ATLANTA • Kyle Lohse was preparing to pitch this game a year ago. An Atlanta Braves collapse still in progress and a Cardinals charge not yet completed suggested there would be a one-game playoff between the two teams before the winner would advance into the divisional series.
Lohse was on tap to pitch that tiebreaker game in St. Louis if the Braves and Cardinals were knotted for the one wild-card spot. But the Braves continued to lose and the Cardinals continued to win and that game never got played as the Cardinals, on their long voyage to the World Series title, gained the wild-card berth without having to win an extra game.
The circumstances are somewhat different this time, although not really. There are two wild-card berths available now, but it still is a one-game showdown as Lohse, (16-3), who turned age 34 Thursday, faces Kris Medlen (10-1) late this afternoon. The winner will advance into the divisional series Sunday at home against Washington.
Last year, after the Cardinals had won at Houston in the regular-season finale and were awaiting the outcome of the Atlanta-Philadelphia game, Lohse said, "Everyone else watching the game was having a little more fun than I was. I was sitting there going over in my mind the (Atlanta) hitters. It's funny it comes down to the same two teams and the scenario that could have happened. With the new format, it's going to happen."
Lohse's postseason history is not a pretty one. In nine games with Minnesota, Philadelphia and the Cardinals, he is 0-4 with a 5.54 earned-run average. In his three postseason starts last year, one in each round, Lohse allowed 11 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings.
Lohse said his postseason record "is what it is. You're not going to change it. Early on, before I came here, you can probably X-out any numbers I put up. (Lohse made just one start out of six postseason appearances for Minnesota).
"And last year was tough. I didn't pitch very well coming down the stretch. I pitched periodically throughout August and September. I don't want to say too much about it."
What Lohse was saying without saying it was that he felt that manager Tony La Russa didn't share the same confidence in him that manager Mike Matheny does. Lohse, with extra rest given him by La Russa on several occasions, did win his last three decisions under La Russa's format last year as La Russa handled the regular-season pitching assignments with Dave Duncan on leave. But then Lohse was pulled from his respective postseason starts in the sixth, fifth and fourth innings as La Russa became wary of Lohse's stuff suddenly changing.
But this year, Lohse said, "They gave me the ball on opening night (in Miami). It was a huge honor and it's another huge honor in a winner-moves-on game."
Matheny had the option of using Adam Wainwright or even 18-game winner and All-Star Lance Lynn in today's one-game showdown but opted to leave Wainwright for a potential Game 1 start in the division round and has Lynn in the bullpen as a long man today.
That he chose Lohse, he said, was "consistency. Every time he got on the mound, we knew we had a chance. He made pitches from opening day in Miami right up to his last start.
"I think he was as good a pitch maker as anybody in the game through the length of the season."
Asked if he would have been disappointed not to get today's assignment, Lohse, who has a sterling 2.86 ERA, said, "Yeah, a little. But, not in the sense in that I was going to go pout."
Lohse has faced the Braves just once this season, giving up five runs in nine innings, including homers by Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman, in a 10-7 Cardinals loss here May 30. The slumping McCann won't be in today's Braves lineup, replaced by David Ross, but Freeman will be, as well as several other prominent lefthanded hitters.
The last time he faced them, Lohse said, "There were a couple of things that weren't working that day." He later allowed that he had been tipping his pitches.
"After that game, I started going over my head instead of holding my hands in and out front of me," Lohse said.
Lohse has compiled a 30-11 mark the last two seasons once he came back from the rare forearm ailment and resultant surgery that cost him parts of 2008 and 2009 and rendered him inconsistent when he was pitching. Lohse said he had to "bite his tongue" not to make anything he said then sound like an excuse.
"I feel that I've matured quite a bit," he said. "A lot of times you learn more about someone when they handle adversity or go through a rough patch. I'm pretty proud of the way I handled that and I figure some of that (success) is a reward I've gotten over the last couple of years."
Now, any start Lohse makes could be his last with the Cardinals, who almost certainly will not be able to re-sign him after this season.
"It's been quite a ride," he said. "Quite a crazy five years I've spent here. A lot of highs and quite a few lows for the year and a half, two years I was injured. It's been a good experience. I feel I've grown as a player and a person through all that stuff."