For Texas and St. Louis, relief is a phone call away
Reporting from St. Louis — Mitchell Boggs doesn’t hate starting pitchers. In fact, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander used to be one.
But for the last two seasons he’s pitched exclusively out of the bullpen. And relievers, he found, are part of a unique fraternity, one largely unencumbered by team loyalties.
“I paid attention all year to what other guys were doing,” the bearded Boggs said Tuesday in a faint Georgia drawl. “You have respect for what they do because you do the same thing and you realize how tough it is.
“We all have pride in what we’re doing.”
The fraternity has extra reason to be proud given how well the Cardinals and Texas Rangers bullpens have performed to get their teams to St. Louis for Wednesday’s World Series opener.
Each bullpen is 4-0 and has thrown 421/3 innings in the postseason. Opponents are batting .193 against the Rangers’ relievers, and .177 against the Cardinals’. Neither bullpen has allowed more than a runner an inning.
If the summer belonged to the starting pitchers — with scoring, home runs and batting average all falling dramatically while strikeouts and shutouts soared — then the fall has belonged to the relievers.
“So much emphasis is put on the starting pitcher and closer. Those are glamorous jobs and the guys in between kind of get forgotten about,” said Boggs, one of the guys in between. “But I think this playoff has really enhanced how people look at our bullpen, look at other bullpens.
“I know every guy out there takes what they do very seriously [and] will do anything they can to help this team win and it showed. And I know the Rangers feel the same way.”
The Cardinals made a record 28 pitching changes in the six-game National League Championship Series with their bullpen throwing nearly 29 of the series’ 53 innings. Only once did a St. Louis starter make it through five innings.
The Rangers made 25 pitching changes in the six-game American League Championship Series with their bullpen throwing more than 27 of the series’ 56 innings. Only once did a Texas starter make it through six innings. And all four Rangers wins went to relievers, something that had happened only once previously in a best-of-seven series.
“It’s the weirdest postseason,” Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. “I’ve never seen anything like that, never been a part of anything like this.
“It was just ridiculous.”
That also describes how the starters for both teams have pitched. Although both rotations were among the best in baseball during the regular season, neither has a winning record in the postseason, each has an earned-run average above 5.40 and opponents are hitting .280 against the starting staffs combined.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any particular factor. It’s a coin flip,” said left-hander C.J. Wilson, the Rangers’ Game 1 starter who won 16 games during the regular season but is 0-2 with an 8.04 ERA in the postseason.
“The other team you’re facing now is so good there’s not much margin for error because the pressure is on the manager in order to keep the score down. We have, like, five guys in the bullpen that can come out and . . . strike somebody out with a guy on. [Managers] are going to have a quick trigger. That’s just the way it is.”
Texas’ best postseason relievers are former starters. Alexi Ogando, who was moved to the bullpen for the playoffs, has gone 2-0 with an 0.87 ERA in seven appearances in which he’s allowed just six batters to reach base. Scott Feldman has been even better, winning once and allowing just three baserunners in 82/3 scoreless innings.
For St. Louis, four relievers — Fernando Salas, Jason Motte, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski — have appeared in at least seven of the Cardinals’ 11 games. Motte, the closer, has given up just one hit in eight innings, saving four games.
“Certainly at this point of the year patience is not a virtue,” said Texas Manager Ron Washington, who pulled a starter in the third inning during the ALCS. “You have to do what you have to do when you have to do it.
“But my intention is for our starters to go deep.”
As for why they haven’t, Washington shook his head and shrugged.
“I don’t have an explanation.”
Nor did La Russa. But the Cardinals manager did offer a prediction of sorts.
“If this becomes a starting pitching series, don’t be surprised,” he said. “The talent is there.”
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