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Baseball: NL playoffs

Cards look for spark at home

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 20, 2004

ST. LOUIS - Each team has won its home games. So even though the Astros lead the best-of-seven NLCS 3-2, the Cardinals, with Games 6 and 7 at Busch Stadium, are cautiously optimistic.

"That has been the difference in the series," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "There's an edge there. Whether we can take advantage of that, we'll see."

"Were going to be ready," first baseman Albert Pujols said. "We're excited to be back here. We have our own crowd. It's going to be rockin'."

That the Cardinals are in such a predicament is somewhat surprising. The team won a majors-high 105 games and were picked by most to advance to the World Series.

But Game 6 starter Matt Morris said it's more complicated.

"They say the hardest thing about the playoffs is that everybody starts from a clean slate," he said. "So anything goes."

"To me, it's a situation you go out and let it all go," third baseman Scott Rolen said. "You play with as much heart as you can and dig deep. When that first pitch is about to be thrown, we'd better be ready."

Morris said the home crowd will make that easier, the way the frenzied crowd at Minute Maid Park helped the Astros.

"The fans definitely play a part," he said. "That place was tremendously loud (Monday). But coming to Busch, I think we'll have the advantage."

"If we win it, it gives us an advantage," centerfielder Jim Edmonds said. "If we lose, it's going to make us look bad."

WHEELING AND DEALING: Astros reliever Brad Lidge is getting the publicity, but reliever Dan Wheeler has been as effective; not to mention the right-hander is a former Devil Ray and the son-in-law of Rays television play-by-play man Dewayne Staats and lives in Seminole.

In three games against the Cardinals, Wheeler is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He has struck out seven, walked none and allowed two hits in five innings.

"Just throwing strikes," said Wheeler, who pitched 30 games for Tampa Bay from 1999-2001. "I pride myself on that. I'm not throwing them down the middle. I'm attacking the strike zone, making them swing at my strikes, not their strikes."

GIVE ME A CHANCE: Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt said his hometown of Weir, Miss., is so small, only 30 students were in his high school class and he never got a look from pro or college scouts.

Worse, Oswalt said a coach for whom he played at an area all-star game said he was not good enough to pitch for a bigger school.

"It's good," Oswalt said. "It made me drive harder. Sometimes I think guys get looked over because of the competition they're facing. But it doesn't mean they can't compete at a high level."

NO HANDSHAKES: Strikeout king Nolan Ryan said he would not like a policy in which baseball teams shake hands after games, as the Cardinals and Dodgers did after their division series.

"That would not be my nature to do that because of the style of pitcher I was," Ryan said. "In baseball, you play 162 games, and it's not like boxing or a football game when you might not see them again in a year."

ODDS AND ENDS: La Russa said right-hander Jeff Suppan will start Game 7, if necessary. ... La Russa said right-handed reliever Julian Tavarez (broken left hand) and left-hander Steve Kline (finger tendon) will be available to pitch today.

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:18:19]


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