“It was the most impressive save I’ve ever seen,” Scott said. “Obviously, being in the AL East, we’ve seen a lot of good closers with Mariano and stuff. But it was so impressive. There’s just no drama with him. He just attacks guys.”
And he does it with a fastball that averages a pedestrian 89.2 mph, adding a devastating split-fingered pitch that, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said, “he can make go down, right, or left. His fastball, he hits the corners. You can’t just wait for his mistake and hit his mistake.” Because there are just so few. Uehara pitched a career-high 741
3 innings, struck out 101 and walked nine.
“Easy,” backup catcher David Ross said. “If I had to pick one word, catching him is easy.”
The spitfire Rosenthal might be the opposite. His average fastball sits at 97.2 mph, and he hits 100 basically every time out. When the Cardinals sent a scout to watch Cowley County Community College, he had scarcely pitched at all. But as he said, “Luckily, I was gifted with a good arm.”
Uh, yeah. Some franchises had no idea who he was. The Cardinals took him in the 21st round that year. The following summer, they made him a starter. But by late in 2012, he was in the majors as a set-up man, and in the postseason, he was eye-popping — two hits and two walks with 15 strikeouts in 82
3 innings pitched.
So even as Rosenthal, who had three saves all year, inherited the closer role headed to the postseason — Edward Mujica, who saved 37 games, posted an 11.05 ERA in September — the question that captivates St. Louis is: Next year, will Rosenthal, armed with four pitches, start or close?
“He has a chance to be a starter if that’s something he really wanted to do,” Mozeliak said. “From a talent standpoint, he has an extremely high ceiling. But when you see him in a short stint, he’s dynamic.”
Both these guys have been — recently. But the history of their two teams, and their personal histories, show that it all can change, and fast.
“You see the turnover that’s been happening,” said Cardinals reliever John Axford, who tied for the National League lead with 46 saves for the Brewers in 2011 — and was out of the closer’s job by 2013. “It’s a difficult role, obviously. The attention that’s brought to it now changes a lot of the mentality and the thoughts of coaches and the city. . . .
“The closer was kind of this aura of a baseball player where they were always going to be in that role. Now, it’s a little bit different. They’ve seen success from some guys for a couple years, success for others who came out of nowhere, like myself, and they know if one guy’s not going to do it, maybe someone else can.”
The part that’s clear: Both Uehara and Rosenthal can, and have. And in vastly different ways, they have provided that most elusive feeling to two of baseball’s most infatuated fan bases: The idea that a lead in the ninth, no matter how small, is safe.