ST. LOUIS -- All that concern about the Cardinals' Game 4 starting pitcher. Bud Smith? Dustin Hermanson? All along, Tony La Russa knew it would have to be both, a two-headed ambidextrous monster giving the Redbirds Division Series life.
Smith, the left-hander too young to know you aren't supposed to be sharp on 10 days rest and after a 3 1/2-hour rain delay, going the first five. Hermanson, the selfless veteran right-hander, taking the next three. And Steve Kline, the anointed closer, finishing up.
That was the plan, right Tony?
"More like the hope than the plan," he said. "We didn't know what to expect with Bud."
Plan realized. Hope answered. Series tied.
Bud Smith, 22 going on October, got over a 35-pitch first inning to hurl four-hit ball through five. Hermanson retired all nine men he faced. Kline put up a zero in the ninth for his second postseason save. And the Cards downed Arizona at Busch Stadium, 4-1, to even the series at two apiece and set up the first Game 5 in NL Division Series history.
"Bud showed why he got the assignment under difficult circumstances. He just has this ability to concentrate and get what he needs. Classic winning stuff," said La Russa who, nonetheless, doted more on the veteran who could've moped about being skipped over for the start.
"In the course of a season, there are very special moments and for me today that was Dustin Hermanson," the manager said. "He was a real trooper. He was really together, made good pitches and got terrific outs. In the three innings, I saw only two pitches get away from him.
"We're so thankful for the job he did, we're taking his two Labradors with us to Arizona."
For 52,194 fans and two teams, this was less a ballgame than a baseball Lollapalooza. A day-long festival of red tops and white handkerchiefs. They streamed in at 10:30 a.m. when the gates opened for the scheduled noon game, and following five hours of rain and nearly three hours of ball, departed following the final out at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Trying not to allow the delay to further tie up his stomach, Smith zoned out.
"I tried not to use too much energy," he said. "I just relaxed, prepared myself. I tried to think of anything but the game."
Except for two simulated innings during Monday's workouts in Phoenix, Smith hadn't pitched since Oct. 3. Was La Russa concerned he would tense up during the rain?
|Dustin Hermanson retired all nine men he faced Saturday.
"Just the opposite," the manager said, "we were worried about not waking him up on time. He was asleep in his locker."
Smith had to snap to attention quickly in the top of the first. He issued a pair of walks, and let Steve Finley's single with two outs cash in one of them.
"I was a little nervous, Yeah, I had some butterflies," Smith conceded. "I struggled with my control early, but then I settled down and got more comfortable."
Nobody helped him relax more than Fernando Vina, even before the two-run homer in the bottom of the third that opened up a 4-1 lead for him. In the top of the inning, Vina orchestrated a pickoff play at second that was a game-turner.
Tony Womack was on second with a leadoff double, Luis Gonzalez had drawn a one-out walk and Smith was about to go to work on Arizona clean-up hitter Greg Colbrunn when he espied Vina inching toward second.
Smith whirled and made a perfect throw to Vina to nail the embarrassed Womack. Though he and Vina had occasionally practiced the play, Smith said this was the first time he'd actually picked someone off with it.
Saved it for a good time.
"That was the biggest play of the game, It turned around that inning, and helped me calm down," Smith said. "All the credit goes to Vina; he reads the runner and makes his break, and all I have to do is make a good throw."
"The classic 'daylight' play, and they pulled it off beautifully," La Russa said.
Even his managerial adversary had to admire the execution -- which is what it did to the D-Backs' chances.
"Bud Smith is a tremendous athlete with quick feet on the mound," said Diamondbacks Manager Bob Brenly. "We knew he likes to try that, but it happened so quick -- and I believe Vina stepped on Womack's hand to keep him from getting to the bag."
From that point, Smith stepped on the Diamondbacks' offense. He faced only one man over the minimum across final 2 2/3 innings of his nerve-wracking shift.
"Definitely, I felt more pressure in this one that the no-hitter," said Smith, alluding to taking the mound in latter stages of his Sept. 3 gem in San Diego. "They don't even compare. The no-hitter just happened, but every pitch, every out today meant so much more to us as a team.
"It's too early to go home."
Or, too early to stay home. The Cardinals get to return to Phoenix's Bank One Ballpark for Sunday night's decider.
Making a contribution to those travel plans stoked Hermanson, who has been predominantly a starter during his five-year career but has always dabbled in relief.
"I got to pitch when it was important to the team, because it wasn't a blow-out game. Anything could've happened," Hermanson said. "I just told myself, 'Don't get too excited. Relax. Have as much fun as possible.'
"Because you can't perform at your best when you're too excited."
This, definitely, was his best: He faced nine Diamondbacks and needed only 32 pitches to get all of them out.
And not only was he OK with following the younger pitcher, he said it was the right call.
"Going with Bud was the right choice, with all those lefties in their lineup. And Bud did a good job," said Hermanson, happy just to be here.
"I'm blessed to be here. So starting or relieving ... it doesn't matter. Whatever they want me to do.
"Right now, I'd be the bat boy if they wanted me to."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com.