When these 3 pitchers play in the same game, you can count on a Cardinals win

The St. Louis Cardinals are 12-1 this season in games in which Ryan Helsley, Andrew Kittredge and JoJo Romero all appear. That’s partially self selecting, because a team’s highest leverage relievers are more likely to pitch in games in which the team already has the lead. But it’s also self-reinforcing: when those three pitchers are available and deployed, the Cardinals almost never lose, owing to their dominance as a unit.

Wednesday, then, represented a challenge for the Cardinals created by the weather. With a washout Tuesday night pushing a third of a suspended game to the next morning, that trio all pitched in what became the first St. Louis win of the day. That made them unavailable for the regularly scheduled game, and left manager Oli Marmol and bench coach Daniel Descalso piecing together a plan to hold a one-run late-game lead.

What they got far exceeded reasonable expectations.

“Incredible,” Marmol said of the performance of his other relievers. “You take that first game today by using Kit, JoJo and Helsley, you know you’re going into the second game and you secured a series win. But what those guys did to step up today – [John] King, [Kyle] Leahy, [Ryan] Fernandez – was huge.”

Part of the confidence Marmol had in pushing out all of his ace relievers for the first game was relying on Kyle Gibson to provide six or seven strong innings in the second. When rain set it again, though, it left five innings to be covered and a lot of pressure on the players asked to cover it. At least one of that trio made a half hearted attempt to tune that pressure out after he found out 20 minutes into the rain delay that he would be on the mound when the game resumed.

“You try to treat it the exact same, [but] it’s different,” King admitted. “I honestly came in, sat, watched some baseball, took a little nap, and then went out there.”

In the midst of that prep, King remarked to injured starter Steven Matz that he, “just got nervous sitting there,” and he asked his teammate, “this is what you feel for a whole day?”

Matz, following King’s two scoreless innings, told the lefty that he had the makeup to be a good starter after all.

In between King and Ryan Fernandez’s securing of his first career save in the ninth inning, Leahy was called upon to provide two innings of his own. Despite making his major league debut last season, Leahy was outrighted off the 40-player roster in October and passed through waivers unclaimed.

The Cardinals made a judgment then that his roster spot was more valuable for them at the time than he was, and now he’s worked his way into important spots while Keynan Middleton recovers from a forearm strain, Giovanny Gallegos deals with a shoulder impingement, and Andre Pallante works in the minors to reclaim a career path as a starter.

“I believe in myself, and I think a lot of people behind the scenes also believed in me,” Leahy said. “I think that’s just the business side of baseball, but there was a lot of belief all around, and I just had to come back and be myself and prove [it] this offseason.”

In his four outings of at least two innings this season, Leahy is yet to allow a run. Wednesday’s assignment was scripted in such a fashion that guaranteed he would have to face Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson, one of the top home run hitters and most dangerous young sluggers in the big leagues. Henderson drew a tight walk, but Leahy followed by dispatching superstar catcher Adley Rutschman with a three-pitch strikeout.

It’s the sort of spot which, a year ago, might’ve left the Cardinals boxed in, and without sufficient options, a win would have evaporated from the standings in front of their eyes.

Instead, on Wednesday, they delivered the first regular season series sweep of the Orioles since May of 2022, breaking a stretch of 106 series in which Baltimore won at least one game.

“You definitely have answers,” Marmol said. “Right, left, guys that aren’t overly splitty, swing and miss, a guy that can [get] a ground ball. There’s definitely more answers, for sure.”

The offense has warmed with the weather, and despite Matz’s injury and a lack of answers for the fifth starter’s slot, the starting pitching has continued to hold its own. The bullpen, though, has been consistent all season, with the Helsley, Kittredge and Romero group being casually described as a three-headed monster.

In their first 23 wins, though, the Cardinals have only used all three in 12. Those games have been locked up, but others have been competitive. There are less narrow paths to the end of victories than there were a year ago, and as St. Louis climbs back within spitting distance of .500, the bullpen path has led them there.

“To have a bullpen that’s just that locked in and that shut down right now, those guys are locked in,” shortstop Masyn Winn said. “Everybody down there.”

Some days, it takes everybody to get it done.