ST. LOUIS -- Through seven brisk and scoreless innings, manager Mike Matheny had little to do but watch a pair of rising right-handers -- both of whom were groomed in the Cardinals' farm system -- trade efficient innings.
Matheny got busy in the eighth, however, and over the final inning, a series of decisions navigated the Cardinals to a 1-0 win over the Braves that rolled their winning streak to five.
Without a hit since the first inning, St. Louis got a single from Yadier Molina off former batterymate Shelby Miller to open the eighth. A subsequent walk to Randal Grichuk moved Molina into scoring position, prompting Matheny to yank his starting catcher in favor of pinch-runner Pete Kozma.
Kozma had the speed that Molina would not have had to advance on Mark Reynolds' routine flyout to center, and he then scampered safely home on a sacrifice fly that also wasn't all that deep.
That sacrifice fly came off the bat of Stephen Piscotty, who pinch-hit for Carlos Martinez after the two managers countered each others' moves. After initially sending the left-handed-hitting Dan Johnson up to face Miller, Matheny pulled him back when Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez summoned lefty reliever Luis Avilan. The decision to replace Johnson with Piscotty not only burned two of the team's remaining four bench players, but it also went against the numbers.
Left-handed batters (.299/.329/.343) entered the night having had much better success against Avilan than righties (.189/.259/.365). So why the move?
"Maybe a little bit [to do with] what we saw last night, a tougher at-bat for Johnson, who hasn't had a lot of at-bats going in against a lefty," Matheny explained. "We saw him have some success with that [earlier in the month], but that's when he's been getting regular swings. Just a good feeling right there that Stephen could get it done. Just watching this kid's approach, he's got a nice idea at the plate."
Piscotty worked a six-pitch at-bat before delivering the decisive sacrifice fly.
"The scouting report [on Avilan] was right on," Piscotty said. "It was perfect, and it helped me execute."
Matheny's decision-making continued into the ninth, which he had to get through without the availability of closer Trevor Rosenthal or setup man Kevin Siegrist. Both were deemed unavailable due to workload concerns.
In their place, Matheny went with a matchup approach, using Seth Maness to retire the leadoff hitter and then summoning Randy Choate with three left-handed hitters due up. In the meantime, Matheny had Steve Cishek warming in case the Braves went any deeper in their lineup.
Choate, after allowing the potential tying run to reach, induced a double play to notch his first save since May 26, 2012. He became the sixth different pitcher to save a game for the Cardinals this season.
"What's nice is that we have a lot of quality relievers who can step in and don't try to make the ninth inning more than it has to be," Choate said. "I try not to make it anything more than it is, and [I] treat it like it's the sixth, seventh or eighth."