PostCards: Mike Matheny talks on World Series off day


St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny addressed the media during an off day of the World Series between the Cards and Boston Red Sox.
Oct 22, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (22) speaks to the media on the day before game one of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Image Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Q. A lot of your guys have talked about how important Beltran has been to your team this year. Seeing him go out last night, knowing how much pain he’s in, and playing well, what kind of a lift does that give everybody?

MIKE MATHENY: Obviously everybody was concerned when we saw that he might be down. It was good news after the game, but we still didn’t know what that was going to translate into. For him to go out there is one thing, but to be productive is another. He’s been a very honest evaluator for the club to say when he’s not right and can’t do what he needs to do. He went out there yesterday and moved very well. It’s a lift for our club, for sure.

Q. You were in the game a long time before you managed. In the two years you’ve done this job, is there anything that has surprised you about the position, the scrutiny on it, anything that is different than you thought it was coming into it?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I think there’s something new every day that you don’t quite expect. But just tried to go into this knowing that that was going to be the case. And also with the mindset that I want to try to learn something every day. So you want the new challenges and opportunities to grow and learn, and fortunately we put some very smart people around me to help me adjust as quick as possible.

Q. Through the years we’ve seen Adam Wainwright sort of develop as a reliever in the higher level spots, and as a closer. Same thing with Trevor this year where he got moved some spots and then went to the closer role. To Martinez, it seems to be accelerated. I wonder if you agreed with that and what you saw in him especially early on that made him the eighth‑inning guy that you see now?

MIKE MATHENY: I think more than anything else it was necessity. We were stuck in a spot that not too many people or teams have this point in the year, where you have an opening at the back end of your bullpen, and we needed Trevor to be able to step in and do that. And then we had an eighth‑inning spot that was available for somebody to take ahold of. And we continued to throw Carlos into big situations, and he continued to answer.

So it wasn’t necessarily something as a process as much as we had a need. His stuff, it’s obvious. The stuff’s there to do that role and many others. But then he took advantage of it. He got the opportunity and there was no looking back.

Q. Another question about Carlos: You mentioned earlier in the year when he got sent down, he had a talk with you to find out what he would have to do to come back and start a game. How has he maybe evolved to where he’s in a position last night where he’s pitching so good you feel confident to leave him in where it’s not a lefty‑lefty matchup?

MIKE MATHENY: Well, we’ve seen him through his short career and know that we can stretch him out. That’s not an issue. And we’ve watched him through this postseason. We watched him against a very good hitter in Adrian Gonzalez with LA, and watched him get a big out in a big situation. And mostly we just watched his stuff. And yesterday his stuff looked right. And it was a good chance for him to make some tough pitches to a very, very hot hitter. And he did a very good job keeping the ball in the ballpark, giving us a chance to get the next hitter.

As far as his development has gone, he early on wanted more of a role, and he was asking how he needed to adjust, so he could start because he was really being used as a late‑inning and a mop‑up role. But now he’s obviously seen the importance of being able to help the club, being on the back end of the bullpen.

It’s a great adjustment. It’s a great opportunity. But more importantly than anything else it was a need for our club, and he has stepped up, and he’s been able to do this a couple of times, go a couple of innings for us when we know his stuff looks right.

Q. How much defensive work has Allen Craig been able to do at first base? What do you have him scheduled to do over the next couple of days? And what in your mind would you need to see him be able to do before you’d be comfortable starting him at first base?

MIKE MATHENY: Allen took some ground balls today and just beginning the movements. We’re not pushing this too hard and too fast. We’re very excited about what we’re seeing with him at the plate and that’s the main thing. And obviously having the ability to throw him into the DH spot in Boston was what we were hoping for. And he put together some good at‑bats for us.

Defensively we’ll take whatever we can get. Every day is another step. Tomorrow we’ll get him to take more ground balls and get him moving. He also has the potential to possibly play in the outfield. So we’re giving him a little more work and exposure out there. Right now we’re not rushing it to where we feel we could put him in a spot to where he compromises his health and he goes backwards and we can’t use him either as a pinch‑hitter or potentially as a DH again.

