ST. LOUIS -- Not bad for a guy who didn't pick up his first save of the season until Aug. 28.
Cardinals right-hander Jason Motte continued his dominance in the postseason, retiring all four batters he faced -- three via strikeout -- to help preserve a 4-3 victory over the Brewers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night.
Motte has now tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out six to pick up three saves, and he is a major reason why St. Louis is just two wins away from the World Series.
Motte's exceptional performance on Wednesday capped a similarly impressive effort by the Cards' bullpen, as four relievers combined to retire all 12 batters they faced after right-hander Chris Carpenter exited after just five innings.
Motte, who has seen his role evolve plenty this season and still has not been officially named closer by manager Tony La Russa, attributed the relievers' success to their preparation and willingness to do whatever is asked by their manager.
Spin to Win
"I've thrown everywhere from the third inning to the 10th inning," Motte said. "But you know, when that phone rings, we get ourselves ready. We get our arms ready and we get our minds ready to go out there and pitch, and we are going to go out there and give it everything we have until Tony comes and takes the ball away from us."
This time, however, La Russa didn't take the ball from Motte until he recorded the final out of the game on a strikeout of pinch-hitter Casey McGehee. It has become one of Motte's customs to give the game ball to his manager after converting a save.
"A couple weeks ago, I got a save and I got the ball, and I flipped it up in the stands and he was like, 'Woah, was that the game ball?' and I was like, 'Yeah, do you want it?' and he's like, 'Yeah,'" Motte said. "And I was like, 'Oh, well OK.' So now if I get the last out, I just come up and hand it to him. It's just one of those things."
Motte has earned the trust of La Russa considering his success during the regular season, with a 2.25 ERA with 63 strikeouts compared to 16 walks over 68 innings. He also posted a 2.00 ERA in 10 save situations, blowing just one save that was the result of an error by right fielder Corey Patterson against the Phillies on Sept. 16.
"He's been impressive all year," said left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who struck out Prince Fielder in the eighth before handing the ball over to Motte. "So knowing him, and seeing what he's been doing, you can't ask for anything more from him."
The Cardinals certainly couldn't have asked for much more from Motte in Game 3, as his fastball was electric -- it averaged 97.6 mph and helped him register three swinging strikeouts, according to MLB.com's Pitch F/X data -- and he needed just 16 pitches to record four outs.
"When you see 96 to 99 coming out of there with nice sliders," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, "I think it's really good."
Motte came in with two outs in the eighth and promptly struck out Rickie Weeks on a 99-mph fastball before coming back out for the ninth. He picked up right where he left off in the previous frame, getting Jerry Hairston to ground out on a first-pitch fastball before whiffing Yuniesky Betancourt on a 97-mph fastball and McGehee on a 98-mph heater.
It was a crucial multi-inning save -- Motte's fourth of the season and second in the playoffs -- but it didn't surprise his teammates, who have come to expect big things from Motte.
"He's been great," center fielder Jon Jay said. "He's been going out there and throwing strikes, and [he] has really been shutting the door there at the end."