Brett Anderson endured grueling workouts, lost 20 pounds and pushed through the challenging rehab for elbow-ligament replacement surgery with one thing in mind: getting back on the Oakland mound for a meaningful game.
He's got it, all right. The Athletics left-hander will start Game 3 of the AL division series at home Tuesday night against the Detroit Tigers with his team down 2-0 and trying to stave off elimination.
At 24 years, 251 days, Anderson will become the fifth-youngest pitcher in Oakland history to make his first career postseason start.
Just when he got on a roll in six starts after returning from a 14-month absence in August, he strained his right oblique muscle after landing awkwardly at Detroit on Sept. 19.
``It wasn't ideal getting hurt again,'' Anderson said. ``But I feel good, and the postseason, who knows when we're going to get back here. You'd like to say you're going to get back here again.''
Manager Bob Melvin said the game and Anderson would dictate how long he pitches, though pitching coach Curt Young said it likely would be around an 80-pitch count.
``Not too many limitations,'' Melvin said. ``Adrenalin kicks in and sometimes you have more in the tank than you normally would after a little bit of time off.''
The A's had gotten by with an all-rookie rotation minus Anderson, opening day starter Brandon McCarthy - who needed brain surgery after taking a line drive to the head Sept. 5 - and lefty Dallas Braden as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
``It really ruins our rookie starting pitching streak,'' teammate Jonny Gomes joked. ``One less historic thing we can do this year.''
Anderson lost more than 20 pounds from his previous playing weight of 248 - and noticed he felt stronger late in games during his minor league rehab appearances.
Anderson, a second-round draft pick by Arizona in 2006, went 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts during 2010, then 3-6 with a 4.00 ERA in 13 starts last year.
He is eager to put the injuries behind him for good and regain his top form - again.
``If he feels good and he comes back and throws the way he's capable of, then he's the guy to have out there,'' closer Grant Balfour said. ``He has great stuff.''
SIMPLY THE BEST: Orioles manager Buck Showalter often marvels at the fashion in which 26-year-old Matt Wieters performs behind the plate.
``He does something every night where I just kind of go, `That's pretty special,''' Showalter said Monday, hours before Baltimore faced the New York Yankees. ``Best catcher I've ever had. I'm lucky to have had him pass my way.''
Wieters put his deft glovework on display in the series opener, snaring a tricky throw from second baseman Robert Andino before slapping the tag on Russell Martin trying to score from third base.
``The play he made last night on the short-hop from Robert, a lot of people I'm sure think that's easy,'' Showalter said. ``That's a remarkable play, but fortunately we get to see something like that every night. ... Every once in a while you have to remind yourself how old he is.''
Wieters is a two-time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner, but none of that compares to being in the postseason.
``What's been so great about this year is you don't have to worry about individual accolades or individual awards,'' Wieters said. ``This is what everybody in the clubhouse wants to play for. It's nice to get honored by your peers and get honored by people in the game, but at the same time you're playing for the playoffs, playing for a ring, and that's ultimately what you want your career to sort of be based on.''
DOUBLE SWITCH: Rookie Cardinals manager Mike Matheny takes offense to the notion Davey Johnson boxed him into a corner before the game-deciding, two-run single by pinch-hitter Tyler Moore in their division series opener.
``Dictated to?'' Matheny said before Game 2. ``They won, so he apparently did.''
Matheny lifted setup man Mitchell Boggs with two outs and runners on second and third in the eighth after Johnson sent left-handed-hitting Chad Tracy up to pinch hit, opting for lefty Marc Rzcepczynski. Johnson switched to Moore, a rookie who hit two of the Nationals' three pinch homers, and Moore came through by reaching out for an outside pitch and poking a two-run single to right for a 3-2 lead.
Matheny was happy with the matchup, which just didn't work out. Now, he's getting a taste of postseason second-guessing.
``People can look at it any way they want,'' Matheny said. ``I've got to tell you, plan and simple, I have faith in Zep getting him out. It does come all come down to results, but I have faith in my guy to get the job done. And you know what, he made a pretty good pitch, too. It's not like he went out there and served it up.''
Johnson preferred Tracy but was happy with the alternative, too, and told Tracy that if Matheny went to the lefty he'd be making a change, too.
``I actually did not think that Mike was going to get Boggs,'' Johnson said. ``I'd rather have the veteran player in that situation than a rookie, but rookies have been having success all year.''
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Cardinals rookie shortstop Pete Kozma has been a magnet for controversy the first two postseason games, backing off on the infamous infield fly in the one-game playoff against the Braves and then booting a backhand attempt on a grounder for an error that fueled the Nationals' go-ahead two-run eighth in Game 1.
Manager Mike Matheny could have inserted veteran Skip Schumaker at second base and moved Daniel Descalso to shortstop, but he stuck with the kid who was an effective fill-in after Rafael Furcal was sidelined by a season-ending elbow injury.
``He's getting kind of beat up right now. It seems to be an increasing distraction, I'm sure, if this is getting around to him,'' Matheny said. ``The message that we're staying with is the right message, which is we've had you in here in high leverage positions from the start and you've done a terrific job. Hopefully, he gets back to playing his game and trusting himself.''
Kozma is the first rookie shortstop to start in the postseason since Jed Lowrie with Boston in 2008, and Kozma batted .333 in September with three errors. After Game 1, he did his best to shrug off his error.
``It's still the same game. There's just a little bit more on the line,'' he said. ``But you can't think about that.''