10/16/06 1:25 AM ET
Reyes gives Mets too much to work with
Cardinals rookie right-hander throws 86 pitches in four innings
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
It was the Reyes that had trouble locating his pitches, working ahead in counts and racking up a high pitch count after just a few innings. That version normally yields just a few runs, but also heavily taxes the bullpen.
That was the case in Sunday night's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, a 12-5 loss to the Mets. Reyes tossed 86 pitches in four innings and allowed just two runs.
"I kept the team in the game and I tried to be the best I could with every pitch, but I just threw too many pitches to every hitter and I got forced out of there early," Reyes said.
By itself, the outing would have been serviceable, but the short stint exposed the soft underbelly of the Redbirds' bullpen to the dangerous Mets lineup. Instead of going straight to their solid relief corps, the Cardinals needed to eat innings with Brad Thompson and Josh Hancock.
New York pounced, scoring 10 more runs, including eight against the two pitchers who entered with little work in the postseason.
"It was a rough night, especially for Hancock and Thompson," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "They are kicking themselves and beating themselves up in the clubhouse. But both are capable of doing things differently to get better results."
Hancock was the crux of the problem for the worst bullpen implosion this season. The normally solid right-hander faced five batters in the sixth. They all reached base. They all scored.
Overall, Thompson, Tyler Johnson and Braden Looper also permitted runs, dulling the bullpen's sparkling 0.44 postseason ERA and .037 (1-for-27) opponents' postseason batting mark with runners in scoring position.
"We made a lot of mistakes throwing the ball down the middle," catcher Yadier Molina said. "We didn't hit the corners. We made a lot of mistakes, and we can't make a lot of mistakes with that team. They have a very good lineup, and every pitch in the middle, they are going to hit it."
Reyes' short outing and the bullpen's lackluster effort puts an increased weight on Jeff Weaver's shoulders for Game 5 on Monday night. With the series tied at two games apiece and the bullpen taxed, Weaver will need to throw a solid game to regain the lead before the series heads back to New York for Game 6 on Wednesday.
Reyes started the damage Sunday night. Pitching for the first time since throwing two-thirds of an inning in the last start of the regular season, the rookie was inconsistent in the first postseason start of his young career.
He looked dominating early, striking out Jose Reyes on a breaking ball and coaxing a popup from Paul Lo Duca. Sticking to a philosophy that paid huge dividends when he came back up from Triple-A Memphis in mid-August, Reyes aggressively attacked the strike zone, using a four-seam fastball to set up his strong breaking ball and excellent changeup.
But he walked Carlos Beltran on a full count and Carlos Delgado on a 3-1 offering. Then, on his 26th pitch of the first inning, he avoided any damage when he coaxed a fly ball from David Wright.
The first inning foreshadowed the rest of the game for Reyes. The rookie had trouble getting outs early, tossing 26 pitches to five hitters in a long second inning, 17 in the third and another 17 in the fourth.
Out of the 18 batters Reyes faced, 11 of them saw five pitches or more. Only once did the right-hander get an out on two pitches or fewer. The four walks were one shy of his season high.
"Some of the pitches were pretty good, but I left some up where they could have done a little more damage than they did," Reyes said. "It was a credit to their part. They battled, and when I got ahead, they kept battling. I tried to put them away, but it was just tough."
In the second inning, Reyes coaxed outs from the first two hitters, but needed 14 pitches to accomplish the feat. The two outs encapsulated the outing for the right-hander: He would get ahead early at 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2, but couldn't get a quick out.
"Some of the pitches I would like to throw on the corners, and they got in the middle of the plate and they fouled them off," he said. "Some of the good pitches I threw, they fouled them off. They did a good job."
In contrast to other starts, Reyes used all of his pitches effectively, but had trouble throwing them for consistent strikes, especially his changeup and breaking ball.
"He was aggressive with the fastball," Molina said. "He wasn't with the offspeed pitches. He wasn't getting on top of them. Still, he kept us in the game. It was only two runs. I thought he pitched good. I thought he did a good job."
Reyes' only blemishes were a third-inning curveball to Beltran and a fastball to Wright. Both were deposited over the fence for solo homers.
After working through four long innings, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was going to pull his starter.
"We weren't going to push him much past [four] anyway," La Russa said. "If Anthony's spot had come up in the batting order, I would have pitched [Randy] Flores, but we wanted someone to give us a couple of innings, and that was Thompson."
Thompson, a pitcher who had spent some of 2006 in the Minors, earned the nod after Chris Duncan pinch-hit for Reyes. Instead of supplying several innings, the right-hander retired just one batter and left after Delgado hit a three-run homer, giving the Mets a 5-2 lead.
After Flores got out of the inning, Hancock -- who entered with a 27.00 postseason ERA -- exited with a 162.00 mark. Johnson and Looper -- two relief stalwarts -- also permitted runs, giving the Cardinals their worst loss of the postseason.
"I have forgotten about it," Johnson said. "A night like this gives us confidence. We want to come back out there tomorrow and prove we can pitch like we have been."
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.