Cardinals' bullpen continues to shine

Cardinals' bullpen continues to shine

CINCINNATI -- By the time Wednesday's game had pushed past the four-hour mark, Randy Choate found himself the only pitcher remaining in the Cardinals' right-field bullpen. He had watched his teammates, one by one, enter, post a zero, and exit, leaving manager Mike Matheny with a dwindling number of options as each passed the ball.

Choate, most often used as a one-batter specialist, stared at the possibility of entering a game he'd have no choice but to finish. Fortunate for Matheny -- who had used his designated long reliever much earlier in the night -- Randal Grichuk's 13th-inning homer and Seth Maness' uneventful two-inning outing sent the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Reds and spared the club from turning to, as Matheny described Choate, "our last solider."

The team's six other relievers combined to cover eight scoreless innings, during which they allowed one hit -- a single to Brandon Phillips in the ninth. The other three baserunners to reach -- all via a walk -- never advanced further than first.

"It was tremendous," Maness said. "Set the donut. One guy comes in. You just try to match that and keep passing the ball."

Maness preserves the win

Matheny acknowledged deploying some creativity in trying to maximize his resources to cover as many innings as necessary. He lost the luxury of having a long reliever by sending Carlos Villanueva in to pitch as soon as Carlos Martinez exited after five.. With the team trailing at the time and Matheny eyeing opportunities to stay away from his overworked relievers, he saw Villanueva as the best sixth-inning fit.

But with Villanueva out after only one inning, Matheny's bullpen flexibility tightened. Jonathan Broxton struck out the side in the seventh. Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal were then efficient enough to combine for three innings of work. Steve Cishek made quick work of the Reds in the 11th, but with this being his fourth appearance in five days, Matheny refused to let him go longer.

Though Maness ranks tied for first (with teammate Siegrist) for most appearances (55) in the Majors this season, Matheny let the righty go multiple innings. Maness worked around two walks in the 12th and was unfazed in the 13th when a bat shard struck him in the toe. He retired the side in order.

"Every guy we rolled out there was great, right from the first one," Matheny said. "[We] got ourselves in a position where we were going to have to get creative to get through this. They did. They kept us in the game."

Rosenthal retires Frazier

Had the game gone any deeper, it then would have belonged to Choate. Matheny said he would not have turned to Thursday's starter, Michael Wacha, under any circumstance.

With the string of scoreless innings, the Cardinals lowered their bullpen ERA to 2.27, the lowest mark in the National League and just a tick above the Majors' best mark, which belongs to the Royals at 2.26.

"It's fun sitting down there and talking to the guys and slowly seeing them go into the game and putting up zeros," Maness said. "You know you're either going home or everything is on the line. Roll it out there and see what happens."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.