BOSTON -- My favorite, most telling anecdote about the Cardinals pitching staff this season came from John Axford. Axford has had a rough couple of years, but he's still not a bad pitcher, and he still throws crazy hard. (Because Axford is from Ontario, we'll say he can still regularly reach 153 kilometers per hour.) He's also an extremely likable guy -- I liked how he left a note for reporters explaining why he wasn't able to answer questions after he blew a save -- and a natural in front of the cameras.
Axford was talking to local St. Louis television after being traded to the team in August, and he was asked what he thought of his new bullpen. He laughed. "It's crazy," he said. "Everywhere I look, there's some kid who throws 95. It's a little disorienting. I thought I was special."
The Cardinals won Game 2 of the World Series 4-2, on Thursday, behind Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal. Those three men throw a combined 294 miles per hour, at a combined age that's actually younger than Arnold Schwarzenegger. They gave up two runs on four hits, and they struck out 12 batters. They went into Fenway Park, which was louder Thursday than it was in Game 1, and they shut it up like it was nothing. Either they're preternaturally composed, or they're too stupid to know that they're supposed to be terrified.
The funniest part, now that the game is over, is that Wacha was actually the least impressive of the three. All he did was throw 5 1/3 shutout innings, striking out six and giving up only two hits, looking just as calm as he had in all those shutout innings against the Dodgers, when he earned his NLCS MVP. He faced down haunting "WA-CHA! WA-CHA!" chants -- seriously, the Fenway crowd made his name sound like The Muppet Show being broadcast from hell. He faced down a brief wild streak. He faced down postseason nightmare Mike Napoli with two on and nobody out, inducing an easy double play on one pitch. Wacha did everything, and the only thing he was missing was an unlimited gas tank -- his pitch count was in triple digits by the sixth -- and the ability to turn David Ortiz into some sort of pheasant, or another animal lacking the ability to extend its arms. With the Cardinals leading 1-0 in what was obviously Wacha's last inning, Wacha threw yet another tough changeup, and Ortiz deposited it over the Green Monster - because, of course he did, because he's of course David Ortiz.
Wacha, being Wacha, settled down and set down the next two Red Sox hitters. Then the Cardinals benefitted from some Craig Breslow wildness, both off and off the mound, to take the lead. Then Carlos Martinez took over.
Two Carlos Martinez pictures:
That is the sort of pitcher you cheer for, even when he doesn't throw 95 with a ridiculous stem-snapping curveball. Martinez breezed threw the seventh inning with such domination that manager Mike Matheny -- who has a notoriously slow hook, yet still isn't much in the habit of having 22-year-olds throw multiple bullpen innings -- had Martinez face the top and meat of the Sox order in the eighth. An error by Matt Carpenter didn't deter him. An infield single didn't David Ortiz -- him again -- didn't either. Martinez made Napoli pop out, and the inning was over, once again, like it was nothing. I'm not sure Martinez ever stopped smiling. Then, in the ninth inning, Trevor Rosenthal struck out the side on 11 pitches -- because why not, at that point?
Wacha and Martinez made their major league debuts this season and pitched a total of 36 games between them, only 10 of them starts (nine by Wacha). Rosenthal was already this great last postseason. Well, maybe not this great, but dominant. A lot of teams would give up a superstar to get just one of these guys. The Cardinals have three.
To have three young arms like this -- and remember, this isn't counting Shelby Miller (23), Kevin Siegrist (24), Joe Kelly (25) and Lance Lynn (26) -- is essentially unprecedented, and it is worth remembering that it's surely not repeatable -- not even by the Cardinals. Pitching staffs are funny things. It won't always be like this. Pitchers get hurt all the time. (All the time.) The Cardinals will be shifting Martinez to the rotation next year, just like they did with Miller last year (and had planned to do with Rosenthal, until he became the hardest-throwing closer in the game). There is zero chance that everyone in this stable of young arms is going to grow together, just getting better and better until they're the mid-90s Braves (and with triple digits on the radar gun). Someone will get hurt. Someone might get traded for a shortstop. Someone might just lose a couple miles off his fastball and not be able to adjust.
Right now, though, it is perfect. The Cardinals have power pitchers wasting veteran hitters like it's the easiest thing anyone has ever done, like obviously we're doing that, we've always done that -- duh. They don't know how much struggle is supposed to be involved. They're just whipping it past people and then making sure to dress snazzy for the press conference. It's so much harder than this. They have no idea. Please, nobody tell them.
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