Kyle McClellan should be remembered as one of the key contributors in the Cardinals’ remarkable run to the World Series title in 2011.
Though he lacked the star power and big-game swagger of colleagues such as Chris Carpenter and Jason Motte, McClellan gave the 2011 Cardinals a significant early-season boost to their starting rotation and also contributed wins in relief down the stretch as St. Louis successfully made a frantic push to overtake the Braves for the National League wild-card spot.
The wear McClellan put on his right arm that year as he converted from reliever to starter in the spring and back to reliever in late July may have shortened his Cardinals career. Plagued by a damaged right shoulder, McClellan, 28, was sidelined for most of the 2012 season and was released by the Cardinals Nov. 13, 2012.
When starter Adam Wainwright suffered a season-ending arm injury at the start of spring training in 2011, McClellan moved into the rotation to replace him, even though McClellan had been used exclusively as a reliever since his rookie season of 2008.
Joining a rotation of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, McClellan’s selfless teamwork paid big early-season dividends for the Cardinals.
On April 11, 2011, McClellan earned his first win as a starter, limiting the Diamondbacks to a run in six innings and collecting his first two RBI in an 8-2 Cardinals triumph. “He did it all,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boxscore
McClellan won his first five decisions of 2011. On May 8, after he held the Brewers to a run and four hits in eight innings in a 3-1 Cardinals victory on Mother’s Day, McClellan had a 5-0 record and 3.30 ERA and St. Louis was in first place in the National League Central. McClellan’s mother and his wife, who was pregnant, attended the game. Afterward, Wainwright told St. Louis reporter Derrick Goold that McClellan’s record “is not surprising any of us.” Boxscore
Soon thereafter, McClellan fell into a funk. After earning a win on May 19, McClellan went more than two months before recording another. On July 25, in the last of his 17 starts for the 2011 Cardinals, McClellan held the Astros to a run in seven innings and got the win in the Cardinals’ 10-5 victory. “There’s been games where I’ve let the big inning kill me,” McClellan said to the Post-Dispatch. “Today, I felt like I was able to keep control of the game.” Boxscore
Two days later, the Cardinals acquired starting pitcher Edwin Jackson from the Blue Jays. McClellan quickly agreed to move to the bullpen to open a spot for Jackson in the rotation. La Russa told St. Louis reporter Rick Hummel that McClellan “showed a lot of character” in accepting the move. “He could have been bitter,” La Russa said.
Explained McClellan: “I felt like the time I was in the rotation, I did a good job. I don’t feel that I pitched my way out of a job.”
On Sept. 16, McClellan earned a big win in relief, pitching a scoreless 10th inning in the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory in 11 over the Phillies. McClellan retired Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley in order, helping the Cardinals get within 3.5 games of the Braves in the wild-card chase. Boxscore
Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch wrote that the victory transformed the Cardinals’ postseason chances “from improbable to, dare it be said, believable.”
St. Louis did catch the Braves, swept through the National League postseason series and won the World Series championship in seven games.
The Cardinals couldn’t have qualified for the postseason without the contributions of McClellan. The right-hander was 12-7 overall _ 6-6 as a starter and 6-1 in relief _ in 43 apperances.