Cardinal Love Letter: Joe Kelly

Dear Joe,

Every season, there are young guys that earn our attention, and some that win our hearts. The 2012 season was no different. In fact, there were several of you — especially pitchers! — who made us Cardinals fans stop and realize how bright the future is.

You were certainly one of those guys.

Much like Trevor Rosenthal, you have a special place in the hearts of Chris and I here at AMF. Your time in the Quad Cities gave us a glimpse of who you are, and how you could factor into this game on a major level. The simple fact that you’re a River-Bandit-Turned-Cardinal is reason enough to prompt such a letter, but after the things you accomplished at the Big-League level, you’ve earned it.

I’ll be honest, when Jaime Garcia went down in early June, there was concern throughout Cardinal Nation about a replacement. Shelby Miller hadn’t looked sharp early, and Lance Lynn was already in the rotation in place of Chris Carpenter.

Actually, now that I think of it, I may have had an early heads up on your call up.

I was at a River Bandits game with my dad, and as we talked to the season ticket holder in front of us (a Cubs fan who closely followed former Bandits throughout the Cardinals organization, simply because of his getting to know them at the single A level!) mentioned that you had been pitching quite well as of late.

He thought you’d probably get the call before Shelby did.

Looks like he knows what he’s talking about!

Needless to say, I was pretty pumped to be in St. Louis for your second MLB start. It was against the Royals. And the most memorable thing that happened that game was the triple-play-that-wasn’t.

I’m sure that’s all I need to say, as far as you’re concerned! For Cardinals fans, too. I won’t lie, I was impressed, seeing a triple play in person and all. (I was also impressed with how long it too Mike Matheny to get ejected after the umpires overturned the call … for a guy as nice as he is, it took a lot before he said enough to actually be tossed!) He had a point though. And I loved how willing he was to take a stand for a young pitcher in just his second start.

But this is about you, not him.

It was your next start (also against the Royals) that earned you one of many Major League firsts — your first win.

Six innings, three runs, nine hits, no walks and a strike out.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that you would do an excellent job filling in a gap in the rotation. We also learned that if a pitcher can be deemed “scrappy” (a favorite adjective of ours here at AMF!), you were the very definition of such a player.

I mean, your season 3.53 ERA in 107 innings pitched and the 5-7 record hardly scratched the surface of the value you added to this team.

Sure, you can pitch. But you can also do this. Plus, I can’t say enough about a pitcher who can field his position, which you did quite nicely.

And hitting? Hitting is even better. Hitting in clutch situations makes you pretty much a hero. Especially when, at times this season, RBI singles were hard to come by. So, thanks for this one that led to debates on who might win a foot race — you or Tyler Greene. And this one that gave the Redbirds a lead over the NL Central-rival Brew Crew. That’s always nice.

Then, though, you ran. You legged out another base hit … but as you stepped on first (you probably know where I’m going with this …), well, just watch.

Just two days later, it was the corner at second base where you were “sniped.” And while you did manage to score the winning run on a walk-off hit by Rafael Furcal, your teammates just couldn’t let it go anymore. Thanks to Lance Berkman, you were now Joe Kelly, a.k.a. “Baby Giraffe.”

Don’t worry, we use it in love!

I’ll admit, I was as much a fan of your scrappy hustle as your pitching. So, when I was in St. Louis for another of your starts in early September, as you walked to the plate, I wished aloud to my friend, “I want a Joe Kelly extra-base hit.”

Right on cue, you knocked a one-out double to left, then proceeded to score on a Matt Carpenter two-out double.

So, thanks for that, too!

Late in the season, you were moved to the bullpen to help solidify the relief efforts as the Cardinals tried to make a run at another Fall Classic.

Whether you started pitching in the 12th inning, or the 4th inning, your approach stayed the same. And you reminded the entire organization, once again, how bright the future truly is.

So, whether we ever really understand why you pitch with glasses on and hit without them or not, and even if you never out-live the “Baby Giraffe” nickname, just know you have our respect … And, the collective heart of Cardinal Nation.



Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.


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