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Monday, October 15, 2012

Two days later, Matheny lays his cards on table

Two days later, Matheny lays his cards on table

SAN FRANCISCO • Mike Matheny answered the unknown Sunday, two days after the potentially wrenching predicament passed him by: What would the Cardinals manager have done if Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson had ordered Pete Kozma intentionally walked in Friday's ninth inning?
"I had (Tony) Cruz on deck," Matheny said. "He would have hit."
Amid the whirl following the Cardinals' two-out, four-run rally, Matheny never had to address whether he would have let closer Jason Motte hit for himself with the bases loaded and Game 5 of the National League division series tied, 7-7.
Johnson never forced the issue since he allowed his closer, Drew Storen, to pitch to Kozma with two outs and runners at first and third.
"To be honest, I was surprised he went that way," Matheny said of Johnson's inaction.
Second baseman Daniel Descalso swiped second base during Kozma's at-bat, further inviting an intentional walk of the Cards' No. 8 hitter. However, because Storen threw back-to-back strikes to open the showdown, Johnson never conceded the at-bat to Kozma, who delivered a game-winning, two-run single to complete Storen's implosion.
Matheny said his hand would have been partly forced by the fact that he had just pinch-run for catcher Yadier Molina, assuring Cruz would catch the bottom of the ninth. Fernando Salas would have pitched the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, according to the manager. Salas made only one appearance during the series, working a scoreless inning in the Cards' Game 3 rout.
Placing Cruz in the on-deck circle as Kozma hit was no attempt to deceive Johnson.
"That was going to be Tony's at-bat. I had confidence in him there. That's how we would have gone," Matheny said.
When Kozma delivered, Matheny reversed course and allowed Motte to take his first-bat bat of the season — a strikeout. Cruz then entered the game in Molina's spot in the batting order. Had Cruz pinch-hit for Motte, it would have been his first plate appearance of the division series.
"The way I look at it, you take the shot when it's there," Matheny said. "Where we were in the game and given our situation on the bench, I thought it would clearly have been the thing to do" to hit Cruz.
Matheny has gone to the extreme to maintain a status quo lineup this postseason. For a seventh straight game he deployed the same eight position players in the same eight spots in the batting order. The phenomenon never occurred for this length of time during the season.
Matheny cited the injury factor and an unsettled situation at second base as factors that prevented such stability during the regular season.
"You just have to play along with the schedule and we understand that the game isn't meant to be played for 162 by each guy," Matheny said. "That kills our bench and, our effectiveness off the bench as well as running guys into the ground. ... Right now, fortunately, we have some health on our side where we can put the same guys out there every day."
Descalso has assumed everyday status at second base, starting 14 of the last 16 games. Promoted from Class AAA Memphis on Aug. 31, Kozma has started 23 consecutive games at shortstop, sitting out only two innings.
"When you have something going pretty well, I believe we need to keep riding it, especially if the guys are feeling good," Matheny said.
The Cardinals' pitching success over the Nationals was largely attributed to aggressive scouting that led to a modified approach, which called for pitchers to attack up in the strike zone. The plan was put together by Cardinals video coordinator Chad Blair with input from some of the coaching staff. ...The Cardinals are expected to keep managers at their top three minor-league affiliates in place for next season, though no assignments will become official until contracts are sent out.

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