The St. Louis Cardinals lost a heartbreaker Tuesday, as Randy Choate’s throwing error in the 10th inning gave the San Francisco Giants a 5-4 win in Game 3 of the NLCS.

However, Choate’s rough outing with the game on the line didn’t define the Cardinals’ Game 3 loss.

Instead, the game came down to manager Mike Matheny’s decision not to use right-handers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, easily the team’s top bullpen weapons in virtually any scenario, or even Michael Wacha in the extra inning of a postseason game in a tied playoff series.

After Rosenthal’s blown save in Game 2 of the NLCS, Matheny, who was forced to remove the closer with two outs in the ninth inning, stated the hard-throwing right-hander remains the team’s closer.

“I’ll start with the back end of that—yes, he’s still our closer, and hopefully we have a lead late in the game where we can watch him go again,” Matheny said, via Adam McCalvy of

So then why wasn’t he (or either of the other aforementioned bullpen arms) out there for the 10th inning?

Choate, one of four remaining arms in the bullpen at the time, entered the game in the bottom of the 10th to face San Francisco’s 8-9-1 hitters, including a pair of left-handed batters in Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco.

After issuing a leadoff walk to Brandon Crawford to open the 10th, Choate had the next batter, right-handed-hitting Juan Perez, in an 0-2 hole after two botched bunt attempts. However, Choate’s poor control on subsequent pitches allowed Perez to hang in there long enough to deliver a single to left field.

Granted, everyone and their mothers knew that Perez would be bunting in that situation, but the strategy changed dramatically after the right-handed batter quickly fell behind in the count, 0-2, which in turn gave him the opportunity to swing freely at the plate.

Rather than bring in a right-hander such as Martinez, who was warm by the time Choate imploded, or Rosenthal—guys that have been late-inning fixtures in the bullpen this season and know how to miss bats—Matheny decided to stick with Choate, who allowed a .385/.458/.481 batting line this year to right-handed hitters.

Despite allowing the first two batters he faced in the inning to reach base, Matheny stuck with Choate against left-handed-hitting Gregor Blanco, who entered the game 3-for-6 in his career against the Cardinal reliever.

One would have hoped that Matheny learned his lesson during the regular season about asking too much of Choate. Specifically, Choate’s May 12 outing against the Chicago Cubs comes to mind, when Matheny asked the left-hander to throw the final two innings of a relatively close game.

The result was Choate’s worst outing of the season.

From Steve Nations of

Of course, Choate gets lit up for six runs while only recording two outs, ballooning his ERA to almost 7.00, a hill he’s going to be climbing for months if he wants to looks respectable on the back of his baseball card in 2014. This happened because Choate is not that kind of pitcher. He doesn’t work his way through a full inning facing lefties and righties. He’s the quintessential lefty specialist, and for some reason Matheny wanted to see if he could get a full inning out of him.

The fact that Matheny wanted the left-on-left matchup between Choate and Blanco at the end of Game 3 wasn’t the problem; the problem was that, with a crucial playoff game on the line in extra innings, he was hesitant to use Rosenthal, Martinez or Wacha despite being fully aware of the potential consequences of overextending Choate.

As the series shifted to San Francisco, Matheny, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stated that he planned to use Rosenthal exclusively in save situations on the road. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising to see Rosenthal warming up in the bullpen with Yadier Molina in the top of the ninth (in anticipation of St. Louis possibly taking the lead), but fail to appear in the game.

On the other hand, Matheny’s decision to pass on using Martinez, who was already loose, and Wacha, who he said before the series would serve as the team’s go-to pitcher in extra innings, was inexcusable.

“Michael gives us definitely some flexibility, and we can use him in a different role, but right now that’s pretty valuable to us knowing that we can be quick (to other relievers), like we were,” Matheny said, via Goold. “It leaves a huge need in case we come back and tie the game.”

And for a manager who loves double switches as much as Matheny, it was shocking that he didn’t make such a move late in Game 3. Had Matheny inserted Peter Bourjos in center field when Seth Maness, who was due to bat in the next inning, took the mound, there’s a realistic chance he would have been able to use his right-hander for multiple innings.

It’s easy to blame the Cardinals’ Game 3 loss on Randy Choate’s strike-throwing issues and errant throw, but there’s simply no plausible explanation for why Matheny allowed the team’s most inconsistent and limited postseason reliever to decide their fate in the most important game of the season.

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