ST. LOUIS – Pedro Strop stood at his locker and smiled at reporters, patiently answering a few questions and showing no signs of defensive body language at all.
Most of the media had cleared out of Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse by then. There had been bigger stars to chase and more pivotal moments for sound bites. But if the Cubs are going to escape this National League division series, they are going to need their bullpen to come through in big situations.
“There’s no pressure,” Strop said after Friday’s 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. “I feel confident.”
Stephen Piscotty crushed Strop’s slider out to left field for a two-run homer in the eighth inning, giving St. Louis some breathing room and essentially ending any realistic hopes the Cubs had of making a comeback.
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Strop insisted the Cardinals aren’t in his head, even after giving up nine runs on 10 hits and six walks in 7.1 innings against St. Louis during the regular season.
Before Game 1, manager Joe Maddon was asked again about Strop’s issues with St. Louis in an otherwise strong year – 2.91 ERA, 81 strikeouts in 68 innings, .167 batting average against – for the hard-throwing reliever.
“I won’t run away from him,” Maddon said. “He’s one of our best relief pitchers. He’s one of the best in the National League. We’ll just run him out there at the appropriate time. We will not run away from that.”
Jon Lester had left a runner on for Piscotty and Strop got Matt Holliday and Jason Heyward – the heart of the order – to ground out to end the inning. Strop pointed out that he pitched in the playoffs before with the Baltimore Orioles and once excelled in the American League East.
“No pressure at all,” Strop said. “We got to take one from them here. And then that’s going to put us in a really good position.
“We’re just going to come and fight, like we’ve always been. They got to beat us three times to take (us) out. So we’re going to try to do it first.”
The bullpen is always magnified in October, and especially for the Cubs with Jake Arrieta making complete games look easy, the days off built into the postseason schedule and Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel on a short leash if they start twice in this best-of-five series.
“It becomes real big, absolutely,” Maddon said. “At this time of the year, you can utilize your bullpen without really killing them with the days off interspersed there. The bullpen’s always huge, man. You win championships because your bullpen does a great job. Our guys are rested and I have a ton of confidence in them.”