A reminder: the St. Louis Cardinals started this season with Ryan Franklin as their closer. Ryan Franklin. The Brewers and Phillies are right to roll around in agony and wonder what might have been if Franklin had kept his job just a little bit longer. Franklin allowed at least one run in five of his first six appearances in 2011, with two of the bad outings suffering from some less-than-stellar plays in center by the now-departed Colby Rasmus.
If Rasmus makes both of those catches, maybe Franklin gets a longer leash. Maybe Franklin sticks around through April, maybe even into May. It's possible he could have done more damage. Or maybe he makes it all the way through the season, and he's the closer in the playoffs, with every opposing team going into the ninth without the feeling of partial-hopelessness that a good closer can give.
Instead, the Cardinals turned to Fernando Salas, a good reliever who often picked the wrong time to have a case of the blowsies. He started his new role as closer splendidly, converting his first ten save opportunities, but in August, he fell out of favor. He allowed runs in back-to-back September games, and that was it for him.
Other teams wouldn't have flinched at Salas' minor ups and downs -- they were pretty benign as far as reliever implosions go. But Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan saw something they liked in Jason Motte.
And now Jason Motte is the perfect reliever.
They started with Ryan Franklin.
These are the things that preseason prognosticators just aren't looking for. Is it hyperbole to suggest that Motte is the perfect reliever? Sure. He did allow a one-out base hit to Placido Polanco in the playoffs. That was a bad thing, and there probably isn't a day that goes by where Motte doesn't think about that terrible meaningless single. Other than that, now, he's been perfect.
So a guy who wasn't a closer until the last month of the season steps in and becomes pure magic throughout the Cardinals' late-season comeback and bullpen-fueled postseason run. Of course he does. That's just how baseball likes to work, the little scamp. While the rest of the baseball world is focused on Mariano Rivera or Ryan Madson, a guy who wasn't an established major leaguer until he was 28, and who wasn't a closer until a couple of months ago, came up to steal the bullpen headlines in the playoffs.
Well, he would have if there were such things as bullpen headlines. And it's not entirely true to suggest he wasn't a closer until two months ago. He was a closer back in 2009. For one game. It didn't work out.
But that was years ago. Things have changed.
Motte looks the part now. And he's also looked unhittable in the playoffs. Well, except for the single hit he's allowed in nine innings. Shame on him.
Every team that makes the World Series has a story like this -- a surprise player or ten that came up and performed in ways that we couldn't have expected. And maybe the Cardinals should have expected Motte to do this, considering he was excellent as a setup man last year. But St. Louis started the year with Ryan Franklin as closer. Ryan Franklin. If he was just Ryan Franklin instead of a reliever who forced his way into retirement, the season goes just a little differently. Instead, they have a reliever having one of the better postseasons in recent memory.