Birthday surprise a needed lift for Choate

Lefty reliever, who has struggled recently, receives gifts from teammates on 40th

Birthday surprise a needed lift for Choate

ST. LOUIS -- Bothered by the recent success that left-handed batters have had against him, Cardinals lefty specialist Randy Choate arrived at the ballpark on Saturday reinvigorated by his teammates, who surprised him with shirts and gifts in celebration of Choate's 40th birthday.

The black T-shirts -- emblazoned with #Holler (his go-to phrase) on the front and '36 is 40' on the back -- were ordered by Choate's wife, Leigh. Teammates purchased a mini Red Bull refrigerator for the occasion, too, and each autographed it for the eldest member of their club.

It was all, Choate said, much-needed levity after what has been a trying period for the reliever.

"The key is enjoying [the game], and right now, I don't think I'm enjoying it because I'm over-worrying myself," said Choate, who is in the final year of a three-year contract. "Then walking in and seeing these shirts… just seeing these guys and how they reacted when I came in today. … It was a good way to start the day, especially since it wasn't the best way to end yesterday. It at least put a smile on my face."

A night earlier, in his 64th appearance of the season, Choate allowed an eighth-inning single to Gregory Polanco, the only batter he faced. It marked the 18th time this year that Choate had entered and exited without retiring anyone. The previous Major League record for such appearances had been 17, set by Sean Runyan with the Tigers in 1998.

It's a record fit for someone in a specialist relief role, but also an undesirable one. Choate has had particular trouble lately, as he has not registered an out in six of his last 10 appearances.

"This year is frustrating because last year was so good," Choate said. "Then you get to this year and the numbers aren't the same. Sometimes I think it's from maybe trying harder instead of just being myself. … Lately, I've been taking it so seriously, and that has been changing my approach to how I'm going. I think I have to be perfect, instead of going in there and attacking and getting strike one.

"I really only have one job, so if you don't get that guy, it's like you failed. You're not going to be successful every time, but I think I'm looking into the ground-ball base hits more than I should."

Left-handed hitters are having surprising success against Choate, who has held them to a .196/.277/.276 slash line over his 15-year career. This season, they're batting .278/.345/.380. Right-handers, in turn, have hit .267/.313/.400. Nevertheless, Choate does lead the league with an inherited runners scored percentage of 11.1.

Confident he can still excel in a specialist role, Choate has his sights set on playing at least another five seasons. When he takes the mound next, Choate will become the eighth pitcher 40 years or older to make an appearance this year.

Said Choate, of the possibility of logging a 20-year career: "I would be extremely happy if I could play that long."

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.