, but you have to trust it,'" Pineiro said. "The first bullpen I threw, he said, 'I want all of the fastballs that you throw to be sinkers. I don't care what the results are, I just want you to feel it in your hand and see what movement you get with it and stuff.'
"That first time was weird. I had to take my time as far as getting my grip, feeling the ball with two seams. Before, my normal grip was four seams, but now I was looking in the glove to make sure I had it right and stuff."
The righty couldn't see any results during the early part of Spring Training, but soon noticed an immediate change once the games began.
He went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in six Spring Training starts.
"You couldn't tell until we started facing hitters," Pineiro said. "Once I got into my first couple of games, I could tell that it was making a big difference. I was getting a lot of early-count outs. I faced Baltimore and Rick Kranitz, the Baltimore pitching coach who was my pitching coach in the Winter League one year, he said, 'Wow, when did you get that sinker? You had all of these guys moving all over the place.'"
Pineiro had a 2.65 ERA in five June starts and an even smaller 1.22 ERA in July. But he stumbled down the stretch, going 2-3 with a 4.98 ERA in his last seven starts of the year.
"I was just hoping I took the kinks out early before the postseason," Pineiro said of his tough finish. "I think it all evens out. I had a pretty good stretch for about two, two and a half months in June, July and August. It all evens out. I think the one thing is, I'm healthy, I'm strong and I feel ready for tomorrow."
Despite the poor finish, Pineiro will confidently take his sinker to the mound on Saturday afternoon, hoping to do his part to keep the Cardinals' season alive for at least one more day.
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.