DENVER -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knows how difficult it is to make the playoffs. He was a part of October baseball in just three of his 13 seasons as a Major League catcher.
And it's because playoff appearances are so precious that Matheny isn't particularly judicious about his players celebrating when they lock up a postseason birth. The playoffs are drawing near for Cardinals, who trimmed their magic number for securing at least a Wild Card berth to five games with an 11-4 win over the Rockies on Tuesday night.
"It's a big deal, because there's a lot of very good players, that had very successful careers, that never got to play one day after the [regular] season," Matheny said.
To avoid getting ahead of themselves, Matheny said the Cardinals have only sketched out a loose plan of how the club will enjoy the moment if it secures a playoff berth. It's a situation complicated by the addition of a second Wild Card spot in 2012, as some would argue that there's little to celebrate before the divisional round.
But Matheny sees any game after No. 162 as an achievement worthy of recognition.
"I just think it's too special," he said. "And I don't think enough credit's given to what's done over 162 games, so with the new process, it obviously gives more of a benefit to the team that wins the division. But this is a long haul, this is a long grind and when you've done something to set yourself apart, you need to acknowledge that."
Kelly leaves game with right calf soreness
DENVER -- Cardinals starting pitcher Joe Kelly exited after the fifth inning of Tuesday's 11-4 win over the Rockies with tightness in his upper right calf.
Kelly said he wanted to keep pitching, but manager Mike Matheny didn't want to push his luck.
"Just been feeling that way lately, and it's something that's not bad, obviously, still had stuff tonight and throwing pretty decently hard," Kelly said. "Covering first base it felt a little more tight than usual and thought it was a good idea to give me some rest."
The right-hander allowed three hits and two walks in five scoreless innings. Trainers first checked on him with two outs in the fifth, but they allowed him to finish off the inning before pulling him. Kelly threw only 78 pitches, but he still picked up his sixth win in seven games and ninth of the year.
"We went out and talked to him and he said he feels it and felt it all game, but nothing different," Matheny said. "Once he got through the fifth, having a reasonable pitch count to get him out, try and save it a little bit."
After spending the first three months of the season as a reliever, Kelly has thrived since joining the starting rotation. His 1.94 ERA since June 1 is second best in the Majors over that period, trailing only Miami's Jose Fernandez.
As much as he wanted to stay in the game, Kelly realized it was the smart move, as he could be a critical piece of the Cardinals' postseason rotation.
"We're so close to the end and close to a playoff spot, so just something you don't want to risk," Kelly said.
Rookie pitchers key to Cardinals' success
DENVER -- It's likely no other club in the Majors has leaned as heavily on rookie pitchers as the Cardinals.
And it's brought them plenty of success.
St. Louis rookie pitchers have combined for 34 wins this year, best in the Majors and the club's most since 1952. Shelby Miller has led the way, going 14-9 with a 3.01 ERA in 29 starts.
But Miller is far from the only significant contributor, with rookies Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha and Seth Maness anchoring the bullpen, and Wacha recently joining Miller in the starting rotation. It's more than just strength in numbers, as they've actually had a major impact on the club in their first year.
Maness retired the only hitter he faced in the Cardinals' 11-4 win over the Rockies on Tuesday, and Siegrist pitched 1 1/3 hitless innings with two strikeouts.
The young pitchers credit their readiness for the big leagues to the way they were treated on their way up through the Minor Leagues.
"They preach it down in the Minors, 'Hey, just be ready, because whenever you're up there they don't really accept anything but winning," Wacha said. "So it's kind of ingrained in you."
They also benefitted form observing their more veteran counterparts, Major League mainstays Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright setting the tone for the rest of the staff. They aren't so much telling the rookie pitchers what mechanical adjustments to make as much as presenting a complete picture of what it takes to excel at the highest level.
"Both have had a lot of success in the big leagues, and as a young pitcher you just pick up on some of the routines and what they do," Miller said. "Maybe mix something they do into yours and make you better somehow."
Last year, Miller made six appearances (one start) with the Cardinals near the end of the season, also making two relief appearances in the NLCS. A year later, he's become a centerpiece of the rotation, a transition he's made seamlessly.
But as the Cardinals prep for their third straight playoff run, he's eager to for a different kind of experience with a team he's truly a part of.
"It's completely different," Miller said. "Last year, I pitched in games when we were down or we were winning by a lot and I had a role, but it wasn't near as big as it is this year. "I wanted to win just as much last year as I did this year, but this year there's more pressure on my part as far as knowing that when I take the ball every five days we've got to get a win, no matter what. We're trying to win this thing, not just the division but the whole thing."
And these rookies will soon be thrown into the pressure cooker that is playoff baseball. The excitement they crave will only grow stronger, but each mistake will be magnified. Still, it remains a dream situation for pitchers in the midst of their first full big league season.
"Oh, it's unbelievable," Wacha said. "This is what you dream of whenever you're growing up, being in this playoff race and being in with a good club and getting the chance to go play in the playoffs. It's becoming a reality right now and it's been a lot of fun to make this little push here at the end of the year."
As usual, Molina having excellent defensive year
DENVER -- Yadier Molina's name has become synonymous with Gold Gloves.
The Cardinals catcher has won the most coveted defensive award each of the last five seasons and is strongly positioned to make it six straight. Molina has caught 46.5 percent of would-be basestealers, the best mark in the Majors by a comfortable margin, among qualifying players.
"Just the combination of exchange, arm strength, accuracy, and he's way off the charts as far as the consistency in that," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of what makes Molina special. "You have other things you have to take into consideration too -- pitching staff does a nice job of helping him maintain the times and the jumps and help with the running game. But Yadi's consistently going to have a good, quick time and he's going to put it on the bag."
Matheny noted something else that makes Molina unique: He doesn't call for certain pitches to put him in better position to throw out a baserunner. Matheny said he's seen opposing catchers call for fastballs when they think a runner will try to steal, but Molina isn't afraid to call an offspeed pitch if that's the smart pitch in a given situation.
"He doesn't fall into that trap of trying to make guys quick or having them throw pitches that he can handle up in the zone," Matheny said. "He almost refuses to do that and goes the opposite way and that's not always the case for most good throwers."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.