Last Friday, Kyle Lohse took the mound in Atlanta for an elimination game and came away with the win, leading the St. Louis Cardinals ahead to the next round of the playoffs.
He'll be in position to do that again Thursday at Nationals Park, with one key difference:
"The good part is it's not an elimination for us," he said. "That's better."
The Cardinals' second consecutive blowout of the Nationals, this one an 8-0 rout in Game 3 of the Nationals League Division Series, saw to that. After stumbling in the opening game Sunday in St. Louis, the defending World Series champions are now firmly in control, even though the rest of the series will be played in Washington.
Lohse allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Braves in the Wild Card game last week, an appropriate result after a season of similar pitching lines. In the midst of a career year at age 34, Lohse went 16-3 during the regular season to set a Cardinals record for winning percentage (.842) and allowed just 192 hits and 38 walks in 211 innings on the way to a 2.86 ERA.
The veteran right-hander doesn't blow anyone away with his stuff; he wins with consistency. And even he acknowledged it took him some time to get his head on straight during that pressurized game at Turner Field.
"I was amped up in that game in Atlanta the first couple innings; I was throwing a little harder than what I had been all year," he said following Wednesday's game. "I'm smart enough now to know that's not how to go about business. You don't go out there and try to do things you don't normally do. My game is location and change of speeds, and I know that, and in order to do that, I have to be in control of my thoughts and my emotions, and I feel like I do a good job of that now."
It has been a work in progress for Lohse, who never had an ERA lower than 4.18 in his first seven big-league seasons with the Twins, Reds and Phillies. But he has posted ERAs of 3.78 or less in three of his five seasons in St. Louis.
The younger Lohse might not have been ready for a stage like the one he took last week and will face it again Thursday. But the pitcher with a dozen seasons under his belt knows where his focus needs to be.
"I said before that Atlanta game, I love the pressure, I love the atmosphere of it all," he said. "The best thing you can do, I think, is embrace it and not worry about it. Failure is always there. You can't be afraid to fail; you've got to be ready to go out and do your job."
Lohse has done his as well as any pitcher in a St. Louis uniform this year. Thursday, the former 29th-round pick of the Cubs will have a chance to put the Cardinals back in the National League Championship Series. Pretty large stakes there, but Lohse and his team have been there before.
"I think that's the right guy to have on the mound because he's having a great year so far," said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. "He's going to be excited, I'm going to be excited, so hopefully tomorrow we can shut the door."
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