When the Diamondbacks finally put St. Louis away at the end of the fifth game of their splendid Division Series, they did it with their starting pitcher on the hill. Curt Schilling pitched a pair of complete games in the series, and would have been the unanimous MVP if such an award were given in this round.
|Curt Schilling (left) and Randy Johnson celebrate in the clubhouse after the Diamondbacks' win over the Cardinals in Game 5.
Schilling and Randy Johnson combined to pitch 26 innings in the series, serving as the workhorses that they were all year long. Miguel Batista gave Arizona six quality innings in the third game. The only game in which Bob Brenly had to go to his bullpen early was Game 3, when the Cards chased Albie Lopez after just three innings.
Overall, the D-Backs used a pattern that worked for them all year long: get lots of innings from the ace starters, hope for a surprise now and then from the back of the rotation and spread out the work for the bullpen.
This was one of the keys to Arizona's success in 2001 -- using more pitchers for fewer innings out of the bullpen than nearly anyone else. Aside from closer Byung Hyun Kim, no Diamondbacks pitcher threw more than 53 2/3 innings in relief -- a mark topped by more than 40 relievers in the National League. However, seven different D-Backs contributed at least 30 innings in relief. And nine different pitchers made at least 10 relief appearances.
It added up to an extremely effective pen. Arizona's 3.84 bullpen ERA was the fourth best in the NL. At the same time only two teams -- Florida and NLCS opponent Atlanta -- got fewer innings from their relievers.
In the NLDS, Brenly called on a curious cadre of relievers, but it worked out extremely well. He went to starter Brian Anderson in long relief in Game 4, as well as in the seventh inning of Game 3. He went to starter Batista in the closing moments of Game 2. He called on lefty Greg Swindell twice, ageless Mike Morgan twice and Kim once.
And it worked.
Diamondbacks relievers pitched a total of nine innings in the Division Series. They allowed just seven hits and two earned runs for a 2.00 ERA. They walked four Cardinals and struck out seven.
Schilling was of course the story for the Diamondbacks in Game 5. But in the aggregate, Arizona's unheralded relief pitchers performed superbly, while at the same time Brenly's hesitation to call on them too often worked out quite well.
There seems to be a pattern here
In the two games Schilling started, St. Louis scored a grand total of one run. In the other three games, the Cards managed 11 runs -- nothing spectacular, but a nice step up. If you're going to look for one difference (other than the starting pitcher of course) between the stalled Cardinals offense and the passable Cardinals offense, check out the guys at the top of the order.
In Games 1 and 5, Fernando Vina and Placido Polanco went a combined 2-for-16 with no walks. They didn't score a single run. In Games 2-4, the table-setters fared much better. They went 8-for-18 with two walks and three runs scored. The Cards' bashers didn't hit much the entire series; without the little guys on base in front of them, the offense was pretty much doomed.
Matthew Leach is editor-at-large for MLB.com.