For the first time this postseason, St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander Michael Wacha labored on the mound. And for the first time, he walked off it with his team trailing. After allowing two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 2 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the hard-throwing Wacha, 22, was replaced by a pair of fire-breathing relievers that would put any manager at ease regardless of the magnitude of the game.
Right-hander Carlos Martinez, 22, fired two crucial innings, escaping a jam in the eighth inning by regularly pumping 96-mph fastballs. And to close out the game in the ninth inning, the Cardinals turned to right-handed closer Trevor Rosenthal, 23, who struck out the side on 11 blazing pitches, the last one a 99-mph fastball that made pinch-hitter Daniel Nava look helpless. According to ESPN Stats/Info, St. Louis pitchers fired 53 fastballs at 94 mph or higher in Game 2 and the Red Sox went 2 for 12 with five strikeouts against them.
The Boston Red Sox boast a strong and reliable relief corps, but they don’t have the collection of power arms that the Cardinals’ bullpen contains. During the regular season, the Cardinals’ bullpen averaged the fourth-hardest fastball (93.6 mph), according to FanGraphs.com, close behind the first-place Royals (94.1), Reds (94) and White Sox (93.8). Rosenthal’s fastball averaged 97.3 mph (sixth fastest in baseball) and Martinez was clocked at an average speed of 96.8 mph (11th). How about right-hander John Axford? 96.2 mph. Left-hander Kevin Siegrist? 95.2 mph. In the playoffs, power arms dominate.
Given the abilities of his bullpen, Matheny would be right to be aggressive in turning the ball over to them. As Wacha began to labor in the sixth inning and his pitch count neared a breaking point, Matheny still stuck with the right-hander against David Ortiz. Because he had been so reliable late in the season and in the playoffs, perhaps the rookie had earned the right to face Ortiz. Maybe Matheny saw something about the matchup that he felt would work in the Cardinals’ favor. But Wacha then surrendered a two-run home run that, momentarily, put the Red Sox up.
Facing a lineup for the third time in a game is no easy task, especially in the playoffs. But knowing that he has a bunch of electric hard-throwers stashed in the bullpen, Matheny could have yanked Wacha earlier and perhaps the Cardinals could have maintained the lead.
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