And for good reason, as the Cards were suffering their twelfth ninth-inning loss of the season at Chase Field in Arizona.
Two of the three pitchers in mind didn’t exactly have a great game that day, but have proven themselves over time. Those two would be Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez. The other fellow, the guy who had Diamondbacks’ hitters shaking their heads and muscling up for more bat speed, well, he had Redbirds’ fans agasp with heat that exceeded that of Perez.
The last fireballer was Jason Motte, pitching in his major league debut, in a situation that counted for something. Motte gave the Cardinals four critical outs at the time, but MPH and minor league stats aside, the man gave the Cardinals a presence on that mound, as if he was saying: This is my mound, now get in the (bleeping) box so I can strike you out. Next. Next. Inning over? Not enough, still hungry, more batters, NOW!
Potential roles then, would be: McClellan in mid-relief; Perez as set-up man (8th inning); Motte as closer. This scenario gives you all kinds of configuration possibilities with the rest of the “more experienced” crew. But regardless of how you would set things up if you were in charge, with the recent re-appearance of the new and improved Perez, plus the sonic entrance of Motte, you suddenly have a chance at refurbishing a bullpen that has had a down year.
And in case you haven’t noticed, all three of the praised pitchers are rookies.
In McClellan’s case (and we’ve printed this before), it’s difficult to think of him as a rookie, with his bevy of appearances and solid performances, with only a few short-term rough patches which he worked through like any other seasoned pitcher would. So it might be hard to get real excited about McClellan right now, but that’s because we’ve taken him for granted already. That’s how well he has done this year.
Presently, McClellan’s dilemma is more than likely that he is in first big league year, and he has a bit too much season on him right now. In fact, you wouldn’t be out of line if you’ve been wondering if he hasn’t been overused a bit, and would like to see a reduction in his innings, if possible.
But while McClellan had arrived, and stayed, Perez has been down and up, re-tooling, and has re-appeared with not only better mechanics and a workable slider, but an aggressive attitude that found Wednesday come out as his only blown save. A young man like Perez can learn as much form that experience as he can from a notched save. When you step back, the ordeal in Arizona shows as just another small dent in a season riddled with dings and dangs and bents and by-gollies, for replacement of words and phrases heard closer to the actual playing field.
An atmosphere of hope, more than miles per hour, is what the Cardinals’ bullpen got when Motte toed the rubber, his swagger surely soon to be hated by the fans of opposing teams. It’s something like the Valverde exposition of confidence, only without the It’s all about me impression.
And as for Motte’s heater, one can only describe it by twisting an old tale (that may have had Nolan Ryan as the subject pitcher), supposing, in our case, Motte, that if you’re in a barrel of (let’s say, poop) poop, then, and Jason Motte throws a fast ball at your head, what do you do?
Duck? Or let it hit you?
photos by Barbara Moore
Memphis Redbirds (AAA): Mike Parisi boosted his record to 8-2 with a 1-0 AAA-Redbirds win last night at Autozone Park.
The visiting Portland Sea Dogs were unable to score upon Parisi, nor middle relievers Jason Motte and Chris Perez, each earning a hold. Mark Worrell was credited with the save for his work as closer.
David Freese supplied what would turn out to be the game-winning hit early, in the second inning, after Josh Phelps led off with a double.
Brian Barden went 2-for-4.
Jason Michaels blasted a Chris Perez fastball into the left field seats for a walk-off, two-run homer in the tenth inning, completing a Pirates comeback that started almost from the moment the Cardinals’ starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer was relieved.
Wellemeyer was lifted in the seventh after the Bucs scored their fourth run. At the time, the Cards were up 9-4. From there, Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa rifled through most of the bullpen, Russ Springer the initial reliever, who pitched out of an inherited Wellemeyer jam when the starter ran out of gas with one out.
The Cardinals tacked on a tenth run in the top of the eighth, La Russa then calling on Ryan Franklin to start the bottom of the inning, now with a six run lead. Franklin gave up a single to Luis Rivas, then a two-out home run off the bat of Jason Bay, the Bucs answering the Cards’ top of the inning run and adding another, closing the gap to 10-6.
La Russa brought in lefty reliever Ron Villone to hold off any further damage.
Jason Isringhausen then got a shot at the closer’s role, taking the mound with a four-run lead. Things looked good for him, too, for one batter, Jose Bautista, who he struck out. Then he did the unthinkable for a reliever, walking a batter with a decent lead, Jason Michaels more than happy to take first base, the Pirates in desperate need of base runner to bring around.
The troubles got deeper when Jack Wilson beat out a slow-roller to Troy Glaus at third base, and suddenly, the Pirates had two men on and only one out with All-Star Nate McClouth coming up. McClouth delivered, deposting an Isringhausen fast ball into the seats, his three-run homer bringing the Pirates within one run.
La Russa didn’t feel like letting Isringhausen suffer any more than he had already, bringing in rookie Kyle McClellan. Luis Rivis kept the Bucs alive, singling. Ryan Doumit hit a single to right-center, Joe Mather unable to surround the ball and get it back in fast enough to prevent Rivas from hustling from first to third. The Cardinals still had a chance to end the game, should Jason Bay hit into a double play. McClellan got Bay to ground to shortstop Cesar Izturis, but Aaron Miles was unable to execute a clean transfer from glove to throwing hand and never made the throw to first. Rivas coasted home with the tying run. Xavier Nady popped out to Izturis, but the resilient Pirates had forced extra innings.
Troy Glaus put in his bid for hero of the game in the top of tenth, launching a Denny Bautista fast ball far up into the left field seats, putting the Cardinals up 11-10 and a new chance to shut down the Pirates.
The Bucs had other ideas, going to work on McClellan, Raul Chavez leading off the bottom of the tenth with a sharply hit single. La Russa was out to mound almost before Chavez rounded first base, giving the nod to another rookie, Chris Perez.
With the tying run on first base, Perez got Jose Bautista to pop out, but then had the meat of the Pirates’ order if he wanted to save the game. Jason Michaels had other plans. Swinging for contact, Michaels got a lot more of a Perez fast ball then the young reliever would’ve like, blasting the walk-off homer to left field.
The loss highlighted the Cardinals biggest deficiency to date: the bullpen. For several stretches, the offense had let them down, but the bullpen has consistently struggled, tonight’s game just one more example, but amplified by the tremendous Pirates comeback.
photo by David Watson