ST. LOUIS – Two days after giving up a pair of ninth-inning home runs in a devastating 2-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jason Motte took to the mound Saturday for his next save chance.
But in a game the Cardinals desperately needed as they look to track down the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card chase, Motte loaded the bases with no outs and the home team clinging to a 5-3 lead.
But unlike some fans who were probably thinking, “Here we go again,” Motte erased Thursday’s struggles from his memory. And he didn’t let an error on David Freese or a hit-by-pitch to Jordy Mercer that loaded the bases bother him either.
Motte allowed a run on a fielder’s choice to make it 5-4 but struck out Garrett Jones and got Josh Harrison to ground out to end the Pirates’ comeback attempt and move the Cardinals to within one game of Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot in the National League.
“I didn’t really think about the other day at all,” Motte said. “I was out there and said, ‘I have to get this guy at the plate.’ That’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking. Yadi [catcher Yadier Molina] said: ‘Forget everything that’s happened. You have to get this guy.’ That’s my mindset regardless of what happens, whether a guy gets on or doesn’t get on. I’m trying to get the guy at the plate out.”
The save was No. 28 for the Motte, the fourth-best total in the NL. But it didn’t come easy or without suspense. Appearing for the first time since allowing two solo home runs on consecutive pitches that served as the only two runs scored in a stunning, 2-1 loss to Arizona, Motte was called upon to hold a two-run lead in front of 40,313 at Busch Stadium on Saturday.
He served up a leadoff single to Gaby Sanchez before an error by Freese put the tying run on base with no outs. But things got worse when he plunked Mercer on the wrist to load the bases with nobody out for No. 3 hitter Andrew McCutchen, the leading hitter in the NL.
Instead of thinking about the past and worrying like some young pitchers might let themselves do, Motte got McCutchen to ground into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning. But a run scored to make it 5-4, and red-hot Garrett Jones was up next with the tying run on third and go-ahead run on first.
“As a reliever, man, you don’t really have a choice,” Motte said of refocusing and turning the page. “You can’t go out there and worry about what just happened. If I was out there like, ‘Oh man, bases loaded and McCutchen’s up,’ you can’t do that. He’s a good hitter, and if you go out there thinking like that, then you are already (in trouble).
“You have to go out there with a mindset that I’m going to do everything I can this pitch and go at it, and I was able to make some pitches and get out of it. If I didn’t make pitches, guess what? I would have still tried to get the next guy. You don’t really have a choice, man. When you’re out there, you don’t have a choice.”
Motte fell behind Jones 3-0 before getting him to swing and miss at three straight fastballs for a huge strikeout. Harrison, who singled as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, then grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
“That wasn’t exactly by design, but he did a great job of making pitches,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He got a little bit nastier when he needed it. That’s huge for his confidence and needless to say what that is for us.”
The Cardinals will get Jaime Garcia back from a two-month stay on the disabled list Sunday as they look to win the series and tie Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot. And Motte’s short memory is a big reason why Saturday turned out like it did.