ST. LOUIS -- Manager Mike Matheny worked off script with tremendous success on Saturday, as he deployed a succession of six relievers to cover the innings left exposed by another ineffective start. Roles were relinquished in an all-hands-on-deck effort from the Cardinals' bullpen that led to a 4-3 win over the Pirates and assured the club of entering its regular-season finale still in the National League Wild Card mix.
It took eight scoreless innings from the bullpen to buy time for the offense to emerge from a three-run hole. It eventually did, and the victory turned out to be season-saving, as the Giants followed it with a win of their own. As a result, the Cardinals remain one game behind the Giants, who would come to St. Louis for a tiebreaker game on Monday if Sunday's results leave the two teams with identical records.
Whoever snags that second NL Wild Card spot will face the Mets on the road in Wednesday's Wild Card Game.
"Especially a game like today where everything is on the line, I think everybody was trying to do what they could to help," said Trevor Rosenthal, whose three-inning appearance was the cornerstone of the bullpen's success. "I think everybody had that sense of, 'You know what? Let's do whatever we can to fight tooth and nail.' It was an amazing game to watch and be a part of."
Matheny approached the game with the urgency of a win-or-go-home affair, which is why he yanked Michael Wacha after a mistake to Jung Ho Kang left the park in the first inning. Miguel Socolovich was summoned behind him and settled things with a 1-2-3 second.
Matheny went next to Rosenthal, a pitcher whose early-season struggles cost him his role as closer and who spent nearly two months on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Rosenthal responded with his most impactful appearance of his tumultuous year.
Rosenthal covered three innings for the first time since 2012 and, with a career-most 52 pitches, kept the Pirates at bay. He stranded two in his final inning.
"It was a pivotal point that we needed him to get that last out in the third inning he went out there, and he was terrific," Matheny said. "That was a huge outing for Trevor today, a huge outing for us."
It marked the third time in Matheny's managerial tenure that his bullpen had covered eight innings without allowing a run.
"It's challenging for the guys down there," Matheny said. "They love to know their roles. They love to have the anticipation of when they may be coming in, and a day like today, you don't have that luxury. Knowing that anything could happen at any time, that's a different challenge, for sure. We had to have extraordinary effort from our bullpen today. That was just impressive from beginning to end. Just an overall great effort by the entire team."
Rosenthal's ability to eat as many innings as he did also leaves the Cards' bullpen in decent shape for Sunday. None of their other relievers were pushed beyond one inning, which means that they should all be available for Game 162.
"That's what this organization prides itself on is pitching," Broxton said. "To go out there and step in to compete in one of the biggest games all year means a lot. We can't get too high right now. We have to go out there and compete tomorrow."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.