ST. LOUIS — Play the percentages. Keep the players comfortable in their roles.
Follow those two guidelines, and you are well on your way to a high approval rating as a major league manager.
Mike Matheny brushed them aside, at a critical moment of Game 2 of the World Series. The manager of the St. Louis Cardinals played his hunch instead, and the Cardinals flew home 4-2 winners.
The Cardinals raise their fireballers right. They threw 149 pitches Thursday, and a rookie threw every one of them.
Michael Wacha took care of the first six innings. Trevor Rosenthal, the closer, struck out the side in the ninth. It was what happened in between that forced Matheny to decide, and to reject the conventional wisdom, at least on this night.
The Cardinals handed Carlos Martinez a 4-2 lead to start the seventh inning, and he blew away the Red Sox on 10 pitches — all but one a fastball, and all but one of the fastballs at 95 mph or higher.
That led to the eighth inning, with David Ortiz due up fourth for Boston. Ortiz hit a two-run, go-ahead homer in his previous at-bat. He had homered in Game 1. If he came up, he could represent the tying run.
After an error by second baseman Matt Carpenter and two strikeouts, Ortiz did come up, with the game on the line and the Cardinals desperate to preserve the win that would even the World Series.
In the St. Louis bullpen, Randy Choate was warming up, and so was Rosenthal.
Choate is the left-handed specialist. His purpose on the roster is to face Ortiz, and to get him out.
In the bullpen, Rosenthal took a moment to see what would happen. He said he was not yet ready to go in, but he expected that Choate would, in the role Choate had filled all season.
“Randy’s spot,” Rosenthal said.
Matheny stuck with the kid. Martinez had thrown 10 pitches in the eighth inning, all strikes. The fastballs all hit 95 mph or more, and he had just struck out Dustin Pedroia on a curve. If not for the error, Martinez would have been out of the inning.
“He had real good life (on the ball),” Matheny said.
“If he isn’t throwing as hard or as sharp as he was,” Choate said, “that might be my spot.”
By throwing that hard and that sharp, Choate said, “Carlos had as good a chance of keeping the ball on the ground with Papi [Ortiz] as I did.”
Martinez got a ground ball, a hard-hit one, and Ortiz got an infield single.
By then, Rosenthal was ready, for what would have been a four-out save. Matheny stuck with Martinez against Mike Napoli — when a home run would have given the Red Sox the lead — and Napoli popped up.
“Not an easy call,” Matheny said, “but we liked the way Carlos was throwing the ball at that particular time.”
In the regular season, left-handed batters hit .176 off Choate and .326 off Martinez. Ortiz batted .260 off left-handers, .339 off right-handers.
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ general manager, signed Choate away from the Dodgers last winter for three years and $7.5million. All those millions, for this kind of matchup: Choate against Ortiz.
Yet, as Mozeliak watched from his seat, and in his coat and tie, he did not squirm when his manager stuck with the hard-throwing Martinez.
“He probably matched up as well as anybody at that point,” Mozeliak said.
Perhaps the Cardinals will not use Choate against Ortiz. In 10 career plate appearances against Choate, Ortiz has three hits and a walk. In Game 1, they used Choate against Jacoby Ellsbury.
If Choate’s role has changed for this series, Mozeliak wasn’t saying so.
“He’s there to go against the best lefty on the club,” Mozeliak said. “Knowing you have that tool in your chest is nice.
“Knowing you didn’t have to use it is even better.”