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Why change pitchers before facing a reliever in a blowout? Joe Maddon has an answer, Mike Matheny has stories

Jeff Jones

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In a baseball game that turns lopsided, it can be difficult to find kernels of entertainment inside a mass of inevitability. One of those popped yesterday evening, as Cardinals reliever John Brebbia got a rare chance to take his hacks at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the Cubs leading 13-5.

And hack he did. Brebbia, who briefly considered and then dismissed referring to his technique as “king dinger swings,” lifted a foul ball into the seats down the left field line, whiffed on another mighty cut, and then bounced out to Addison Russell on a play which allowed Luke Voit to move from first to second base.

In another context, Brebbia’s at bat could have been called a nice piece of situational hitting. Last night, it was simply an oddity that the pitcher was sure to be prepared for.

“As soon as I told him,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, “he sprinted down into the cage to get loose.” Here, Matheny paused for laughter before continuing.

“Apparently he got loose.”

The at bat was strange enough before Cubs manager Joe Maddon added his own twist to the mix. Holding an eight run lead with one out in the ninth inning of a game that was moving at a deliberate pace in the stifling St. Louis summer heat, Maddon went to the bullpen.

He summoned lefty Randy Rosario to replace righty Luke Farrell in what appeared to be a sardonic nod to matchups between hitters and pitchers. Brebbia, despite being a right handed thrower, bats left handed.

“I did not want Farrell to throw more pitches,” Maddon said. “[Anthony] Bass and Farrell should both be available tonight based on the number of pitches they threw last night. Had I let either one go more than that, either one of the two might not be available tonight.”

Farrell threw 28 pitches in one and one third innings last night, and Rosario delivered ten to record the final two outs. “Ten pitches matters,” said Maddon. “It can matter a lot.”

Matheny was asked if he was upset about the situation. At first, he misunderstood the question, thinking it referred to being miffed at Brebbia. Laughing, Matheny said, “it’s hard to get upset with John Brebbia.”

When the question was clarified, Matheny smoothly deflected back to the laughs. “I got no comment on that one,” he said. “I thought you were talking about how hard Brebbia was swinging, because that surprised me.”

Maddon, for his part, calmly and cooly deflected any perceived improprieties. “Sometimes people don’t get it when you’re trying to conserve and preserve people,” Maddon opined.

“Quite frankly, if anybody didn’t like it, that’s too bad.”

The Cardinals manager seemed more focused on finding a silver lining to a tough night than on focusing on what could be considered some undue gamesmanship. He was eager to reminisce about his favorite part of the sequence, conceding that Brebbia has a unique talent for bringing levity to tense team environments.

“The best part,” in Matheny’s opinion, “was when he asked the umpire if he was sure he was out after he crossed first base. He was out by a full step.

“I mean, we were getting our teeth kicked in, so it’s hard to find humor in anything. But I had a hard time not laughing at him.”

Brebbia handled the pitching change like a seasoned veteran. He’s been known to proudly tell reporters about a plate appearance against Jacob DeGrom of the Mets last year where he insists that he made solid contact. The word “rocket” has even been used in description. Last night, with a sudden platoon disadvantage, he hit the books.

“They made the pitching change,” Matheny said, “and John comes over and goes straight to [hitting coach John Mabry] and…he asked him if he had some hot/cold zone charts.

“He wanted to see some of his tendencies. I knew we were in trouble.”

Matheny said he was aware ahead of time that Brebbia hit as a lefty. When a reporter snarked that the Cubs were aware as well, Matheny let out a chortle that’s familiar to those around him on a regular basis. It’s a noise that indicates he’s about to truncate his thoughts for sake of prudent censorship. In this case, the response he formulated was one word.

“Apparently.”

Jeff Jones is the host of Locked On Cardinals. He covers the Cardinals and St. Louis Blues for St. Louis Game Time and 920 AM WGNU. He got a high five from Lou Brock after Dmitri Young’s triple in game four of the 1996 NLCS. He probably doesn’t hate the Cubs as much as you do.

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