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Cardinals show Red Sox they've got what Tigers didn't: A filthy pen

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

BOSTON -- The St. Louis Wacha Roll Tour continues, this crazy traveling road show that sends kid pitchers leaping into these autumn piles of leaves with verve and gusto. Then they emerge with big goofy grins, shrug their shoulders and move on to the next pile.

Look closely at the Cardinals' World Series-evening 4-2 Game 2 sigh of relief, especially at the last three innings, the "relief" part: Carlos Martinez and closer Trevor Rosenthal came in after Michael Wacha and absolutely torpedoed the Red Sox. I mean, completely blew the doors off the hinges.

"You're throwing 97, looking at that, and then you flip one in there," Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said glowingly of Carlos Martinez's curveball. "It's not the same."

No, that little ol' 83 mph curve that froze Victorino more solid than a bag of party ice was not the same as the previous two pitches, 96 and 95 mph two-seam fastballs, that Victorino hacked at and thought he was timing just so with one on and one out in the eighth.

Within that, what's important to note as this series moves forward -- to St. Louis, for Game 3 on Saturday -- is that what we saw from the Cardinals on Thursday night were late-game weapons that the Tigers simply could not produce against Boston in the American League Championship Series last week.

These Cardinals have stockpiled the smoke and heat they need when their starting pitchers are reduced to smoke and mirrors by Boston's grinding ability to run up pitch counts.

That ability is the biggest single trait that might swing this series favorably toward the club that plays in the shadow of the Gateway Arch.

When Tigers manager Jim Leyland reached into his bullpen, he could never be sure whether he would be pulling out a diamond or a lump of coal. What he got at key moments was Joaquin Benoit serving up that grand slam to David Ortiz, and Jose Veras coughing up a grand slam to Shane Victorino.

When Cardinals manager Mike Matheny reaches into his bullpen, well, yes, there's a long way to go in this thing. But what he got against the Dodgers, and what he got in Game 2 on a chilly night in Fenway Park, was solid gold.

Rookie pitchers have been the story of the postseason in St. Louis, and the Cardinals got all 27 outs from them on Thursday.

"I don't think you can talk enough about them," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said.

"This is a first-time experience with the young guys," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "It's fun. They don't get scared."

As usual, Wacha, 22, pitched like he had been here before. And in a sense, he had. A few years ago, as a sophomore at Texas A&M, he was playing for Team USA when they rolled into Fenway Park for a game against a collegiate all-star team. It wasn't Wacha's day to pitch, and he watched the entire affair from the bullpen.

Next time in, he was starting Game 2 of the World Series. Following Adam Wainwright's Game 1 meltdown, Wacha held the Sox to two runs over six innings and 114 pitches. He earned the win even though he left trailing 2-1, and now he's 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts over 27 postseason innings.

He was upset because he didn't have the usual command of his killer changeup or fastball. He was especially upset when he threw one changeup too many to David Ortiz, who deposited it over the Green Monster with one out in the sixth to wipe out St. Louis' tenuous 1-0 lead and put the Sox up 2-1.

"I was pretty mad coming in," Wacha said. "But Yadi was like, 'Don't worry. Just hold them here. We're going to score in the top of the seventh.'

"Sure enough, we put up a big three spot."

Is it any wonder that this Kiddie Corps believes in Molina more fervently than Linus bought into the Great Pumpkin?

Once the Cardinals popped for the three spot, that's when their fun really began.

Martinez, 22, was a revelation in Fenway. Following a 1-2-3 seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury started the eighth with a one-out single.

Then came the three-pitch obliteration of Victorino.

"They've got very good young arms," Victorino said. "I tip my hat. I was fooled on the 0-2 pitch. I took two good, healthy hacks. Then I was geared up for another fastball and got a curve instead."

Then came Dustin Pedroia, who went 0-2 on a couple of fastballs, fouled off a curve and another fastball ... and then swung awkwardly through another 83 m.p.h. curve.

Then came Mike Matheny's signature moment (so far) as a World Series manager. With Ortiz up and lefties Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist in the pen … Matheny opted to let Martinez do the dirty work.

What he got was a harmless ground ball single -- Detroit and Benoit, take note -- and then came an inning-ending pop to shortstop from Mike Napoli. When he reached the dugout, he got a bear hug from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.

"I think it's more of what he's done all year," Choate said of Matheny's managing. "He goes with a feel. Carlos was throwing the ball great.

"Carlos had as much chance of keeping Big Papi on the ground as I did. And that way, he was in there for Napoli."

Said Matheny: "Not an easy call. But we liked the way Carlos was throwing the ball at the time."

Another key move was that Matheny had set some of this up 24 hours prior. During the Game 1 debacle, Choate, John Axford and rookies Martinez, Siegrist and Seth Maness all pitched.

There was some social media chatter wondering why Matheny would want to give Red Sox hitters looks at his relievers during a blowout.

"That was the hopeful anticipation of getting them on the mound, getting their spikes dirty, and letting them feel what it's like to get in a World Series game," Matheny said. "We were hopeful that today would be an opportunity for them to get in there and do it when it really counts. And they did a great job."

Martinez's two innings of work done, Rosenthal finished Boston off in style: He blew a 98 mph fastball by Jonny Gomes, who left the bat on his shoulder and watched that pitch sizzle by. Then blew a heater by Jarrod Saltalamacchia that also clocked in at 98. Then he reared back and fired pure 99 mph cheese past Daniel Nava.

Good morning, good afternoon and good night.

What these kids lack in experience … they certainly don't lack in confidence. Otherwise, Martinez sure wouldn't have been rocking a lime green dress shirt, matching bow tie and English professor eyeglasses as he headed for the charter flight home. Wow.

"You can't say enough about Wacha," Choate said. "He's handled it in stride. And honestly, his attitude is better than his pitching. It's great to see how humble he is."

And out there in the bullpen? The sartorially splendid Martinez?

"Carlos doesn't talk," Choate said. "And Rosey says silly little stuff. He gets the veterans all worked up with his antics. He acts like a 10-and-5 guy."

And Rosenthal's beard?

"Terrible," Choate said. "I told him that from the get-go. I've begged him to shave. That's probably why he hasn't."

As long as Rosenthal, Martinez and Co. continue to deliver close shaves to the bearded Red Sox, that's all anybody in St. Louis wants.

This ain't the Tigers' issue-riddled bullpen Boston is facing.

"It's nothing we're scared of," Napoli said. "They've got great arms. We know that. They've been doing it all year. We've faced good arms before. We're going to go compete. We're not scared.

"We know they're good. That doesn't mean we're not confident we're not going to get the job done."

 
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