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Cards deal with familiar schedule
10/07/2004 11:31 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- It is not exactly the ideal schedule for everyday baseball players, but it has worked out well so far for the Cardinals.

Play Sunday to end the regular season. Off Monday. Play Tuesday. Off Wednesday. Play Thursday. Off Friday. Play Saturday. And then maybe more time off if you've just swept a three-game National League Division Series.

That is exactly how the Cardinals fared in their three previous NLDS appearances when required to follow this every-other-day format.

"Knock on wood," manager Tony La Russa said just before Thursday's Game 2 at Busch Stadium -- rapping his fist against his head with a smile on his face when asked how he feels about this format.

Here is how they have handled it so far, for those Cardinal fans looking for good harbingers of autumn:

  • In 1996, the Cardinals won Games 1 and 2 against San Diego at Busch Stadium, and then followed the travel day with a clinching victory at San Diego.

  • In 2000, the Cardinals won Games 1 and 2 against Atlanta at Busch Stadium, and then followed the travel day with a clinching victory at Turner Field.

  • In 2002, the Cardinals won Games 1 and 2 at Arizona, and then followed the travel day with a clinching victory at home.

    Every time, they have dealt with the oddity of starting after an off-day, and then winning with an off-day between each game and then waiting for the next series. The format is required to accommodate all of the other clubs in the eight-team field; the other three Division Series this year included Games 1 and 2 on back-to-back days.

    The only other time they played in a Division Series since the playoffs were expanded in 1995 was in 2001. That October, the Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks followed a more "normal" schedule. Arizona won Game 1 at home on that Tuesday, St. Louis won there on Wednesday, Thursday was a travel day, Arizona won on Friday at St. Louis, the Cardinals won the next day, and then they returned to Bank One Ballpark, where the Diamondbacks clinched the next day on their way to the world championship.

    So it's no surprise that when La Russa is asked whether there are any particular challenges in this every-other-day format after a 162-game regular season grind, he doesn't mind. It's worked so far for the guys with the birds on the bat, and his Cardinals were hoping to make it 4-for-4 and sweep this one under that format as well. It just means both clubs have fresh bullpens and there's a lot of time to chill.

    "I don't think anybody prefers that [format], but I think we would all prefer just being in the postseason to deal with it," La Russa said. "I think about [Thursday] and then not playing until Saturday night. I mean, that's just ... three games in five days, there's a lot of in-between time.

    "The one thing is, it means that you'll see smaller and smaller parts of your roster, and then if it goes five games, in Games 4 and 5 you'll see a little bit more like in the [regular] season where you have to use more people, more relievers. There isn't anybody from the Dodgers who can't pitch today, and nobody from the Cardinals. So we're just glad we're in the postseason, but it's unusual, and you've got to mentally tough it out."

    La Russa said he was able to not only watch other baseball action in the previous 24 hours -- but a lot of baseball at that.

    "That's the most baseball I've watched," he said. "For some reason or another, maybe we were playing or traveling, but yesterday I think I watched all the games, almost every pitch. And I watched most of this one [Houston-Atlanta] today. The Braves tied it up in the eighth inning, so I was following it all. There was some really good stuff."

    It wasn't just that the Cardinals had an off-day between the first two games this time. They went from a lunchtime start on Tuesday to a night game on Thursday. So it really amounted to two full days off, and Cards reliever Ray King said he made the most of it.

    "[On Wednesday] I came in and worked out at 11:30, and afterwards we spent time at the mall, just me and a couple of guys," he said. "It was a more relaxed atmosphere after taking Game 1. You enjoy that a little bit more than losing Game 1.

    "When you're at home, it's a big difference -- being in your own surroundings, living quarters. You've got family in town. It's easier to relax than being in a hotel room."

    Preceding King in the pregame interview room was Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, and he seemed more eager than anyone to get some action going here. This format makes for a slow, slow pace with lots of stops in the action.

    "I'm ready to pitch," Gagne said. "I haven't pitched in a while. It will be good just to get an inning. I want to be in there when the game means something. I want to be there when we're winning -- I need to work a little bit."

    Most everyone around St. Louis is hoping history repeats itself with this weird scheduling format involving a Redbirds club in a Division Series. Consider this scene while the Cards were taking batting practice before Game 2: A supervisor was addressing a throng of Busch ushers in the seats high up on the first-base side.

    "It probably won't be needed," he told them, "but just in case there is a Game 5, remember that you would be back here Monday. So keep an eye on the newspapers and TV to see whether it would be necessary."

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

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