Q. Joe Kelly was just in here speaking about how the pitchers were competing with each other, pushing each other.

MIKE MATHENY: About basketballs and stuff? Yeah, I heard that.

Q. Apart from the dunking basketballs, that’s the kind of dynamic you would encourage, wouldn’t you?

MIKE MATHENY: You know what, we talk about that a lot in Spring Training, about the healthy competition. And you look at some of the better staffs that I ever witnessed, like in Atlanta where you watch the Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux push each other, and talk about constantly trying to one‑up the next, whether it was on the golf course or on the mound. Certainly these guys have taken that to heart, too. And it’s something that Adam Wainwright has really been able to promote as a leader and ace, and Chris Carpenter, as well. The best players and other pitchers they’ve been around had that mentality, where it’s pushing each other, but also having that internal competition that makes it kind of ‑‑ they have fun together, one, but also gives them another edge. And whatever it takes to push them further and they do make each other better. As soon as you start lining up these young guys who are in similar situations, they want to show the next guy what they can do. So it’s the right way it should be done.

Q. Most good teams play very well and are successful at home, but you guys have taken it to a new level the last month or so. Is it an atmospheric thing here, or is this club perfectly built for this ballpark?

MIKE MATHENY: Well, I believe our ballpark is very fair. I don’t think there’s one thing that would make our team any more effective in this park than any other. I think the familiarity of it has a lot to say, obviously our home fans. That’s kind of the given. But it’s not like there’s the oddities, like a Green Monster or deep corners and gaps. It’s pretty fair. And I think most teams would say the same thing.

But there’s always, for whatever reason, there’s just that comfort of being at home. And you have your home fans behind you. It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere. Tomorrow it’s going to be loud and the guys thrive on that. We try to say we’re going to go out and play the game the same way, no matter if there’s nobody in the stands or it’s packed with 50,000. And I do believe that’s true. But you can’t help but buy into the atmosphere, especially when you’re at home and every single thing you do gets such a positive response.

So I know the guys are excited to get home last night and excited to get out there tomorrow.

Q. Because you played on the ’04 team, I hope you get the spirit of the question: You mentioned the buzz saw you ran into with the Red Sox nine years ago. Last night when it came to the way the team came back, how important was it to do it in that fashion, in that building? When Ortiz hit that home run, for a moment it felt like 2004 a little bit. Going home 2‑0, and the team was behind the 8 ball.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, you don’t want to leave Boston down two, there’s no question about it. But this team has been very good about just the resiliency. And that was a great test yesterday. When Michael throwing the ball as well as he did, and have one swing all of a sudden put you behind the 8 ball. And there are teams, and we’ve all been around them, that you see it just completely take the air out of you, next thing you know, you’re on your back. And these guys just decided to stand up and fight. And that says a lot about their perseverance, their character and their discipline and the toughness of this club.

But they came right back and that’s something that has kind of been the expectation. And, yeah, it would have been a tough thing to overcome. But fortunately we were able to turn the tied. Momentum seems to be a big conversation this time of year. I believe in it. I believe in the fact that we can try and ride a positive of coming back in a game like that and then watching our guys just take advantage of the opportunity.

Q. Joe Kelly is kind of a unique personality, the gaming, the dunking, the standing at attention for the National Anthem. Can you talk a little bit about how his personality might help him as a pitcher to deal with the kind of pressure he will face tomorrow night.

MIKE MATHENY: I think a lot of our guys are free in this clubhouse to kind of be themselves. And once again I think that’s something they see from the veteran leadership they have. And I know Wainwright is in the video room watching this right now. He’s a guy that is not afraid to be himself. You see the crazy dancing. He has fun. But when it gets his turn to pitch, there’s not a better competitor out there. And I think Joe Kelly has found a place here where he has the freedom to do the same. Because he’s a funny guy. He enjoys life. He’s all the time doing some things you wouldn’t expect him to do. But when it comes down to pitching, he’s ready to compete. He’s a competitor.

And you need that balance. You need that balance through the season in order to, one, you need to be yourself in order to be as effective as you can; and two, to be able to just make your way through a long season. You have to be able to find some levity. And Joe’s been able to find that.

