Old men in Cardinals' bullpen feel young

ST. LOUIS -- Arthur Rhodes arrives at the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse several hours before games, and Octavio Dotel comes in later, and in the time they're together until the start of the national anthem, they do everything in their power to get their teammates loose, energized and ready to play. When things really start to percolate, the Cardinals' locker room is half workplace, half revival meeting.

"We're just loud in the clubhouse,'' Rhodes said Wednesday. "Screaming Albert Pujols' name. Screaming [Rafael] Furcal's name. We scream everybody's name. I get them riled up first, and then Dotel comes in and loosens them up.''

Dotel has pitched in 695 games over 13 big league seasons, and Rhodes has appeared in a nice, round 900 games over 20 seasons. But in one respect, seniority does not have its privileges: Dotel has custody of the stuffed, bushy-tailed rodent that symbolizes the Cardinals' magical autumn run, and it assumes a prominent place in the upper left-hand corner of his locker stall.

"I won't hold the squirrel,'' Rhodes said. "That's Dotel's squirrel. Every party we had, Dotel had the squirrel. So he can have it. But after we win this, I might steal it from him.''

If Cardinals' fans thought five years was a long time to wait between World Series appearances, they have nothing on Rhodes, 41, and Dotel, 37. The two relievers made their Fall Classic debuts Wednesday, sharing an inning, some heartfelt emotions and a Gateway Arch-sized sense of gratification.

With the Cardinals nursing a 3-2 lead over Texas in the eighth inning, Dotel came on at the behest of manager Tony La Russa and retired Ian Kinsler on a comebacker to the mound and Elvis Andrus on a called third strike. Rhodes proceeded to come out of the bullpen and set down Josh Hamilton on a fly ball to center field, and closer Jason Motte pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead in the Series.

The bullpen remains a focal point of the Cardinals' October success, with a 2.38 aggregate ERA in the postseason (12 earned runs allowed in 45 1/3 innings). Motte has pitched nine straight scoreless innings this month, and Marc Rzepczynski has been as challenging to hit as his name is to pronounce and/or spell.

But if you're partial to heartwarming storylines, nothing compares to St. Louis' two bullpen geezers, who had no reason to believe they would be in this situation, and are thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Rhodes, a veteran of nine major league stops, began this season in Texas, combining with Darren Oliver to give manager Ron Washington one very experienced tandem from the left side. But he admittedly failed to pitch to his usual standards, and the Rangers released him on Aug. 8. Three days later, after getting feelers from Boston, Philadelphia and the Yankees, among others, Rhodes settled on St. Louis because he wanted to pitch in the National League.

"Philly wanted to send me to Clearwater, to get some work in,'' Rhodes said. "I had enough work in for four months. Why should I go to Clearwater and wait?''

Dotel, meanwhile, joined the Cardinals from Toronto in an eight-player trade that sent outfielder Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays in late July. Upon arrival in St. Louis, Dotel took a good, hard look at himself and determined that he needed to do a better job of slowing his tempo and keeping his emotions under wraps if he wanted to pitch to maximum effect.

Whatever advice Dotel gave himself, it worked: He held right-handed batters to a .154 average (19-for-123) in two months as a Cardinal.

"I'm very hyper,'' Dotel said. "I pitch with a lot of adrenaline, so I tried to cool myself down because it helps me make better pitches and hit my spots. I don't rush or go too fast now, and it's been great. Thank god I found out at the right time.''

Both pitchers admitted to feeling some jitters as they jogged out of the bullpen in the World Series opener and the magnitude of the moment hit them squarely between the eyes. Rhodes stepped on the mound and immediately thought of his son Jordan, who died of an undisclosed illness in 2008 at age 5. Rhodes scratches his son's initials in the dirt when he pitches, and he has a tattoo on his calf in Jordan's memory.

"When I'm on the mound, he's there with me,'' Rhodes said.

The veteran relievers can appreciate the momentum and shared sense of achievement that comes from an entire bullpen pitching well at the same time. Dotel experienced it in Houston in the mid-2000s while pitching alongside Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge, and Rhodes combined with Kaz Sasaki, Jeff Nelson and Norm Charlton to anchor a strong pen for Seattle's 116-win team in 2001.

And now they're characters in an improbable script that's taken them to the verge of something truly special. Rhodes, a Ranger in July, is pitching in the World Series against Texas in October. Dotel, who figured his dream of playing for a championship club was history, is resurrecting his career before a packed house in the baseball heartland. Who could have envisioned this?

"I'm not going to lie to you,'' Dotel said. "I was thinking it was going to be hard for me to make it.''

As Rhodes and Dotel continue to perform, they're setting an example to the younger players about perseverance and the importance of tending to business. They tell rookie teammates like Adron Chambers and Lance Lynn to appreciate this experience, because it's something to be savored.

"For them to be here and get this chance is awesome,'' Motte said. "It's guys like that who show you how you need to be on the mound. It's their first World Series, and they're probably as excited as anybody else. But they had a job to do and they went out there and did it. That's what I love about this game: You can learn from guys like that all the time.''

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.

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