Closer 

Jason Matte reflects on the Cardinals' magical season.

In more than 130 years of major-league baseball, fewer than 100 pitchers have been where the St. Louis Cardinals' Jason Motte was last October 28th: the bottom of a celebratory dog-pile, having recorded the final out of the World Series.

"It was pretty painful," Motte says from the first-base dugout at FedExPark. "As Yadi [Molina] jumped into my arms, I barely got my arms around him, and I got blind-sided from the left side by the entire dugout. I had my hand turned up weird under Yadi, at the bottom. I was like, 'I think I broke my hand.' But he was like, 'That's okay, you've got four months to get it better.' Sweet."

Motte met his future wife, Caitlin, during 2008, when he saved nine games and struck out 110 hitters in 67 innings as a Memphis Redbird. They chose to live in Memphis, a decision made easier by the proximity to St. Louis, where Motte will soon be playing his fourth season. This winter, Motte has trained with Coach Daron Schoenrock's Memphis Tigers. He heads to Jupiter, Florida, for spring training later this month and will go with fond memories of an unlikely championship.

The Cardinals trailed the Atlanta Braves by 10 and a half games for the National League's final playoff spot in late August. They trailed Philadelphia, two games to one, in a best-of-five division series and then lost their first game to Milwaukee in the National League Championship Series. Then, of course, they fell behind Texas, three games to two, in the Fall Classic. St. Louis was down to its final strike in Game 6 ... twice.

"We were down so big," Motte reflects. "We decided that we were going to play the game hard, give it everything we have. If we lost, it wasn't going to be for lack of effort. I still get chills talking about it. If one out of a hundred things didn't go the right way, from August 25th on, we're not sitting here talking about us winning the World Series."

Motte, 29, has a special appreciation for the comeback nature of last year's Cardinals, as he gave up what could well have been a Series-winning home run to the Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton in the 10th inning of Game 6. "I had someone ask me what I would have done if Lance Berkman hadn't tied the game again [in the bottom of the 10th]," Motte says. "Well, I would have packed my stuff up and gone home. What would you want me to do? Go jump off the arch?"

Motte found himself oddly calm when he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, three outs away from every baseball player's dream. "There was adrenaline, and I was excited," he says. "But I wasn't going to try and do more than I was capable of doing. I couldn't get a double play with nobody on. I just wanted to make every pitch count."

The Cardinals, of course, have managed to make news during the offseason as well. Hall of Fame-bound manager Tony LaRussa announced his retirement three days after the Series victory. Hall of Fame-bound first baseman Albert Pujols defected to the Los Angeles Angels (where he'll earn $240 million over the next decade). And new manager Mike Matheny learned last month that venerable pitching coach Dave Duncan is stepping down to help his wife in her battle with cancer. Derek Lilliquist takes over as the Cardinals' new pitching coach.

"With Albert, it's just part of the game," Motte says. "But we've got some good additions, and Berkman's back. [Rafael] Furcal is back. "[Matheny] is a great dude. He knows baseball; he's qualified for the job. Lilliquist has been around Duncan, so I think the philosophy is going to be about the same."

Pujols' departure will leave a void not only on the field but in the clubhouse, one that developed the character of a championship team. "We've got a good group of guys back," Motte says. "The people we had last year — off the field — were special. We have Berkman back, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Yadi. Everyone got really close; you got a chance to see the way things should be. I think we'll be just fine in the clubhouse."

Last month, the Cardinals and Motte agreed on a one-year contract that will pay him $1.95 million in 2012, more than quadrupling his salary. Despite a championship ring, a raise, and a seismic turnover in personnel, Jason Motte approaches the upcoming season precisely as baseball players are trained. "Our goal is the same," he says. "To win the World Series."

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