ST. LOUIS — There was no time for Greg Mathews to think Tuesday night, let alone implement his meticulous pregame rituals, so the St. Louis Cardinal left-hander simply pitched.
That is a new concept for Mathews, who was thrust into the pitching assignment against the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the National League championship series because of a freak neck injury to Danny Cox, the scheduled starter.
Actions and reactions, not deep meditation, were all Mathews needed on this night. He allowed 3 runs on 4 hits and struck out 7 through 7 innings and added a two-run single in the sixth to lead the Cardinals to a 5-3 win over the Giants before 55,331 at Busch Stadium.
The Giants downplayed the opening-game loss and also did not seem concerned about the prospects of being swept in St. Louis if they lose Game 2 today (12:07, PDT) with the Giants' Dave Dravecky facing John Tudor.
But they could not discount the surprising effectiveness of Mathews, who was thrown to the Giants and then threw what he called the game of his life.
Shock and disbelief were the emotions Mathews said he felt when told that Cox had suffered a stiff neck while sleeping on Monday and was unable to pitch. He was told four hours before Tuesday's opener.
"I just froze when I found out," said the 25-year-old Mathews, a product of Savanna High in Anaheim and Cal State Fullerton. "From that point on, I had a couple hours to prepare myself for the game of my life. That was pretty tough."
Especially since Mathews, originally scheduled to start Game 4 Saturday in San Francisco, usually abides by a strict pre-start routine that begins three days before he pitches. It involves eating the proper foods, mentally studying the hitters and poring over notes on previous starts.
What did he do when caught unaware?
"I think I ate at Jack In The Box last night," Mathews said, laughing. "And yesterday, I played 18 rounds (holes) and that loosened me up a bit.
"I guess that throws this (pre-start) theory out the window."
All the pre-playoff notions about the Cardinals and Giants could be thrown out after this one.
The Cardinals won despite the noticeable absence of their celebrated running game--Vince Coleman was thrown out by Giant catcher Bob Brenly in the Cardinals' only stolen-base attempt--as well as several defensive breakdowns and an occasional base-running blunder.
"We really didn't play well tonight," Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog said. "We made some mistakes we don't normally make. But we were still able to win tonight, mostly because of Mathews."
Mathews, who bats right, knew about his substitute pitching assignment but nobody said anything about replacing injured slugger Jack Clark.
But Mathews knocked in two runs off loser Rick Reuschel in the sixth inning. Terry Pendleton had already singled in Dan Driessen from second to give St. Louis a 3-2 lead. After Curt Ford's single loaded the bases with one out, Reuschel appeared in trouble.
But he got Cardinal catcher Tony Pena to foul to third for the second out. Mathews, who was pitching too well for Herzog to pull, then stepped to the plate.
"He was pitching pretty good and we're short on numbers with only seven healthy pitchers, so. . . . " Herzog said. "Plus, he's a good hitting pitcher. Maybe if there was one out and bases loaded, I'd have pinch hit."
Mathews said he just wanted to make contact, which he certainly did. He slapped Reuschel's low and outside slider into center field, scoring Willie McGee and Pendleton for a 5-2 Cardinal lead.
"I flared at it and was lucky to hit a hole," Mathews said, seeming almost embarrassed to be asked about his hitting. "I sure don't get paid to hit."
He gets paid, of course, to pitch. Through seven innings, Mathews fooled the Giants with an array of off-speed pitches, since the Giants said his fastball was average, at best.
"We just weren't patient up there," Giant left fielder Jeffrey Leonard said. "We weren't selective. That made him that much more effective."
Leonard was one Giant who wasn't fooled. His fourth-inning leadoff home run over the 414-foot sign in center field broke a 1-1 tie but did not break Mathews' hold on the other Giants.
San Francisco scored an unearned run in the first inning. It was made possible by Driessen's fielding error at first on Robby Thompson's leadoff ground ball. Kevin Mitchell's single to left moved Thompson to second, Leonard's fly ball advanced him to third and former Dodger Candy Maldonado's grounder to third brought him in.
Mathews did not allow another hit until Leonard's fourth-inning home run. The Giants advanced Jose Uribe to third in the fifth with one out, but Mathews got Thompson and Mitchell to ground out.
Mathews had worked beyond the seventh inning in 17 of his last 25 starts, but he was losing effectiveness in the eighth. With one out, he walked Thompson on four pitches, and Herzog quickly summoned Todd Worrell from the bullpen.