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Baseball: NL playoffs

No joke: Munro gets call

The Astros opt to let Roger Clemens wait for a possible Game 7 rather than pitch on short rest.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 20, 2004

ST. LOUIS - Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said there was no way - no way - the Astros would start any pitcher besides Roger Clemens today in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

Think about it, Pujols said. Houston is up three games to two in the best-of-seven series and needs one victory to advance to its first World Series.

"It's no joking around for this game," Pujols said Tuesday. "They're going to bring Clemens."

Pujols apparently underestimated Phil Garner's sense of humor because the Astros manager named right-hander Pete Munro as starter and said Clemens would pitch Game 7, if necessary.

"Pete's been an important part of this ballclub," Garner said before Houston's workout at Busch Stadium. "You tend to forget Pete did a good job for us down the stretch. I think, No. 1, he deserves to get the shot to start again."

"I guess I'm kind of overwhelmed," Munro said. "It's just another chance for me to prove myself."

The decision is not as radical as it seems.

Clemens, who won Saturday's Game 3, would have just three days' rest if he pitched today. Munro did a fine job in Game 2, allowing three runs on six hits with four strikeouts in 42/3 innings.

And if Munro falters or Houston loses, a rested Clemens, one of just eight pitchers with at least 10 postseason victories, is ready for the series finale.

Then there is this: Pitchers, generally, have not done well in the playoffs on three days' rest. Clemens tried it in the division series against the Braves and could not get into the sixth inning.

Still, Garner was asked, considering how well Clemens pitched in Game 3 against St. Louis, why not take a chance and go for the jugular?

"Well, starting Pete is, in my viewpoint," Garner said. "I think it's false to assume that just because you bring Roger back that you're sure to win. Because I'm starting Pete doesn't mean we're giving this game away, doesn't mean we're not taking it as seriously. I think we're giving Pete a shot and let him do his thing."

The decision made the Cardinals' certainty that much more amusing. Even St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said, "We expect Clemens to pitch."

Munro said he doesn't take it personally.

"I've been underestimated my whole life, I mean, when it comes to baseball," he said. "I'm sure they'd rather face me than Roger. But, I mean, there's a lot of underestimating going on about me. But I showed up in Game 2, right? Closed a lot of mouths then."

Houston signed Munro, 29, in June after his release by the Twins. The Flushing, N.Y., native was 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 21 games, including 19 starts.

Garner said he and the coaching staff discussed for a couple of days whether to start Munro or Clemens today. Garner even admitted there were differences of opinion.

Garner said the bottom line was preferring Clemens pitch on four days' rest.

"You want to make sure you've covered all the bases in the sense that you've considered everything you feel is a possible factor," Garner said. "But what I feel in my gut is what I have to do. So given all the circumstances, I think this is the best way to go."

"I know I have faith," Munro said. "I know Garner wouldn't give me the ball without faith."

It will be interesting to see if that is enough.

"I think, obviously, our position players might rather face Pete Munro rather than Roger Clemens," said Matt Morris, St. Louis' Game 6 starter. "We know his capabilities. Although, taking nothing away from Pete."

"Look, I know I'm not Clemens," Munro said. "But I'm going to go out and pitch with my heart. That's my strength. If I lock into my pitches and change speeds, I have a very good opportunity to shut them down."

And Clemens would be ready for Game 1 of the World Series.

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


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