*Brewers Canadian connection of C George Kottaras (Markham, Ont.), who guided Randy Wolf to victory in Game 4, as he shakes hands with RP John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.). 2012 Canadians draft list
By Bob Elliott
St. LOUIS _ Hey George Kottaras, you’ve been to the post-season, where are you going now?
Well, the answer probably won’t be Disneyland for the Milwaukee Brewers catcher based off the previous off season.
A year ago Kottaras visited his best friend Randy Wolf in Los Angeles to golf and head to concerts staged by the Street Sweeper Social Club rockers and Steel Panther an 1980s cover band.
Kottaras was squatting flashing signs for left-hander Wolf Thursday night in Game 4 of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wolf threw an 89 mph first-pitch fastball to Yadier Molina.
He threw a 79 mph changeup and a 68 mph curve ball.
All in the same 10-pitch, at-bat in the second inning.
Earlier, he threw a 90 mph fastball to Albert Pujols.
Wolf was like one of those stations that air blasts from the past -- the kind you like at first and realize all it does it make you feel old with strikes from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
With his pal, Kottaras putting down the proper fingers, Wolf and the Milwaukee Brewers won Game 4 by a 4-2 count, evened the best-of-seven before 45,606 fans at Busch Stadium.
“He was attacking the hitters, he wasn’t over throwing,” Kottaras said. “He had good control of his curve ball. He made a lot of important pitches when he had to make them.”
The Cardinals were hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Francisco Rodriguez set down the aorta of the Cards lineup in the eighth and Port Dover’s John Axford, 46-for-48 converting save opportunities during the regular season, including 44 straight after April 18, slammed the door.
Ryan Theriot and Jon Jay went meekly on ground balls. Pinch hitter Lance Berkman singled, so Axford faced the potential tying run in Rafael Furcal and got a routine grounder to short. Axford threw 16 pitches, 11 for strikes for the save.
If hitting is all about timing, how do hitters adjust to pitches clocked in the 90s, 80s, 70s and 60s?
Wolf was a sleight-of-hand wizard, like a guy you run into at Times Square asking you to ask which card is the ace.
Now you see it.
Now you don’t.
Now you foul it off.
Now you walk back to the dugout.
Wolf restored stability to the Milwaukee rotation, working seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk, while fanning six. Most important he had a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 first after the Brewers had allowed 14 runs in the first this post-season.
“Randy’s my best friend in baseball,” said the Markham native in his fourth year in the majors. “The bonding began a year ago in the spring and I’ve caught him every game, except for when I was sent to (triple-A) Nashville early in the year.”
Off-season trips are not all ear-splitting concerts.
Kottaras and Wolf workout, either at Wolf’s place either in Arizona or Los Angeles.
With the Boston Red Sox, Kottaras was knuckleballer Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher in 2009.
“Kottaras has amazing power,” said first base coach Garth Iorg, of the back-up catcher who had five homers in 123 plate appearances, making 16 starts.
Catching Chris Narveson on Sept. 3 at Minute Maid Park in Houston Kottaras had the best day of his career.
He hit a solo homer off Astros right-hander Bud Norris in the fourth giving the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
Leading off the sixth he tripled to straightaway centre and scored on Craig Counsell’s homer as the Brewers went up 6-2.
Third baseman Taylor Green of Comox, B.C. hit an RBI-double off reliever Enerio Del Rosario and Kottaras followed with a run-scoring single to right.
“Hey we’ve got ourselves a Canadian cycle,” Iorg told Kottaras when he reached first: a homer, triple and single by Kottaras plus the Green double.
And in the ninth, facing David Carpenter Kottaras bounced a ball over the fence in right centre (“Georgie got his own cycle,” said Iorg) thanks to a good bounce.
“I was almost at second, it probably would have been a triple had stayed in the park,” Kottaras said that night.
It was both the first cycle of the year in the majors and the first by a Canadian since the 19th century when Tip O’Neill of Woodstock and George Wood of Pownal, P.E.I. achieved this feat.
“You’d think Larry Walker or Jason Bay would have had one,” said Iorg. “The Canadian Hall of Fame asked for Georgie’s jersey ... from St. Marys right?
Wolf may be coming out of the chute fourth for the Brewers, yet he was 13-12 with a 4.17 earned run average in 34 starts in 2010 leading the Brewers in innings pitched (215 2/3). This year he was 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts leading in innings again (212 1/3).
“Randy is a rhythm guy,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke explaining why starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy watched. “The quicker you can get down the sign, the better off he’ll be. That rhythm is huge for how he gets along in a game. If he’s having to shake off, he’s frustrated, he’s going to struggle.
“George has been in better sync with Randy, how he wants to pitch. George has been clicking a little better with him and that’s why he’s doing it.”
Kottaras played for coach Danny Bleiwas and the Ontario Blue Jays, while closer John Axford of Port Dover pitched for Team Ontario. Both are 28. The two teams are rivals competing for the same players. Does the rivalry still continue?
“Nah, that never comes up,” said Kottaras, who has his mother Marie and father Peter here for the NLCS.
Kottaras attended Connors State College, earning a scholarship to the University of Florida before accepting a $300,000 US bonus from the San Diego Padres.
Now, he’s trying to figure out what to throw Albert Pujols.
What will Wolf’s plan of attack be against the feared slugger.
“Sorry, can’t tell you that,” smiled Kottaras.