Q. Obviously the DH has been around for many years now, and it won’t be here for the next three games. Ideally speaking, personal opinion, would you like one day for the leagues to play by the same rules? And if so, which one do you prefer?

MIKE MATHENY: You know, I do enjoy the National League game, only because it’s what we’re most accustomed to, but also just the thought process that goes into it. And now I’m not going to make a major statement on the state of the game of baseball. There’s more intelligent people need to make those decisions. But for us we enjoy the pitcher getting in there, and then the thought philosophy of trying to work around that, and what that means to your pitching staff, what that means to your lineup.

But I do understand, too, the American League side and I think it’s a good mix. But as far as the state of the game, there’s some people doing some studies to tell what the fans think, what the fans appreciate more and that’s really what the life blood of this game is, anyhow.

Q. How is Carlos physically today? Could the series go on long enough that he could be close to normal or normal physically a few days from now as we go on?

MIKE MATHENY: He looked pretty normal to me yesterday. Not a lot of apprehension. I didn’t see him wincing when he was taking swings, and moving pretty well in the outfield, good jumps. He wasn’t tested a lot out there.

But overall, I think, once again, he wouldn’t allow himself, just out of pride’s sake, to go out there. It would have to be he felt that he could contribute and not be halfway going out there.

He looked good to me. And I think he’s going to continue to get better every day. But I don’t think he’s far.

Q. When you see the percentages that you’ve accumulated throughout the entire postseason, whatever you want to look at, if somebody showed you those before the postseason, would you be surprised that you’re at this position? And B, how indicative or misleading are those percentages with the quality of at‑bats you’re seeing from your team right now?

MIKE MATHENY: Well, it comes down to pitching, when you get into this part of the year. We’ve been very fortunate to have some very solid pitching. And the timely hitting, that’s what we talk about. You need those components. The great pitching, timely hitting and the defense on a consistent basis. The days we haven’t had our defense, I think we’ve seen what’s happened.

For the most part, our pitchers are showing up and giving us a chance. We know we have an opportunity with our club to produce some big innings, some big games. But it’s not something we’re going to be able to rely on every single night. We’re going to have to grind it sometimes. You’re going to have those close ones. But I think the guys are taking better at‑bats right now. Those grinding at‑bats you hear so much about Boston, is very similar to what you’ve seen from our club the whole year, and what you expect, and the kind of offense I believe we are. And I see guys taking better at‑bats every day, and hopefully it’s just the sign of a hot streak that’s about to happen.

Q. Adam said there was some talk about starting him in Game4 on short rest. Can you talk about starting him versus Lance Lynn there?

MIKE MATHENY: If you ever have a chance and you’re in a spot where it’s an elimination game, you typically do give your ace a chance, if it’s at all possible. Right now it’s a situation where it’s going to most likely be Lance Lynn pitching Game 4. And we know that Lance has also been a guy that can pitch in big situations. And we look forward getting Adam back there on regular rest.

Q. With the Gold Glove nominations, the finalists coming out today, Yadi on that list again. He says each year he tries to get better and challenges himself. How have you seen this year Yadi get better?

MIKE MATHENY: I think he does exactly what he says. He tries to figure out, whether it’s throwing, whether it’s calling a game, whether it’s just the management of all things that are happening on the field. He’s not a complacent person. I do believe that that’s something that I don’t know if he gives credit, but I have seen that same characteristic in an Albert Pujols, a guy that was driven to always be better, no matter what, never give away an at‑bat, never give away any kind of opportunity. I know how much time they spent together, and I believe that that had a huge influence, as well as all the other people that spent time with Yadi, including his brothers and family.

Every once in a while you come across that caliber of person that regardless of statistics, regardless of the trophies and the things that they’ve been able to win, they just have a desire that’s beyond most. And this guy has the ability to go out there and do some things that nobody has ever done. And I think he realizes that and it’s pretty unique.

But it’s fun to watch. When you have your best players, and I think that’s something we talked about in Spring Training, when we have a culture of our best players or some of our hardest working players, that’s a great environment for young players to join in and everybody is going to get better.