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Closer Look

Cards rookie Reames avoids jitters, shuts down Braves

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Latest: Wednesday October 04, 2000 08:20 AM

  Tony La Russa had confidence in rookie Britt Reames to get the Cardinals out of a seventh-inning jam. AP

By Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated

ST. LOUIS -- By now you know what happened to the first rookie Tony LaRussa sent out to pitch in Game 1 of the Cardinals' playoff series against the Braves. The kid may have gone 11-7 during the regular season, but he had his walking shoes on in this one.

Six walks in two and 2/3 innings for left-hander Rick Ankiel. In the third inning alone the poor guy threw more wild pitches (five) than any pitcher has thrown in an entire postseason career.

So when LaRussa called for the second rookie -- a slim fellow named Britt Reames -- to come in from the bullpen, Cardinals fans cringed. It was the seventh inning, two runners were on, the Cards up 7-4. The tying run was looking out at Reames from the batter's box.

The tying run's name was Andres Galarraga, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound guy who makes his living hitting home runs off big-league arms. Didn't faze Reames much. He struck Galarraga out.

A few batters later, there were two outs and the bases were trucked. Reames got another broad-shouldered slugger, Bobby Bonilla, to ground out to first base. His Cardinals teammates were waiting for him on the dugout steps. Reames' 1-2-3 eighth seemed an anticlimax.

"You come out of the bullpen, you have to go and get them," said Reames, who had hitherto made exactly one appearance out of the bullpen in his brief big-league career. "I was throwing strikes warming up, so I wasn't nervous."

Why he should he have been, really? He was only pitching in a playoff game, with 52,378 rabid Redbird rooters looking on. This guy's had plenty more difficult assignments: He went to The Citadel, for one. He also came back after missing all of the 1997 and '98 seasons with a lame pitching elbow.

Reames was just a Class A pitcher when he came back in 1999, and he was still a minor leaguer six weeks ago. He was called up from Class AAA Memphis on Aug. 19, the day he turned 27. He hoped maybe he'd last long enough for a slice of birthday cake -- or until Cardinals starter Andy Benes recovered from a sore right knee.

But Reames hung around long after Benes healed. He stayed through to the end of the year, started seven games, came in once in relief, and finished up 2-1. That qualifies as a damn good debut in The Show. "My family kept asking if I was going to be on the team for the playoffs," he said. "I had no idea."

At 8:30 Tuesday morning, four hours before game time, Reames was still a maybe for this postseason roster. His manager told him to come in and work out in any case. "I got to the park and at about 8:45 Tony called me into his office," said Reames. "He said to me, 'You're active.' I looked back at him for a second and then I said, 'Let's do it. Let's get it on.'"

Sports Illustrated staff writer Kostya Kennedy is covering the National League Division Series for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back to read more of his reports from the field.

 
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