ST. LOUIS–The St. Louis Cardinals are back at it again—defying all the odds to keep driving deeper into October. They met a hiccup in their plans on Friday night when they lost Game 5 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants.
When your team has a pair of Mr. Octobers, the chance to keep a game or series alive is always present.
The Cardinals have been quick to credit their success so far in 2012 to rookie manager Mike Matheny for his methods and positive attitude.
“I was thinking about Mike Matheny and he's a man of very few words, compared to a lot of people,” David Freese said prior to Game 5 of the NLCS. “But, when he speaks, it's meaningful.”
Freese, like most members of the team, has an immense respect for Matheny both as a manager and a man.
“He's got our back, from day one,” he said. “That's cool to see. He's out here having a good time and he's just loving this, I know that.”
While the players have an immense amount of respect for their “new” manager, Freese said he knows that feeling is mutual.
“He trusts his players,” he said. “He's a guy that, he's very prepared, just like Tony. He throws his team out there and puts them in situations that they can succeed in.”
If anyone on the team is equipped to speak about Matheny’s trust in his players, it’s Jon Jay.
The decision to make Jay the everyday center fielder meant everything to the young man now crowned as the Cardinals' leadoff hitter as well.
“We had Carlos Beltran here, and he's done everything that you can do in center field,” Jay said. “And he was a great center fielder. For him to come up to me and say that to me, that was big to me.”
When a new manager takes over, young players particularly get concerned because they don’t know if their role will remain the same.
“The past two seasons for me I was battling to try to get in the lineup,” Jay said. “I knew that was my role. I knew that was what it was going to take for me to be in the roster.”
One of the things players have regularly touted about Matheny, is that he focuses on a player's skills, not their faults.
That can be huge for team morale.
“As far as motivation for Mike, he's always positive,” Jay said. “That's the No. 1 thing. That's something that definitely rubs off on us. He's never negative about anything.”
That’s saying something considering the Cardinals' struggles throughout portions of the season. Having a manager trying to keep the team focused and telling them he believes in them is vital during a slump, and it appears Matheny has worked hard at that.
“When we went through our stretches where things weren't so hot, he was always positive,” Jay said. “He kept believing in us and kept telling us how much talent we had on this team and how much we all cared about each other. And I think that's been the big thing this year—just staying positive.”
Adam Wainwright also touted Matheny’s leadership abilities and acknowledged.
“Well, I think he's a man of immense character,” Wainwright said of his rookie manager. “I think he's a role model, a leader that we look to, leads by example, a guy who never gets flustered, always is in smooth control of his mind and his body. But, I don't know, he kind of brings that leadership, maybe like a Tony Dungy or somebody like that, that quiet strength you just kind of feed off of.”
With the Cardinals headed back to San Francisco with hopes of wrapping this series up, focusing on the positive is crucial.
The key to wrapping up the NLCS on the way to the team’s fourth World Series berth in nine years is going to be for Matheny to keep his team focused.
He pointed out Friday that distractions are nothing new to the Cardinals. Between the pressure to win the series at home and the media circus that arrives with the playoffs, the team has played through its share of distractions.
Matheny said he works hard to keep them prepared for those distractions.
“We've had discussions, they've talked amongst themselves,” he said. “We go out and we play the game and the team that can take the distractions and put them aside and just go out and do your job is the team that's going to have a higher likelihood of winning.”
This team has the ability to get the job done. They have two more opportunities to make that happen.
Corey Noles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.