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Cards, M's rue missed chances

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000


NEW YORK -- The waiting, according to the song, is the hardest part. Well, if you're the Cardinals or the Mariners, the watching ain't real fun either.

It is tough for the losing semifinalists to enjoy the World Series, knowing how close they came to being in it.

It was especially bitter for the Cardinals, who lost 16-game winner Garrett Stephenson and starting catcher Mike Matheny to late-season injuries and saw pitchers Rick Ankiel and Pat Hentgen struggle after long layoffs.

"Teams get to this part of the season with certain problems and, as long as you have enough to win, you can do it. And we had enough to win," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "But you either you do or you don't. And we didn't. I think we really surprised the Braves. We were really relentless. I think we were ready to play the same way against the Mets. But the biggest difference was that we didn't pitch as well as we had to or nearly as good as they did.

"No matter how hard we tried to win, it's still bitter to get beat because it's so hard to get that far. You have to play six months to win, you have to get by the very dangerous best-of-five (series). To get that close to the world championship and lose is very difficult. Can you get that close again next year? You don't know."

The Cardinals expect, with a few moves, at least to contend again. The Mariners' future isn't as clear, with the possibility that manager Lou Piniella and star shortstop Alex Rodriguez could leave via free agency and DH Edgar Martinez may retire.

"To a man in our clubhouse, we wanted badly to bring a World Series to Seattle," Piniella said. "It's part of the game that only two teams go to the World Series. Well, we were one of the last three left. When all is said and done, only one team goes home happy. Unless you win the Series, you're going to face the disappointment, it's only a matter of degree."

RAYS REPORT: Manager Larry Rothschild's search for a few good men to fill out his coaching staff has been slowed by the number of other managerial openings. Some of the people the Rays have talked to -- such as Hal McRae -- also are candidates for managing and other coaching posts. "We might hire somebody and if they get hired as a manager worry about that later," Rothschild said.

Rothschild's staff has changed each season and he said he is looking for a certain type of coach. "What I want to create here is the ideal situation in the clubhouse, a family situation where everyone is helping each other," he said. "I need good teachers, people who can get through to players quickly. We don't have the luxury of a staff that's been here three or four years. We need special people."

The Rays have openings for a batting, bench and bullpen coach. Wade Boggs and Bill Evers are known candidates. ... Team officials led by assistant general managers Scott Proefrock and Bart Braun started working the hotel lobbies Saturday, talking with representatives of other teams.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING: The Rays' ticket price hike doesn't look bad compared to the D'backs. Arizona raised its average season ticket price 3 percent to $18.96 and average single-game ticket 6.17 percent to $18.19. Even after the hike, the Rays' averages are $14.03 for season tickets and $17.86 for single games.

MANAGERIAL GO-ROUND: Buck Martinez seems to be the front-runner for the Toronto job, though McRae, Jerry Royster, Ken Macha, and Ernie Whitt also will interview. ... Bob Brenly appears to be the man in Arizona, though Terry Francona may get a second interview. ... The Reds, who claimed to start with a list of 43 candidates, are holding out for a big-name hire, hoping to get a shot at Piniella or Bobby Valentine. Buck Showalter is a possibility. ... The Pirates imposed a news blackout, leading to speculation they are close. Showalter is a rumored front-runner. Lloyd McClendon has a shot. ... Piniella expects to meet with Mariners officials in Tampa this week to discuss his future.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS: The Brewers hired Bill Lajoie as senior adviser for baseball operations. Lajoie, 66, moves after 10 seasons with the Braves, where he was a special assistant to general manager John Schuerholz.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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