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Matheny: It's all about winning
10/06/2004 6:22 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- For six months every year, Mike Matheny does all the Cardinals ask of him. In the postseason, he does even more.

Matheny is a two-time Gold Glover who has few weaknesses defensively. Matheny blocks balls in the dirt, blocks the plate, throws out runners and calls a fine game. And in the Cards' book, that's more than enough. He's not an offensive threat, and they don't mind.

Yet somehow in October, Matheny adds that extra dimension. His solo home run on Tuesday in Game 1 of St. Louis' National League Division Series was nothing new. His 1-for-4 day actually dropped his lifetime playoff batting average to .310. It was his second career postseason homer in 42 at-bats, and his fifth extra-base hit. All from a lifetime .239 regular-season hitter.

Not that he's counting.

"In general I don't watch numbers," he said, "and I think that's even more true in the postseason. They don't matter. Nobody really keeps track. It doesn't make your baseball card. There's no career average kept.

"It's about winning. It's always about winning, but even more so in the postseason. You take personal stuff and throw it out the window. You take your season and throw it out the window, good, bad or indifferent. It's all about how you win the next game. I think that's a great way to play."

While granting that the only people who really know what goes on in the clubhouse are the people in that clubhouse, Matheny is generally regarded as the heart of the Cardinals. He shows up early, stays late, supports his teammates and is brutal on himself.

"He's like the wise man," said reliever Steve Kline. "Everybody goes and talks to him about stuff. Personally, I know I can throw any pitch at any time, in the dirt (and he'll block it). If I shake him off, and I throw a pitch that he didn't want, and I get beat with it, he'll take just as much blame. He never passes the blame on anybody else. He takes everything so hard."

That makes it even sweeter when he comes through on offense. Matheny's not stupid -- he knows that he doesn't swing the bat the way some other Cardinals do. And he doesn't just brush it off; he'd love to do more offensively.

So when he received a curtain call for his long ball on Tuesday, it was definitely a memorable moment.

"Oh yeah," he said with a smile. "Just the whole atmosphere, that was one of the reasons I was so excited about the postseason getting here -- to be able to go and see the towels and the see of red and everybody going crazy. That stuff is unique and it can bring the best out of anybody. Being able to hit a home run and have the fans call you back out, there's 50-some thousand fans in the seats; that's a neat thing to be in the middle of."

Mostly, though, he has been in the middle of a pitching staff that has exceeded expectations all year. Or at least exceeded the expectations of those outside the clubhouse. Matheny maintained from the start that St. Louis would pitch well.

And it did, finishing one run behind Atlanta for the National League ERA crown. Cardinals relievers had the best composite ERA in the league, and all five starters won in double digits. By any measure, it was a successful pitching year for the Redbirds.

"I don't take a whole lot of stock in my stats, but to be able to be part of a staff that was point-zero-zero-whatever away from being the top ERA staff in the league, that's something that I take pride in," he said. "I realize that they do it. They make the pitches. But for me to be able to do what I do, I have to believe that I make a difference, whether I do or not.

"That's the way I was taught the position. If we sink, I'm right there. If we swim, I realize that it's because they're executing their pitches. But when I get time by myself, I'm proud that maybe there's something I did. I called a pitch or made a small suggestion that might have helped. It all ultimately comes down to them."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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