Normally when a team removes a starting pitcher after two innings in a postseason game and sends him for an MRI, it’s devastating news for the club.
Normally. But not for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia is down with a shoulder problem, but the Cardinals are not out. If anything, they might grow stronger if they re-insert 18-game winner Lance Lynn into their rotation — presuming, of course, that they advance to the National League Championship Series.
Such an outcome hardly is assured, but the Cardinals tied the Division Series at one game each Monday by pounding the Washington Nationals, 12-4. The series now boils down to a best-of-three at Nationals Park, starting Wednesday. Not an insurmountable obstacle for the Cardinals, especially when you consider the matchups:
Game 3: Cardinals righty Chris Carpenter vs. Nationals righty Edwin Jackson.
Game 4: Cardinals righty Kyle Lohse vs. Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler.
Game 5, if necessary: Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright against Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez.
Lynn, who threw 50 pitches in three innings and earned the win Monday after replacing Garcia, presumably will need at least two days off. Then again, we’re talking about a 6-foot-5, 250-pound behemoth, so one never knows.
Indeed, one of the Cardinals’ hidden strengths is the right-handed power in their bullpen — power that was on display throughout Monday’s rout, and power that will be further enhanced if rookie Shelby Miller replaces Garcia on the postseason roster.
Lynn averaged 93.7 mph and topped out at 96.4, according to PitchFX data at Brooksbaseball.net. Rookies Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal threw even harder, each in one inning of work. Kelly averaged 96.4 and topped out at 98. Rosenthal averaged 99.4 and topped out at — gasp — 101.2.
Ah, if only I was related to my namesake. I could sponge off him once he hits it big, toss my laptop into the Mississippi River and never trouble my dear readers with cumbersome prose again.
But back to Lynn.
“He’s tough. He’s tough-minded. He’s physically tough and we felt very comfortable going to him in that situation,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
“And to be quite honest, we felt comfortable bringing in a Joe Kelly in that situation too and we could have extended a Trevor Rosenthal. But Lance stepped up in big fashion and was able to really take advantage of that opportunity, because we needed him badly.”
Lynn said he wanted to get through the sixth inning, then yield to right-hander Edwin Mujica, the Cardinals’ usual reliever in the seventh. That plan, though, didn’t quite come to fruition — Lynn allowed back-to-back homers by Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the fifth, and Matheny removed him after that inning.
Matheny, of course, was facing his own challenge, having invited scrutiny with his failed eighth-inning bullpen strategy in Game 1. The first-year manager acknowledged before Game 2 that he had replayed the inning in his head “many times,” but ultimately concluded that “all of the bases were covered” in his decision-making.
In Game 2, Matheny’s decision to hit Skip Schumaker for Garcia with one out in the bottom of the second appeared to be a needed display of postseason urgency.
It was, but not for the reason most thought.
The Cardinals already had taken a 2-1 lead that inning. A groundout by Schumaker and single by Jon Jay would extend that lead to 4-1. But Matheny removed Garcia not because he was trying to put the game out of reach, but because he had no choice.
Garcia, after missing more than two months with a sprained left shoulder, had a 3.25 ERA in nine starts since his return. The Cardinals wanted him to start Game 2 to take advantage of his superior numbers at Busch. But the shoulder, Garcia said, acted up again a couple of days ago.
At that point, he should have informed the Cardinals of his discomfort, allowing the team to draft a contingency plan — namely, Lynn. But Garcia said he kept the matter to himself, adopting a mindset of, “no excuses, go out there and give your team a chance to win.”
His courage was admirable, but Garcia is lucky the Cardinals won. Otherwise, most everyone in his universe — fans, teammates, superiors — would be livid with him. In fact, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some of his teammates already are incensed; leaving your team vulnerable, especially in the postseason, is an unforgivable baseball sin.
Lynn had no idea that Garcia was injured; all he knew was that the bullpen phone rang in the second inning, and his name was called again. He was relatively fresh; he had thrown only 10 pitches in Game 1, and just two in the wild-card game on Thursday.
His new role is quite a change: 29 of Lynn’s 35 appearances during the regular season were starts. Still, the Cardinals used him mostly as a reliever last season, and Lynn appeared in five of the team’s seven World Series games under former manager Tony La Russa.
Your average 18-game winner might raise a stink about being demoted to the bullpen in the postseason, but Lynn is only 25, only in his second season. What is he going to do, complain that Carpenter, after finally returning from a shoulder injury, shouldn’t take his spot?
“It makes it fun — if I show ‘em I can do more things, maybe they’ll keep me around longer,” Lynn said, sounding as if he was a rookie trying to make the team. “That’s what it’s all about. When they call your name, you go pitch, whenever it is. If you keep doing that, good things will happen for you.”
Good things will happen for him, maybe even as a starter this postseason.
Good things may happen for the Cardinals, too, even without Jaime Garcia.