LOS ANGELES -- The last 11 outs of the Cardinals' 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Tuesday night were recorded by rookies.
But, at this stage of the season -- and postseason -- are Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, who all pitched Tuesday night, and Kevin Siegrist, who didn't, really rookies, after all they've done?
Catcher Yadier Molina, who has been the guiding light to each, smiled and said, "I like to call them rookies, because that motivates them."
Raising his right hand higher, as if it was another plateau, Molina said, "I don't like to put them over here, because then they feel comfortable."
Then, lowering his hand, he said, "They're doing good. Let's keep them right here. Next year is another year."
But as much as Molina calls the shots for the rookies, he didn't call the key play of the game. The Dodgers' Nick Punto doubled with one out in the seventh against Martinez and Molina, as his wont, went to the mound to counsel the 22-year-old Dominican.
"I say to a bunch of young rookies that we have, 'Just calm down. Let's play catch. Let's have fun and try to forget about what happened and stay focused."' Molina said.
What came next was a pickoff play instituted by shortstop Pete Kozma and, secondarily, Martinez. With daylight, Kozma darted behind Punto and Martinez threw a bullet for the out.
This was all news to Molina. "I didn't know that was coming," he said. "That was a huge play."
Manager Mike Matheny praised Kozma for quarterbacking the play but also Martinez for his reactions. "It has to be natural instincts and athleticism by Carlos Martinez and I don't know how many guys that can pull that off," Matheny said.
"He has such athletic moves. He's quick in everything he does.
"Then to have the guts to wheel and let it fly like that ... it's off the charts."
Veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran was as stunned as anyone.
"Oh, my goodness," he said. "When I came to the dugout, I said, 'What happened?' I just put my head down, and all of a sudden the guy's out. I'm like, what happened? It happened so fast.
"It's a risky play, man. Every time you make plays like that with pitchers, when they have to turn -- and Martinez, a guy throwing 99. I mean, I was like, wow, if he made a bad throw, it's going to be terrible. But, thank God, he made a perfect throw, and Kozma was there to get the guy out.
"That kid ... he's a special kid. He doesn't seem scared on the mound. He wants to have the baseball. I really enjoy watching him."
Martinez, who never got to big-league spring training camp this year because of visa issues, was on the Memphis shuttle much of the season and there seemed no way until September that he would be a part of any postseason configuration.
But, through an interpreter, Martinez said, "I always thought I would be at this position at this level and, thank God, I was able to maintain my focus going down and coming back up and maintain the faith of the manager."
Matheny has been employing Martinez mostly for one inning but this time he extracted two, with the second one a perfect frame.
"We asked a little more of him today," Matheny said. "We got to a point where we had a couple righthanders and a tough lefty in the middle when we were stuck in a spot. We need to come in with our best."
With Martinez's efficient eighth, he totaled just 18 pitches for two innings, making him live for today's potential clincher.
"He's been pretty resilient," said Matheny. "He didn't make too many pitches.
"But just the way this kid has handled anything we've given him, I think everybody in baseball is stopping to notice him."
Molina said, "We knew that he had the talent. We knew that he was throwing 97 (miles an hour) with the good curveball. It was just a matter of time to put it together. And he did."
Rosenthal needed only 13 pitches and he should be ready, too, as should Maness, who tossed three pitches but got two outs, throwing yet another double-play ball.
"Carlos Beltran calls him the 'ground-ball guy,"' said Molina. "That guy's amazing."
The Cardinals have a 3-1 lead in a championship series for the third time. They have lost the first two, in 1996 to Atlanta and last year to San Francisco. In both those previous series, they lost the fifth game at home and then had to go on the road, where they lost the sixth and seventh games both times.
They are the only National League team to have lost a 3-1 lead in an NLCS and they have done it twice.
Molina says he is not concerned by history.
"We have to go game by game and pitch by pitch," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. We are not thinking about last year. I guarantee you that. We're thinking about this year."
Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly had said in the interview room the other day that a playoff series doesn't really start until the home team loses a game.
Well, it's on.
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