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Notes: Calero a nice surprise
10/06/2004 5:55 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- You think the Royals might have been able to find a use for Kiko Calero this year?

The right-handed reliever sometimes seems like the forgotten man in the Cardinals bullpen, but no St. Louis right-hander was more effective in 2004 -- not even Jason Isringhausen. Calero led the northpaws in the Cardinals bullpen in ERA, strikeout rate, walk rate and opponents' batting average.

Not bad for a guy that Kansas City let walk as a minor league free agent two years ago.

"He was really good last year," manager Tony La Russa said. "And more experience makes him better. He's experienced, more confident and he knows that he can pitch in this league."

Calero was the biggest surprise in camp in 2003, making the team after receiving a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. But a severe knee injury ended his season in June, and it wasn't a sure thing that he'd be ready this spring.

He was certainly ready, turning in an impressive spring but starting the year at Triple-A Memphis. Once he was recalled, he built on his impressive rookie campaign. Calero finished the season 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 47 strikeouts against 10 walks in 45 1/3 innings.

Tuesday brought his playoff debut, and he pitched like he always does -- effectively. Calero struck out two in a perfect seventh inning.

"I was nervous when I was in the bullpen," he said. "But when I got out there, no. When you have confidence in your stuff, you are never gonna be nervous. I was very comfortable with my pitches. But it was really exciting to pitch that game."

Calero throws a fastball that gets into the low 90s, a changeup and a variety of different breaking balls that look at times like a curve and at times like a slider.

"It depends who's hitting, lefty, righty," he said. I throw like maybe three different breaking pitches. But for me, it's the same."

Five homers: One question of which La Russa has long since tired is about similarities between this year's Cardinals and his Oakland teams of the late 1980s and early '90s. But the comparison was brought up once again this week -- before Game 1 of the Division Series, the last team to hit five homers in a single postseason game was Oakland in the 1989 World Series.

"I've enjoyed them both," said the manager. "It was the same strategy there that you have now: get so far ahead that the manager can't mess it up. That helps. ... I just think when I look at the team we have out there now, versus '89, good pitching will always limit what you do."

Curtain calls: For every homer the Cards hit Tuesday, they received a curtain call. From Albert Pujols' shot in the first all the way to Larry Walker's capper, every time a ball left the yard, the player was expected to emerge from the dugout. It's generally considered to be part of the experience.

Yet there was some concern as to whether it might chafe the visitors a bit.

"Being on the other side of that, it's not something that you really enjoy seeing," La Russa said. "But the worst part about what happened yesterday [for the Dodgers] wasn't the curtain calls. It was that the ball left the park and you had a run on the board. That's the most irritating thing to a team."

Dodgers Game 2 starter Jeff Weaver said it didn't bother him any.

"I don't see anything wrong with it," said the right-hander. "Obviously I don't think it should change the tempo of the game, but you know, these players are doing it for the fans, and the fans appreciate it."

Tipping is not necessary? It was suggested on Tuesday that perhaps the Cardinals had some idea of what was coming when Odalis Perez pitched, but that notion was not warmly received in the St. Louis clubhouse. When asked about it after Tuesday's game, Walker pointed to the 16 at-bats in which he struggled against Perez before going deep in the third inning. La Russa more or less echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.

"He struck out Jimmy [Edmonds] and Larry, right?" La Russa said. "They hit home runs, but the pitches they both hit, one was a hanging slider and one was a fastball. He just made mistakes."

Minor news: Adam Wainwright made his first game appearance in nearly four months on Tuesday, starting for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. The tall right-hander hadn't pitched since early June due to elbow trouble. Wainwright lasted two innings, allowing a solo homer among three base hits, walking two and striking out one in a 5-4 Solar Sox loss.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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