ATLANTA, Ga. (BaseballStL) -- Walking up to the podium to take questions like the starting pitcher usually does before a playoff game, Kyle Lohse was quick to make a request of the media.
He wanted us, or more accurately one particular writer, to sing him happy birthday. Lohse turns 34 tomorrow.
That led to witty banter before the real questions began. It prompted a comment to Lohse that he really needed to loosen up. I mean, he was acting wayyyy too tense for someone about to pitch a win-or-go-home game in about 24 hours.
That instance right there absolutely epitomizes the St. Louis Cardinals at this exact moment.
Loose. Confident. This isn't exactly their first rodeo.
They've been here before. They know what it takes to win a game where any one mistake could mean the entire season is over and they're left watching the rest of the playoffs on TV back home.
Being the defending World Series champions will do that to you. But just because they had success here a year ago in no way guarantees success this time around. Mike Matheny was adamant that this is a brand new team in a brand new year and last year's triumph is nothing more than ancient history.
I find that fascinating. If David Freese can take a Neftali Feliz pitch to right field for a game tying extra base hit with the World Series on the line, I would imagine there's not a single situation the game can throw at him that would shake him. I would think that would create an amount of confidence other teams just can't create out of thin air.
But Matheny says no. And, well, he's the manager so I believe him.
In the end, the Cardinals are back to where they were last season. Backs against the wall. A must win game. Win or go home.
So how do they accomplish this? I mean, they've got to defeat a pitcher in Kris Medlen whose team hasn't lost with him on the mound since July 23rd. They've got to defeat a pitcher who actually just pitched a season with an ERA of 1.57 in 138 innings. Medlen's a former reliever who takes that bullpen mentality into his starts. He attacks hitters like it's the 9th inning and the game is on the line.
Translation: He's aggressive.
To be honest, though, I believe that plays right into the Cardinals hands. Historically, these guys have struggled with the junk throwers who dance around the strike zone and get them to chase pitches. It's the ones who go right after them with what they believe is overpowering stuff that typically get hit hard by the Redbirds offense.
Meanwhile, the Redbirds will throw a guy who's had a pretty good year himself in Kyle Lohse.
His 2.86 ERA was 5th in the National League among qualifiers and his .842 winning percentage was 1st. I found some of his comments interesting. I asked Lohse if this season was, indeed, his best season of his career. The stats certainly suggest that to be true.
Lohse, without hesitating, said "yes, yes". He said earlier in his career he used to throw harder and tried to strike guys out. He threw a lot of 4-seam fastballs. "Hitters love those", Lohse said.
But ever since coming to St. Louis he's learned how to pitch. It began with Dave Duncan and has continued with Derek Lilliquist as pitching coach. He says that's simply a sign of maturity.
And for what very well could be his final season in a Cardinals uniform, hopefully he's saved his best for last.