When the St. Louis Cardinals made their monumental push to the playoffs in 2011, many players stepped up to get the job done. "Closer" Jason Motte was no exception.
While former manager Tony LaRussa wasn't ready to crown him with the closer title, there was little doubt in September or October who needed the ball when a game was on the line.
Motte picked up the slack for a bullpen that was struggling late in games and befuddled hitters with his fastball through Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. The embrace that followed between him and catcher Yadier Molina following the last out was a moment to remember.
Motte put together good numbers to wrap up 2011. He only amassed nine saves (not including five postseason saves), but in 68 IP, he surrendered only 17 runs and held together a 2.25 ERA.
Shy of some early struggles, Motte has put together another great season—one that shows the beginnings of an elite closing pitcher.
The home-run ball plagued Motte early in the season when he was too reliant on only his four-seam fastball. In May and June, he decreased the use of his sinker. Once he began to work it back into his repertoire more often, his dominance returned.
Of his 25 career home runs surrendered, eight have come in 2012. That has, by far, been his biggest vice.
Despite that, the Cardinals have a lot to be pleased about with Motte this year.
He has blown only one save in 18 opportunities since June 17 against the Kansas City Royals.
He has given up only three walks through his last 98 batters faced and has struck out 36 through the same period.
His 33 saves, so far, this season are the most by a Cardinals reliever since Jason Isringhausen hit the same mark in 2006. His saves were through a whole season, and Motte still has a lot of games ahead of him before his total will be final.
That same season, Isringhausen was 4-8 with a 3.55 ERA. As of Sept. 4, 2012, Motte is 4-4 with a 2.75 ERA. Motte's 68 strikeouts to date also stand to end the season considerably higher than Isringhausen's mark of 54.
That is also more strikeouts than former Cardinals closer Lee Smith piled up when he led the league with 47 saves in 1991.
I'm not ready to say that Motte is the next Lee Smith, but it should be noted that Smith crossed the 30-save mark five times after age 33. Three times, he crossed the 40-save mark.
Motte is now 30 years old and looks like a pitcher on a mission with a lot of life left in him. He does have the ability to become one of the game's elite closers. Can he make that happen?