Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 10/13/11
ST. LOUIS The St. Louis bullpen has been a work in progress since opening day. There were blemishes in the early season. Through the juggling of manager Tony La Russa, nurturing of pitching coach Dave Duncan, and dealing of general manager John Mozeliak the complexion of the bullpen has changed. The timing couldn't be better. With a championship at stake, the Cardinals bullpen is suddenly looking pretty good. St. Louis held on for a 4-3 victory against Milwaukee in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series on Tuesday night, taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, and the easily overlooked guys in the Cardinals bullpen has carried the load. "What (the bullpen has done) is what they are capable of doing, and when you get to this time of year, it's something you have to have to win a championship," said Duncan. "When you get into the postseason, the day-to-day competition gets stiffer, and the lineups are more formidable. It adds to the need to have a bullpen that can take some of the load off the rotation." After bailing out Jamie Garcia with 4 23 innings of one-run relief in the Cardinals victory in Game 2 in Milwaukee on Sunday, the strong-armed bullpen turned in four perfect innings in relief of starter Chris Carpenter to finish off the victory in Game 3. That's the same bullpen that provided six innings of shutout work after Carpenter failed to get past the third inning in the second game of the NL Division Series at Philadelphia. Then came on with three strong innings to get a save in Game 4 against the Phillies. That set up Carpenter's chance to outshine Roy Halladay in the first 1-0 complete game of Carpenter's career for the NLDS Game 5 win that advanced the Cardinals to the NLCS against Milwaukee. And to think, in the opening months of the season, the crowd at Busch Stadium, which was on its feet cheering at game's end on Tuesday, often went home grumbling about a lack of late-inning relief. "We had our ups and down all year, but we've been able to move past that, and keep our focus on what is going on now," said current closer Jason Motte. "There has been different guys doing different things, and I don't think any of us care who does what as long as we get the win." Lately, the wins have been coming thanks to efforts like Sunday's Game 2 when Garcia was struggling. He gave up a two-run home run to Rickie Weeks in the fourth, cutting the Cardinals lead to 5-2,and found himself with a first-and-third, one-out situation in the fifth with Cecil Fielder coming to the plate. Knowing that his team needed to claim a split in Milwaukee, La Russa went to the bullpen right there. While Arthur Rhodes came in to walk Fielder, Lance Lynn then took over and got a first-pitch double play from Weeks to end the threat. Tuesday, Carpenter was not the same dominant pitcher he had been in the NLDS clincher at Philadelphia, but he was able to survive five innings with a 4-3 lead, Then he turned to the bullpen that worked the final four innings, including three different pitchers getting the three outs in the eighth. Lynn got Ryan Braun to pop up. Then came strikeouts of Fielder by Marc Rzepczynski, and Weeks by Motte. Motte also worked a 1-2-3 ninth that ended with strikeouts of Yuniesky Betancourt, and Casey McGehee. "We went through a (bullpen) transformation through the year," said Carpenter, "and it has evolved into, when I left the game (Tuesday night), typically you don't want to leave 12 outs for your bullpen, but I was OK with it. I had confidence in my guys down there. They deserve a lot of respect and a lot of credit for what we've done the last couple of months." The Cardinals bullpen finished the regular season with a 3.73 ERA. That ranked 17th among major league teams. And the fact that Carpenter can talk about how good the relievers have "done the last couple of months" underscores how much a chance there has been to the Cardinals bullpen. Motte and Mitchell Boggs are the only current Cardinals who were in the bullpen on Opening Day, and they have gone through adjustments of their own. Boggs spent 17 days in late May and early June getting a refresher course at Triple-A. Motte developed into the closer in the final month of the regular season, taking over for Fernando Salas, who led the team with 24 saves, and became the primary closer after the early season collapse of veteran Ryan Franklin, released June 29 with one save in five opportunities, an 8.46 earned-run average and 3.25 million salary. Salas and Eduardo Sanchez were both first-month call-ups from the minors. Lynn came up at the start of June, and then missed the final 46 games of the regular season with a strained left oblique. More than that, however, was the July 27 trade that brought Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Rzepczynski from Toronto. Jackson slotted into the rotation, which allowed the Cardinals to put Kyle McClellan into a bullpen that also was fortified by the arrival of Dotel and Rzepczynski. Then came the mid-August decision to sign the 41-year-old lefty Arthur Rhodes, who had been released by Texas. "With those moves you brought a little bit of veteran leadership to that pen," said Carpenter. "Doti and Arthur have brought a lot of confidence to some of the younger guys. They have given them the feeling to not be concerned about what might happen, to go out and give it their best and see what happens. "It's an attitude of, 'If it works, it works, and if it doesn't, we'll go get them the next day." Lately, it's been working awful well.
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