ST. LOUIS - Phil Garner said he likes to create synergy as a manager. So it was no surprise he felt out of his element when he took over the Astros after Jimy Williams was fired during the All-Star break.
There was no time to bond with his players. Without the 10-day acclimation period Garner likes before spring training, there was no opportunity for the coaching staff to get on the same page.
"Nobody had a chance to ease into their positions," Garner said. "Everybody had to work extremely hard. But everybody pitched in and did their part. There was no resistance to anything that I tried to do. It's just very tough to get it done in a short period of time."
What does it say, then, about Garner that he brought the Astros from a 44-44 record to a 92-70 finish (a 48-26 run), a wild-card spot and a berth in the National League Championship Series that began Wednesday night at Busch Stadium?
"He's a motivator," centerfielder Carlos Beltran said. "He's a guy that likes to have fun. When he joined the club he told us he didn't have any rules. Just go out there and play, give 100 percent and do the best you can."
"He manages every game like it's the last game of the season," first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "He's like another player out there. He's into it."
And a candidate for NL manager of the year.
This is Garner's third managerial job. He led the Brewers from 1992-99 and set team records of 1,180 games managed and 563 victories. He managed the Tigers from 2000-02.
Comparisons have been drawn to Marlins manager Jack McKeon, named last season's NL manager of the year after coming out of retirement to take a struggling team to a World Series championship.
Garner wasn't exactly retired, but he did get the call from Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker while attending his granddaughter's first birthday party.
"When you take over a ballclub in the middle of the season, you don't have the knowledge," Garner said. "You haven't been working with the team to find out what works."
So Garner let the players work for him, and they responded with the organization's first playoff-series victory over the Braves in the NLDS.
"One thing that's important is to let them perform," Garner said. "The moves that I can make is putting guys in positions to do what they can do best."
"He told me, "Carlos, go out there and do what you are capable of doing. Steal bases if you want to,' " Beltran said. "He took pressure off a lot of guys on the team."