Left-hander Randy Wolf stepped up last Thursday in Game 4 of the 2011 NLCS when the Milwaukee Brewers truly needed him and recorded one of the most memorable outings of his major league career in a 4-2 road victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 35-year-old veteran allowed just two earned runs on six hits with one walk and six strikeouts over seven solid innings to keep the Cardinals off-balance en route to his first career postseason win.
At the time, the victory evened the series, but St. Louis has since taken a 3-2 lead with an impressive 7-1 win on Friday in Game 5.
With the NLCS already filled with storylines, particularly Albert Pujols’ four extra-base hit performance in Game 2, it’s easy to overlook Wolf’s impact and how he might have saved the Brewers’ season by driving St. Louis nuts with an arsenal of soft pitches.
He’s the only starting pitcher to throw at least seven innings in the series, as Wolf ended a 342-start drought without a postseason victory — previously the most among active MLB pitchers.
“It’s two really tough teams,” Wolf said. “There’s no way I can put it into words of just the intensity that’s there every inning. You know how important every out is. You know how either team, if they have an opportunity to score, how good they are at taking advantage of that opportunity. The main thing you want to do is stay out of trouble. I was afforded a chance to go longer.”
The former All-Star has always been capable of generating a decent amount of strikeouts by utilizing his personal, unique repertoire.
He effectively mixes a late-breaking slider (upper 70s), a slow sweeping curve (low to upper 60s) and a changeup (mid to upper 70s) with a four-seam fastball that ranges in the high 80s to low 90s.
It may not always be pretty, but Wolf finds a way to execute and get the job done, as evident with posting double-digit wins in eight of his 13 big league seasons as a member of five organizations.
He was a fan favorite early in his career with the Philadelphia Phillies and set a career high with 16 victories in 2003 before battling injuries.
Wolf made just 66 starts and never tossed more than 136 2/3 innings during a season between 2004-07 with Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Dodgers — a rough time that included undergoing Tommy John surgery and returning to action 13 months later.
The 2008 season may arguably have been the turning point in Wolf’s career, especially during his brief, second-half stint with the Astros.
He inked a one-year contract with the San Diego Padres and compiled a 6-10 record with 4.74 ERA in 21 starts before the Astros acquired him via trade on July 21, 2008 in exchange for Chad Reineke.
Wolf made an impact in Houston, going 6-2 with a 3.57 ERA over 70 2/3 innings, with the Astros posting a 10-2 record in his 12 starts.
Astros general manager Ed Wade reportedly wanted to re-sign him, but payroll issues and the desire to retain closer Jose Valverde as an arbitration-eligible player became a top priority.
Also, the bargain signing of left-hander Mike Hampton made Wolf the odd-man out and played a role in pushing him out the door.
Despite his quick cup of coffee in Houston, Wolf was able to put himself back on the map by staying healthy and proving to be an asset.
It opened the door for bigger and better opportunities.
He returned to Los Angeles as a free agent after signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Dodgers for the 2009 campaign.
Wolf went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA over 214 1/3 innings in 34 starts, reaching double-digits in wins for the second straight season.
His strong performance in Los Angeles helped to land him a three-year, $29.75 million contract with Milwaukee, where he continues to shine.
Wolf has become one of the more durable starting pitchers in Major League Baseball over the last four seasons, compiling 33 starts in 2008, 34 starts in 2009, followed by 34 and 33 in 2010-11, as well as posting three straight seasons of at least 212 1/3 innings.
He’s accomplished this as an aging, veteran pitcher.
Without his brief, two-month stint with the Astros in 2008, it’s hard to imagine Wolf being where he is today pitching in the postseason.
His perseverance, desire to overcome adversity and ability to capitalize on opportunities have made him a stronger pitcher and person.
Regardless of how the 2011 NLCS turns out for the Brewers, Wolf will return to their starting rotation next season with high expectations.
The Brewers face possible elimination on Sunday when they return to Miller Park to host St. Louis in a much-anticipated Game 6.
Shaun Marcum will try to force a decisive Game 7, as he gets the starting nod for Milwaukee against St. Louis right-hander Edwin Jackson.
First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
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