ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- With the season on the line Thursday night, it wasn’t Adam Wainwright or Carlos Martinez on the mound for the Cardinals. It wouldn’t be a savvy veteran or a pitcher with dozens of high stakes starts under his belt. Standing on that tiny dirt island in the middle of Busch Stadium was Alex Reyes, 22 years old and making his fifth major league start.
He was the perfect man for the job.
“He’s not afraid to pitch, I’ll tell you that,” Yadier Molina said of the Cardinals’ young phenom. “He wants the ball, he’s aggressive with the fastball, we see him throwing 98. He’s not afraid. He wants the ball.”
The stage keeps growing bigger for the powerful righty, and he seems fundamentally unfazed by the exponentially increasing profile of each start.
A week ago in San Francisco, he threw seven scoreless innings against the Wild-Card-leading Giants, ensuring a crucial series split. The next start, he gutted through 115 pitches against baseball’s best team in Chicago, allowing three runs over five innings for another Cardinal win.
Friday night he did it again, throwing 99 pitches over six innings of one-run ball, keeping a desperate Cardinal team within striking distance of prolonging their hope for a postseason berth.
“He was so good again in a big situation. We just keep watching this kid, when he gets into a mess. It seems like we have those conversations about Waino and guys that have been around here a long time, but to see a kid with just a few starts under his belt be able to stand up there and make great pitches when he has to when the heat’s on, it’s very impressive,” Mike Matheny said afterward.
With a one-run lead, the Reds put a man on third in the fourth and loaded the bases in the sixth, both times threatening to strike a critical blow against the Cardinals, who were slow to respond on offense. Reyes never wavered, using his secondary pitches to set up his elite fastball with the confidence of a much older pitcher.
When he talks about his performances, the responses are seasoned: He takes deep breaths, he executes pitches, he trusts his catcher. All those things are easy in a vacuum, but remembering to do them no matter the circumstance doesn’t come as naturally to most 22-year-olds as it does to Reyes.
“It’s been like that for me my whole life. There’s been a lot of expectations and stuff like that. So I’ve had to deal with that stuff throughout life,” he said. “Becoming a man and growing through everything I went through throughout my career and before that. I feel like it’s just a part of me becoming a man.”
The Cardinals are asking him to do a man’s job. If he throws again this season, it would be in the postseason, likely in the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. It’s an outcome few imagined when Reyes was still on the back fields of the team’s Jupiter, Florida training complex in April, waiting out his suspension as the games ticked away. From there he went from the Triple-A rotation, to the MLB bullpen, to big-game starter in a matter of a few months.
“When I came out of the game (Thursday) I came to the clubhouse and sat by the cage and thought about all the things I went through this year and how far I’ve come,” he said. “It’s possible it could be my last. I don’t want it to be, and the team doesn’t want either.”
Whether fans see him again this season or have to wait until next year, Reyes has delivered on the expectations heaped on him over the last few years. He’s done it calmly, and without shrinking from the many moments that have overwhelmed so many rookies.