Smoltz displays vintage form in relief
Veteran understands role, would like to return with Cards
ST. LOUIS -- As John Smoltz jogged in from the Cardinals bullpen on Saturday night, the future Hall of Famer started to get those feelings again. The nerves came back, the jitters were there -- he was pitching again in the postseason.
But the situation wasn't exactly what Smoltz had hoped for, pitching two innings of mop-up duty in an elimination game that saw the Cards swept by the Dodgers in the National League Division Series with a 5-1 loss.
"I've ended playoffs 14 times this way, and it's never easy," Smoltz said. "You never prepare to end your season on a loss. You always think you are going to win the next game.
"You just don't feel like the season is over. You feel like you're going to get back tomorrow and win a game. That's the cruelty of the postseason. I was honored to be a part of this team. They have great tradition. They worked awfully hard to get to this point. I watched some of the greatest pitching that I've ever watched with the guys up here, and it's just unfortunate that we lost."
In true Smoltz playoff fashion, the righty struck out five straight Dodgers in his two innings -- missing the playoff record of six by one, and no doubt raising the question: Shouldn't he have been given a chance to have an impact before the series was all but decided, perhaps even a start?
But the Cardinals started Cy Young Award hopefuls Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in Games 1 and 2 and 15-game winner Joel Pineiro in Game 3, meaning that Smoltz's contributions would have likely come in the bullpen. Smoltz had hoped for his role to build, but the Cardinals' quick exit from the playoffs didn't allow for that to happen.
"I understood my role coming in," Smoltz said. "These guys were pretty darn good. I understood coming in that the longer this played out, the more role I would have been playing out. In a best-of-five series, you have to go with your horses, and the guys that are hot, and I understood all of that."
When Smoltz signed with the Cardinals in August, he said one of the main reasons was that he wanted to pitch again in the postseason. As Smoltz heads home for the winter, the 42-year-old has to decide whether he wants to make one more run at a chance at pitching in the postseason.
"My gut and my mind -- I want to do it, I want to pitch again next year," Smoltz said. "But I have to make sure that I am in position to do it again. I worked awfully hard to get back and play in the postseason. The feelings were the same, the nerves were the same. With the exception of an 0-2 pitch, everything was almost the way I wanted it to be. So it's going to be an interesting offseason for me.
"I still love this time of year. I love competing. I still think there's a lot I can bring to a ballclub. I certainly believe all of those components, but those things have to work themselves out in a way that would be a perfect fit for the organization."
Smoltz hasn't discussed a contract with the Cardinals, but both sides have said in recent weeks that they would be open to talking about a contract. The Cardinals will have to fill two spots in their rotation in the offseason, and the veteran Smoltz seems like a perfect fit.
"I'd love to do this," Smoltz said of staying in St. Louis. "This is a great club, great town, great organization. They gave me an opportunity. A lot of thoughts come through when you're walking out there to get on the mound [Saturday]. When I came back from surgery, I wanted to be in that spot. I wish it was 4-0 we were winning, but I got a chance, and I thank the organization for giving me that chance even though we're not moving on.
"I'm very frustrated that I'm not going to get a chance to move on. But it was a lot of hard work to get to this point. I think back to my surgery days, and I just wanted one more opportunity to pitch in the postseason. Hopefully I am going to say it again."
B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.