Matheny makes all the right moves in Game 4 of NLCS
LOS ANGELES -- If the Cardinals were passing out postseason game balls a la 2006, they would have had no shortage of worthy candidates from their 4-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
There was Matt Holliday with a monster two-run homer that all parties agreed traveled much farther than the estimated 426 feet. There was Shane Robinson and his pinch-hit homer that provided an important insurance run in the seventh. There was Lance Lynn working a gritty 5 1/3 innings to earn his second win of the series. And there was Matt Carpenter driving in the team's first run since the fifth inning of Game 2 in the third inning and turning a couple of difficult double plays.
But for this NL Championship Series victory that puts the Cardinals one win away from the World Series, manager Mike Matheny should take a bow. Starting with his decision to start Lynn again even after he struggled in his previous start, every move Matheny made worked out for the Cardinals.
Just look with the lineup. At a time of year when managers don't make many changes, Matheny knew he needed offense and went with Daniel Descalso at shortstop instead of Pete Kozma. In Descalso's very first at-bat, he singled and scored to give the Cardinals a lead in the third.
When Lynn looked like he was on the cusp of imploding (again) after the Dodgers scored twice in the fourth, Matheny showed the same faith that he has all season for all of his players. Instead of pinch-hitting for Lynn, he sent him back out and Lynn worked the fifth without incident and got one out in the sixth.
But after Yasiel Puig singled, Matheny made his first move to the bullpen. With a runner on first, he called on his double-play guy, Seth Maness. Three pitches later, Maness had induced a 6-4-3 from Juan Uribe to quiet the Dodgers' offense, not to mention a sold-out Dodger Stadium.
While calling on Maness was nothing out of the ordinary, bringing in Kozma as a defensive replacement as early as the sixth inning wasn't business as usual. But the decision to bring in Kozma when he did might have saved the game for St. Louis.
Only one shortstop on the team could have turned two on Uribe's ground ball, and he wasn't the one who started the game. On the play, Kozma ranged well to his right, backhanded the hard grounder, turned and threw a strike to second to cut down the speedy Puig. From there, Carpenter managed to avoid the hard-charging Puig and complete the double play. Inning over. Rally avoided.
"Uribe has hit me quite a few ground balls, so I'm definitely ready to go to my right," said Kozma on what he called the toughest kind of double play to turn. "You're going away from the bag, turn around 180 (degrees) and make a strike to Carp at second base. I made sure I had my foot under me and made a good throw."
Kozma made an even tougher -- and every bit as important -- play in the seventh. After Nick Punto doubled with one out, Kozma noticed that Punto was taking a very comfortable lead with the inexperienced Carlos Martinez on the mound. Kozma sneaked in behind Punto, Martinez turned for a look and just like that, the two kids picked off the veteran Punto. Dodger Stadium went silent.
"That was unbelievable," Matheny said. "Great heads-up play by (Kozma). Then it has to be natural instincts and athleticism by Carlos Martinez, and I don't know how many guys pull that off. To have the guts to wheel and let it fly like that in a game like we have right now, it's off the charts."
Well, one reason the two young players had the confidence to attempt such a play was the comfort they have attained because of the way they have been managed all season.
Similarly, after his team played a clunker of a Game 3 Monday night, Matheny did not gather the troops for any special remarks. His silent message was the same as it's been all season. That game is done. Time to get ready for the next one.
"He's a man of small words," third baseman David Freese said of Matheny. "He understands what this is all about. He went through it. When something needs to be said, he'll say it. But basically every day, he lets us go out there and do what we do."
Not surprisingly, Matheny deflected any credit for his Game 4 performance with a shrug.
"We just had some good players put into position to do what they do, and they did it well," he said.
On this night, none did any better than their skipper.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.