By Malcolm Gray:
GREENVILLE, N.C. – On the eve of the 109th World Series, East Carolina’s Seth Maness is set to become the first Pirate in school history to play in the Fall Classic when his St. Louis Cardinals take on the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass.
Maness, who made his Major League debut on May 3 against the Milwaukee Brewers, has been a part of a young Cardinals’ bullpen that posted a 3.45 ERA and a WHIP (walks+hits/IP) of 1.24 during the regular season.
For the ECU alum, it has been an unbelievable experience since getting the call to “The Show” on April 30.
"You go up there and try to be consistent," Maness told Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer. "A day turned into a week, a week turned into a month. You look back, I've been here five months, and it's like, 'Wow.' I wanted to stay as long as I could, and fortunately it's worked out."
Maness made an immediate impact in the Cards’ bullpen during his first month. In his Major League debut, he entered the contest in the eighth inning with a comfortable 6-1 lead, and retired the side on six pitches inducing ground-ball outs off the bats of Jean Segura, Ryan Braun and Alex Gonzalez.
The very next day, May 4th, Maness picked up his first career win. Once again, entering the game in the eighth frame, the right-hander was put in a situation that would later define his 2013 season with the Cardinals. With runners on first and second and one out, Maness got Segura to roll over on a sinker low and away, sending a dribbler to Matt Carpenter at third who stepped on the bag and fired to first for the inning-ending twin killing. And thus the nickname ‘double-play guy’ was born.
Maness closed out his first month in the big leagues with a 4-1 record posting a stellar 2.19 ERA in 12 games. He became the first player in Major League Baseball history to win three games in his first five career outings, collecting victories against the Brewers (May 4), Chicago Cubs (May 8) and New York Mets (May 15). Maness picked up a win against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 26, the team the Cardinals defeated in six games in the National League Championships Series to earn their fourth World Series appearance since 2004.
Not known for an overpowering fastball, Maness used his bulldog mentality and sinker to thrive in the specialty role out of the bullpen. During the regular season he appeared in 66 games posting a 5-2 ledger with one save in 62.0 innings. His pinpoint control and sinker helped him lead MLB in double-play percentage (29.6) breaking a club record that had stood since 1985. Of his 54 double-play situations, Maness induced a National League-best 16 twin killings and had a ground-ball rate of 68.4 percent, which ranked second among all qualifying MLB pitchers. He inherited 58 runners (second in NL) allowing just seven to score for a NL second-best 12.1 percent success rate.
But as Maness told Earl Vaughan Jr. of the Fayetteville Observer, he doesn’t like to take the credit for what’s happened.
“The double play is really more the defense behind me,'' Maness said. "I'm just throwing the sinker and trying to keep it down in the zone.''
He's also getting to work with five-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award-winning catcher Yadier Molina, and Maness gives him credit for what's happened to him this year as well.
"He's the best in the game, for sure,'' Maness said. "The confidence he brings to the game is huge. He makes you believe in yourself and the pitches you throw.''
During the Cards’ run to the Fall Classic, Maness appeared in five total post-season games: two against the Pittsburgh Pirates (Divisional Series) and three against the Dodgers (League Championship Series), facing five batters where he allowed three hits in 1.1 total innings.
Leading 3-2 in the sixth inning of Game 4 in the NLCS, Maness relieved starter Lance Lynn with Yasiel Puig standing on first with one out. Maness being Maness, he threw three pitches to Juan Uribe, who grounded into an inning-ending double play thanks to a web-gem worthy play from shortstop Pete Kozma. St. Louis eventually won the game, 4-2, moving one game closer to the ultimate prize – playing for a World Series title.
Three days later, the Cardinals clinched a spot in the World Series, defeating the Dodgers, four games to two.
"It's crazy," Maness told Strelow Sunday, two days after St. Louis clinched NLCS. "You see the celebrations on Sports Center for years, how excited teams get in the playoffs, and I'm actually in that locker room shaking champagne and celebrating, too, seeing it from a different angle."
For Maness, a chance to play in the World Series in his rookie season is something he has dreamed of and now the reality of it all is within his grasp.
“Carlos Beltran has been around for awhile and this is his first World Series,'' Maness said to Vaughn. "I'm fortunate to be part of this team.”
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.