As if Miller vs. Kelly didn't already carry enough weight, now $100 is at stake
They're best friends. They're still getting used to the fact that they're no longer teammates. And they face each other tonight at Busch. So what's up with the Benjamin?
Tonight's starts will be like none other in the young careers of Shelby Miller (left) and Joe Kelly.
Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports / FOX Sports Midwest
By Stan McNealFOX Sports Midwest
ST. LOUIS -- Joe Kelly came up to Shelby Miller and embraced his good buddy when Cardinals pitchers were taking batting practice Tuesday afternoon.
Kelly had more than a hug on his mind, though. He wanted to raise the stakes for Wednesday night when the former teammates start against each other at Busch Stadium.
"He said if he gets a hit off me, I owe him a hundred bucks, and vice versa," Miller said.
Considering Kelly is hitting .154 for his career and Miller .132, the odds of either having to pay off are not great. Asked if he would have something special when Miller batted, Kelly said, "Try not to hit him." For Kelly's sake, let's hope he doesn't try to beat out a slow roller. Doing so already cost him three months this season.
Besides the friendly challenge, both pitchers said Tuesday they would try to treat this outing like any other.
"There'll be some (emotions) there," Kelly said. "You just try to minimize them and focus on the task at hand."
"It'll be fun but at the same time, we both know what our job is when it comes down to it," Miller said. "We both want to win and do our best."
They can say what they want, but this start will not be like any other in their young careers. What if you were squaring off against your best friend in front of 40,000-plus and on national TV? The Texan and the Southern Californian have been tight since the summer they were drafted by St. Louis five years ago -- Miller in the first round out of Brownwood (Texas) High School, Kelly in the third out of UC Riverside. They progressed through the Cardinals' system at the same pace, and were roommates from high Class A on. Last winter, they stood in each other's weddings.
For Kelly, it must feel even stranger. He will be facing a lineup full of friends after being shipped to the Red Sox last Thursday in a trade that he says still hasn't sunk in.
He never envisioned a between-starts "routine" like this. Last Thursday morning, he was in the visitors' clubhouse in San Diego waiting for an afternoon getaway game when he learned he had been traded on Twitter. He packed up and rushed to St. Louis to pack up his locker before the team returned that night. The next day, he flew to Boston and attended that night's Yankees-Red Sox game as a fan, using his players association pass to score a ticket five rows behind the visitors' dugout. He had the night off because the Red Sox would not clear a spot for him on the 25-man roster until Saturday.
On Monday, Kelly at least was able to sleep in a familiar bed with the Red Sox coming to town for a three-game series. On Tuesday, he dressed in the visitors' clubhouse at Busch Stadium for the first time. And next, he starts a new chapter in his career against the team that a week ago he was calling family.
Let's just say this was not how he usually prepares for a start. "I didn't throw or even look at a baseball for two straight days," Kelly said. "Could be good for the body but definitely hasn't been the same routine. Whatever, you have to make adjustments."
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On the day Kelly was dealt, Miller went out and beat the Padres and afterward told reporters he knows he could have been the one traded. He talked about losing Kelly with tears in his eyes. That's what you might term a wakeup call to the business of baseball for a 23-year-old.
Miller had pitched well in his previous start, too, following a 16-day stretch in which he was on the mound for only one inning in relief. He has returned with more zip on his fastball, sharper bite on his secondary pitches and improved command. He looks again like he has a chance to be more than a six-inning starter.
To pitch well in Wednesday's unusual circumstances would be a big step in the right direction. To sparkle, both Miller and Kelly know they must try to treat this as normally as they can. Too much adrenaline is not always a good thing.
"He's been at this long enough to understand he's a pro," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's gotta be. You're going to have some extra distractions that can be out there if you allow them. Right now, we have to win every game regardless of who's pitching against us, no matter who we're playing against."
While Miller is pitching in a pennant race, Kelly is now working for a last-place team using the final two months to get a head start on 2015. This is his time to secure a spot in the rotation for next season.
"It's a good thing to come over here and show the team what I've got," said Kelly, who posted a 7.32 ERA in his last four starts with the Cardinals after spending half the season on the disabled list. "I don't know half the guys in the AL East, I didn't know what place they were in."
Miller said the two are planning to get together at some time during the Red Sox's visit, maybe even after Wednesday's game. They'll have an instant memory to share, and one of them might even have an additional $100 in his wallet.