Redbirds maturity vital to run towards NL Central title
MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 6: Lance Lynn #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches to a Milwaukee Brewers batter at Miller Park on September 6, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images) By Tom Lynn
MILWAUKEE - If there was just one word to summarize why the St. Louis Cardinals have suddenly jelled into a cohesive unit marching toward a division title, that word would be maturity.
It was that maturity that kept Cardinal hurler Lance Lynn from disintegrating into chaos during that dreadful first inning Saturday night in which the Cards made three errors and surrendered two runs within the first half dozen pitches Lynn threw. "That was not the game plan," he deadpanned after the game.
"We've seen in the past (with Lynn that) it can get really ugly in a hurry," said skipper Mike Matheny. "But he kept his composure and didn't let his emotions get out of whack. He was put in a challenging spot and he looked like a veteran pitcher out there. His frustration came out after he was out of it, not in the middle of it," Matheny said.
That difference was not lost on the big righty, who admitted to issuing a "primal scream" as he walked off the field after that wretched first inning.
But from there, Lynn alternated between dominance and grit as he battled through six very difficult innings in which he surrendered just one earned run but was in trouble in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, stranding five runners in those frames. Inducing Ryan Braun to hit into a very timely double play to thwart what could have been a major disaster, was a key moment for Lynn (15-8).
Matheny said that in the past, Lynn has thrown tantrums in innings in which errors are committed behind him and it has the appearance of showing up his team, something that there is no room for on the Cardinals."We wanted to harness those emotions. We didn't want to take them away."
Lynn's maturity is not the only growth the Redbirds have seen this season. Carlos Martinez was virtually uncontrollable in his previous visit to Miller Park just before the All-Star break. At that time, Martinez was starting the team's final game with a chance to move into sole possession of first place. But he was so hyperactive and unfocused, he did not last three innings as the Brewers shelled him and the Redbirds 11-2.
Saturday night, a calm, determined and unemotional Martinez gave the Redbirds four big outs out of the bullpen and pitched like a veteran.
"I think he was excited to be a starter," Matheny said of that July outing. "We couldn't control him. He was all over the map. I think that's just something young players have to go through."
Another youngster who has developed quickly is Oscar Taveras', whose game-winning two-run homer off Kyle Lohse was the product of dedication and hard work that Matheny said Taveras very much needed.
He said the Cards' coaches told Taveras that the league is always trying to stay one step ahead of him and that he had to work through his difficulties, which included a batting average hovering in the .200 range for much of the year, a number Taveras was not used to.
Through an interpreter, Taveras said he has worked very hard in the cages with hitting instructors John Mabry and David Bell and has made some difficult adjustments. But now, he said, he feels comfortable.
Matt Adams, another player Matheny credited with huge development this season, responded to a few days off nursing an oblique strain with a powerful two-run homer in the first inning that gave the Redbirds a short-lived lead. "He was really feeling it in BP," said Matheny, "He really put on a show. I told him I had him in there (the line up) and that he needed to get his work in and tell me if I needed to take him out. But he was good to go."
Matheny also joked that the Cards' staff has learned not to worry too much when the big lefty appears injured, as he did when he dove for a ball late in the game and was slow getting up. "Sometimes he'll take a bad swing and we think he might be hurt and next pitch he'll hit a laser," he said.