October 12, 2011: Cardinals bullpen stars in NLCS Game 3 win

Early in the 2011 season, a five-inning start from Chris Carpenter wouldn’t have been enough for the Cardinals and their beleaguered bullpen.

By October, however, the Cardinals’ once-shaky bullpen had become key to their success, as evidenced by the four innings of scoreless relief provided by Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski, and Jason Motte in a 4-3 NLCS Game 3 victory.

Heading into the series, the Cardinals recalibrated their bullpen. Jake Westbrook, who had been a starter throughout the regular season and was moved to the bullpen for the NLDS vs. the Phillies, was left off the roster. When Skip Schumaker suffered an oblique injury, his roster spot also went toward reloading the bullpen, as the Cardinals added Kyle McClellan and Lynn, both of whom were capable of pitching multiple innings.

It was just one more step in strengthening a bullpen that the Cardinals upgraded when they traded Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters to the Blue Jays in July for outfielder Corey Patterson, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, and relievers Octavio Dotel and Rzepczynski.

“What they did at the trade deadline and what we’ve done since then is we’ve gotten pretty deep and they’re not afraid to use us,” Lynn said. “Guys started to figure out their niche out there. Things got smoother.”[1]

Carpenter was coming off a three-hit, complete-game shutout of the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS, but he never seemed to get settled in against the Brewers. In the first inning, he walked Mark Kotsay and hit Ryan Braun with a pitch. With runners on first and second and one out, Prince Fielder flied out to center fielder Jon Jay, who ended the inning when he threw out Kotsay as he tried to advance to second.

The momentum of Jay’s double play carried over to the bottom of the first against Brewers starter Yovanni Gallardo, who entered the game with a 1-7 career record and 5.66 ERA against the Cardinals. Rafael Furcal led off with a single up the middle and advanced to second when Gallardo uncorked a wild pitch. Jay doubled to put the Cardinals on the scoreboard, and Albert Pujols followed with a ground-rule double that scored Jay.

Battling his control, Gallardo walked both Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman before Molina hit into a double play that scored Pujols. David Freese followed with the Cardinals’ third double of the inning to make the score 4-0.

“I think I was off the whole game, to be honest with you,” Gallardo said. “Even after that first inning, the four innings after that, I was just struggling. I was battling to put the ball where I wanted to.”[2]

The Brewers immediately cut the Cardinals’ lead in half in the second inning as Rickie Weeks, Jerry Hairston, and Yuniesky Betancourt hit consecutive singles and Gallardo added a sacrifice fly. One inning later, Kotsay homered to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-3.

“I got a first-pitch fastball and put a good swing on it,” Kotsay said. “At that point, I thought we had the momentum on our side.”[3]

Carpenter worked around an infield single in the fourth and two walks in the fifth. After five innings and 89 pitches, his night was complete. The Cardinals ace had allowed three earned runs on six hits and three walks.

“All night long it was a battle, but you know what? That’s what it’s all about in the postseason,” Carpenter said. “Our bullpen did a phenomenal job to finish it out.”[4]

Salas, who had posted a 2.28 ERA and saved 24 games during the regular season, retired Hairston, Betancourt, and Jonathan Lucroy in order in the sixth. The rookie Lynn followed with a 1-2-3 seventh, getting fly balls from Nyjer Morgan, Corey Hart, and Kotsay.

Lynn returned for the eighth inning, getting Braun to ground out to Nick Punto at second base before Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called on Rzepczynski to face the left-handed Fielder. Rzepczynski struck out Fielder on four pitches before La Russa once again played the match-ups, turning to Motte to get the final four outs of the game.

Motte struck out Weeks to finish the eight, then rolled through the ninth, getting Hairston to ground out before striking out Betancourt and pinch-hitter Casey McGehee to end the game. It was the perfect way to cap a dominant performance from the Cardinals’ bullpen, which held the Brewers hitless over four innings of work.

“To me, the thing that has gone the furthest has been Motte stepping up and being the closer,” Berkman said. “Now we’ve got a guy throwing 100 with a nasty slider. It’s a presence, a force out there.”[5]

For the postseason, St. Louis relief pitchers had held opponents to a .185 batting average.

“We knew their bullpen was good, but when you have guys that are throwing that hard, they don’t walk people, they have good sliders … they’ve got good arms,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.[6]

“The bullpen is feeding off each other right now,” Rzepczynski said. “One guy is going in, getting a guy out, and then another situation calls someone else in. We’re succeeding right now. We’re going to keep it going in this series.”[7]

Though he wasn’t his sharpest, Carpenter earned his second win of the 2011 postseason and his seventh career postseason win, tying a franchise record set by Bob Gibson. Motte was credited with the save.

Freese led the Cardinals’ offensive efforts with three hits, including a pair of doubles. Pujols added two hits and was intentionally walked twice.

With the win, St. Louis was entering Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.

“They’re way too good over there for us to take victories for granted,” Freese said.[8]

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[1] Derrick Goold, “Bullpen saves the day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2011.

[2] Tom Oates, “It’s official: Trouble is brewing,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 13, 2011.

[3] Dennis Punzel, “Rally out of reach,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 13, 2011.

[4] Joe Strauss, “High-stakes performance,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2011.

[5] Joe Strauss, “High-stakes performance,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2011.

[6] Bryan Burwell, “Drama continues,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2011.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Bullpen saves the day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2011.

[8] Joe Strauss, “High-stakes performance,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2011.

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