Collmenter: 'I exceeded my expectations'
In AFL last year, righty leads D-backs to biggest win of season
PHOENIX -- With the D-backs' season hanging in the balance, manager Kirk Gibson handed the ball to his rookie right-hander -- the one with the funky delivery, a fastball that rarely touches 90 mph and not an inning of playoff experience.
There was never a doubt in Josh Collmenter's mind that his skipper chose the right man for the job.
In his first career postseason appearance, Collmenter made certain it wouldn't be Arizona's last in 2011. He tossed seven two-hit innings and allowed just a third-inning homer in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers to assure that neither his nor the D-backs' dream season would come to an end Tuesday.
"No butterflies," Collmenter said after Arizona's 8-1 win forced a Game 4 Wednesday night. "It wasn't until you see the atmosphere and the fans all wearing red with their pom-poms and how exciting that was. Other than that, I just stuck to the same routine, got to the ballpark at the same time, did the normal warmup things. I didn't want to try to put any other pressure on it."
Collmenter worked both corners of the plate, showcasing a cut-fastball that Milwaukee hitters couldn't square up and a changeup that was rarely -- if ever -- more than an inch or two above the knees.
Several factors went into Gibson's decision to start Collmenter instead of veteran lefty Joe Saunders. Collmenter had dominated the Brewers twice this season, and Saunders had a bruised hand that could use another day's rest.
More than anything, though, it was Gibson's faith in the young righty as well as similar support from general manager Kevin Towers, who Gibson said helped him make the call.
"He obviously has great deception, he obviously has great character," Gibson said, offering equal praise for the mental and physical aspects of Collmenter's performance. "He was very composed tonight and threw strikes. He kept them off balance, and it's what we needed."
With his team in a 2-0 NLDS hole and Saunders slated for Wednesday, Collmenter said he didn't envision the dominance that he displayed Tuesday night. He said he only hoped to reward his manager's faith by acting as a "bridge" for the team to get to a Game 4.
"I exceeded my expectations a little bit," Collmenter said. "My goal was to give the team a win -- whatever I had to do just to keep the team in the ballgame and give us a chance to win down the stretch."
Collmenter may have shut down the Brewers in July to the tune of 14 scoreless innings, but it certainly wasn't enough to silence skeptics heading into Tuesday's do-or-die Game 3. For one thing, red-hot Ryan Braun wasn't in the lineup in either of those July contests, and for another, many pointed to Collmenter's slingshot over-the-top delivery as solvable over time.
His third start was supposed to be the charm for the red-hot Brewers offense. It wasn't.
"It's unorthodox, it's tricky," Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan said of Collmenter's throwing motion. "He's so herky-jerky, and then he's right over the top. He's a good solid young pitcher, and that's why he's here."
Gibson recalled Towers first forecasting Collmenter's success last October, when he was pitching in the Arizona Fall League. A year later, Collmenter took the hill for Arizona's biggest game of the season.
And he immediately ran into trouble. In the top of the first inning, the righty put Milwaukee's two big bats, Braun and Prince Fielder, on base on a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Collmenter then coolly struck out Rickie Weeks on four pitches, and he didn't blink after that.
"He was hitting his spots," said Fielder, who also struck out and flied out against Collmenter. "There's not too much you can do with it unless he makes more mistakes. But unfortunately he only made one to Corey [Hart]. There's nothing too scientific about it."
Collmenter surrendered just the Hart home run, but he followed that by cruising through the middle of the Brewers' order, and the next time he allowed a baserunner, he had a seven-run lead.
Even the game's offensive star, Paul Goldschmidt, took note.
"It's fun to watch," said Goldschmidt, whose fifth-inning grand slam put the game on ice. "He's up there throwing strikes, having quick innings. He's been doing that all year for us, so it was nice to see."
If Goldschmidt gets to see Collmenter pitch one more time -- his next appearance likely wouldn't be until the NLCS -- it'll be even nicer for the D-backs.
AJ Cassavell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.