ST. LOUIS -- Somewhere amid the iPhone entertainment, somewhere among the cacophony of karaoke, somewhere amid the snacks and the laughs and the tube-viewing time-killing that was taking place in the Cardinals' clubhouse during that three-hour, 28-minute rain delay, Jason Motte came to the sudden realization of what his exact role in this evening's events would be.

Six outs separated the Cards from a Game 3 victory in the National League Championship Series against the Giants, and Motte realized he'd be entrusted with all six of them.

NLCS

"We're sitting here and someone was like, 'You got two innings in you?'" Motte said. "I said, 'Sure, if they tell me to.' Then I thought, 'Oh man, I might have two innings in me.'"

By now, you know that Motte completed those two innings with a flourish. He faced six hitters, and he retired them all on 19 pitches, including 16 strikes. The six-out save sealed the Cardinals' 3-1 win on a wet Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, a win that puts them two away from another World Series berth.

Working overtime
Two-inning saves in the postseason since 2000
Player Team Date Game
Jason Motte Stl. 10/17/2012 NLCS 3
Phil Coke Det. 10/14/2012 ALCS 2
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/29/2009 WS 2
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/25/2009 ALCS 6
Jonathan Papelbon Bos. 10/21/2007 ALCS 7
Brad Lidge Hou. 10/13/2005 NLCS 2
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/9/2005 ALDS 4
Bobby Jenks CWS 10/5/2005 ALDS 2
Brad Lidge Hou. 10/17/2004 NLCS 4
Brad Lidge Hou. 10/16/2004 NLCS 3
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/21/2003 WS 3
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/14/2003 ALCS 5
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/11/2003 ALCS 3
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/4/2003 ALDS 3
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/2/2003 ALDS 2
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/30/2001 WS 3
Byung-Hyun Kim Ari. 10/21/2001 NLCS 5
Byung-Hyun Kim Ari. 10/20/2001 NLCS 4
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/15/2001 ALDS 5
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/13/2001 ALDS 3
Steve Kline Stl. 10/10/2001 NLDS 2
John Smoltz Atl. 10/9/2001 NLDS 1
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/25/2000 WS 4
Mariano Rivera NYY 10/6/2000 ALDS 3

But Motte's Game 3 story is also indicative of the greater trend at hand here. For everything asked of the 25 men in that locker room -- every odd occurrence, every expansion of expectation -- has been met with resounding results in the steps leading up to the Fall Classic doorstep on which they now rest.

The six-out save? Not exactly Motte's modus operandi. After all, he had never completed the feat.

Then again, Matt Carpenter had never hit a game-winning postseason home run, either, so, you know, it was that kind of night.

You need to have these kinds of nights to win a World Series. This particular group learned that lesson well one year ago.

But for the Cards to persevere on a night in which they lost one of the greatest postseason hitters in history after one inning, a night in which Kyle Lohse couldn't find the strike zone and had a continual traffic jam on the basepaths, a night in which the drawn-out delay threatened to modify the game's momentum was as significant as it was exhausting.

"That's the fun of it," David Freese said. "You can win a game so many different ways, you can lose a game so many different ways. But you have a good time and you play your heart out and you do it with a group like this, and it's worth the ups and downs."

If Carlos Beltran stays down for Game 4 with the left knee strain, consider it a big bummer. Beltran's postseason slash line is a ridiculous .378/.489/.838. You don't replace that.

Then again, you don't simply replace Tony La Russa, Albert Pujols and Dave Duncan, either. You don't easily account for the long-term losses of Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman. You don't easily fill in for Rafael Furcal.

The Cardinals have done all that, and Motte articulates their outlook as well as anyone.

"You can't play with guys you don't have," Motte said. "You have to play with the nine guys on the field you've got and the 25 guys in this locker room. That's all that really matters. Nothing else matters."

For a while there, this was a great game, a tight game, the kind of game we hope for in postseason play. You had the unlikeliest of heroes in Carpenter, you had the Giants threatening, inning after inning, to rip out the heart of the Cardinals faithful, only to see Lohse dance around defeat, you had Mike Matheny making a daring double-switch that cost him his cleanup hitter with a one-run lead in the sixth.

But then the rain came, and it just kept coming. And when it finally let up -- if I may borrow Motte's ability to boil things down to their essence -- all that mattered were six outs.

A half-hour before play resumed, Motte got the official word from Matheny that those six outs belonged to him.

"We were really hoping," said Matheny, "he would go out and be able to do what he needed to do and do it efficiently."

Alas, this is not necessarily how closers operate. They are creatures of habit and oft-indebted to in-game intensity. Motte had already messed with his own mojo earlier in the day by trimming his trademark beard too short for his liking, and now this.

Not a lot of Motte
Fewest pitches thrown in a two-inning postseason save since 2000
Player Date Game Pit.
Byung-Hyun Kim 10/20/2001 NLCS 4 15
Jonathan Papelbon 10/21/2007 ALCS 7 16
Steve Kline 10/10/2001 NLDS 2 18
Jason Motte 10/17/2012 NLDS 3 19
Mariano Rivera 10/11/2003 ALCS 3 19
Mariano Rivera 10/4/2003 ALDS 3 19
John Smoltz 10/9/2001 NLDS 1 19

Motte, though, isn't superstitious enough to think his beard really has any impact, and he isn't stubborn enough in his routine to think he can't adjust to the elements.

So Motte got loose, drove himself crazy for 30 minutes, pacing around the room, and then went out and did what he does best. That it was over so quickly ought not taint our perception of the degree of difficulty.

With those six outs, Motte was the embodiment of all the Cardinals ask and expect of their players.

"You just kind of breathe a little bit," Motte said. "I think last year, in the World Series, it got to the point where, even late in the season, Tony would give me the ball and be like, 'Breathe.' I thought, 'OK, I'll breathe. I don't even know what that means.'

"But if you think about it, yeah, it doesn't matter the situation, who's up, you just need to relax and breathe. You're not trying to rule the world. You're trying to take it one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time and relax and get the job done."

This is what the Cardinals do. They've advanced despite their subpar seeding, despite having to travel to Atlanta and face the previously unbeatable Kris Medlen in a coin-flip Wild Card game, despite five times being down to their final strike in Game 5 of the NL Division Series and despite having to lean heavily on the bullpen throughout the postseason to date.

Just breathe. And when it was all over Wednesday night, the Cards could once again exhale.