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Trevor Rosenthal leads majors with 34 saves in first season as closer for St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS - Trevor Rosenthal's fastball tickles the triple digits, he has developed a nasty change-up and keeps his cool.

The 24-year-old right-hander leads the major leagues with 34 saves in his first season as the closer is a perfect fit for the St. Louis Cardinals.

"You guys have seen his demeanour, whether it's on the mound or in the clubhouse afterward, it's pretty consistent when he shuts the door and when he's had struggles," manager Mike Matheny told reporters. "I think that's one of those key characteristics of a guy who can do that job."

That's been the profile of most of the team's successful closers over the years. Jason Motte, who's regaining his footing coming off reconstructive elbow surgery, is more of a happy-go-lucky sort. Jason Isringhausen had a matter-of-fact demeanour and made it a point to be at his locker stall and face the music after the blown saves. Lee Smith, Tom Henke and Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, too.

"It's fun, being the last guy out there," Rosenthal said. "Getting these wins is not something that I take for granted. It's definitely special."

The former 21st-round draft pick out of Lee's Summit, Missouri, took charge last September when Edward Mujica faltered. He has been a key piece ever since for the defending National League champions, who were a game back in the Central Division entering Monday after taking two of three from first-place Milwaukee over the weekend.

He saved both victories. On Sunday, he gave up a hit and walk but struck out Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez to end it. More impressive, he finished off Saturday's win by freezing Gerardo Parra with an off-speed delivery.

"Even last year, he had a good one," catcher Tony Cruz said. "We figured it out that's his second-best pitch."

Cruz didn't hesitate to call for the change-up, which keeps hitters from timing even the best fastball over an extended at-bat.

"The best pitch he threw was the last pitch of the game," Matheny said. "He pulled the string. If he misses with it, everybody's probably got another topic they want to talk about right now. That's the guts of being a closer and guts of behind the plate and understanding."

Rosenthal has been durable, leading the team with 51 appearances. Implacable, too, calmly taking responsibility after the infrequent tough outings, showcased by the 1-5 record and 3.14 ERA.

"I feel like my mentality has been pretty consistent," he said. "There's ups and downs."

Rosenthal struggled with control early in the season, and walked 26 batters in his first 42 1-3 innings. He'd made eight straight walk-free appearances before Sunday.

Matheny said the job is still new for Rosenthal, who was the setup man before last September.

"Anything you do at this level in a different role is a bit of a learning curve, whether through the long haul of the season or short term," the manager said.

The back end of the bullpen has been a delight for the manager. Rosenthal has made eight consecutive saves since July 9, three of them against the Brewers, and side-arming setup man Pat Neshek was a National League All-Star. Neshek has a microscopic 0.79 ERA and has surrendered runs in just four of his 50 appearances.

Rosenthal was a starter in the minors and when he got to the majors that was his goal. Now that he's had so much success at closing, he's not so sure.

"It's good to have seen both sides of it," he said. "I'd have to think about it."

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