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Morris tries to wrap up sweep10/08/2004 7:46 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- A common theme must have developed on that overnight Cardinals trip from raucous Busch Stadium to the West Coast.
Right after Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said his club will play Saturday night "like it's the seventh game of the World Series," Matt Morris said Friday he is ready to pitch his next game like there's no tomorrow.
Never mind that the Cardinals have a 2-0 lead on the Dodgers and can clinch the best-of-five National League Division Series with a victory.
"Now I go out there with the mentality of: 'This could be the last game that I pitch this year,'" said Morris, who will be the Cardinals' starting pitcher opposite Jose Lima as the series shifts to Dodger Stadium for the 6:30 p.m. CT start of Game 3. "So it's a little different for pitchers. I know the position players can go out there and really battle and fight. But for a pitcher, it's good to know the situation, also take a deep breath and execute pitches. I think being too revved up sometimes doesn't do me or most pitchers any good.
"I'm just going to relax and make pitches. There is a little leeway. But I'm looking to do the right thing [Saturday], play the game hard, let our offense do what it's been doing all year."
Cardinals fans would love to see the Morris who pitched that Sept. 3 game against the Dodgers at Busch. It was his only outing against them this season, and Morris pitched a two-hit shutout in that 3-0 victory. La Russa said afterward that Morris had just thrown the game of a lifetime.
"I hope he doesn't throw it tomorrow," Dodgers veteran Robin Ventura said Friday, preceding Morris in the interview room. Ventura had one of those two hits that day and knows what this opponent can do if his game is on.
"He's definitely a good pitcher," Ventura added. "I think he's had some injuries that have really held him back over the years, keeping him from being consistent over the past few years. He's as good as any pitcher in the league if he's on. ... We're definitely going to have to be patient, you know, try and find good pitches to hit. Hopefully we can work counts, get guys on and get some hits with some guys on."
The million-dollar question, of course, is whether this will be the Morris who dominated the Dodgers, or the Morris who then finished the year with two dismal losses sandwiched around a pair of respectable no-decisions. Morris said he knows the Dodgers will be looking at video -- as will he -- and "making adjustments to what I did. I'm going to have to be careful. I'm not going to be able to do exactly what I did. But if I can execute pitches, I think I'll be OK."
Morris was asked where he is physically since his last outing, a four-inning, six-run loss on Sept. 30 against Milwaukee:
"I feel good," he said. "You know, it's hard not to feel good right now. You know, we put ourselves in a great spot. Physically, my shoulder feels good. I had a good bullpen session. Like I said, though, I don't rely too much on the bullpen sessions. It's a long season. Sometimes you're going to be more sore than other times.
"I'm excited about going out there. I'm not worried physically at all. It's just about executing pitches and having the right frame of mind when I'm on the mound -- thinking a little bit ... just a little bit. I don't want to think too much. Get the ball out front and make some pitches."
The last time Morris had a chance to pitch a series-clinching game also was on the West Coast: at San Francisco on Oct. 14, 2002, in the decisive fifth game of the NL Championship Series. It was a memorable pitchers' duel between him and Kirk Rueter, and they matched goose-eggs until the seventh, when the Cards scored. The Giants tied it on Barry Bonds' sacrifice fly in the eighth and won a World Series trip on Kenny Lofton's hit in the bottom of the ninth.
Many Cardinals fans also will recall Morris' huge effort on the road in Game 1 of the 2001 NLDS against Curt Schilling and the Diamondbacks. Schilling outdueled him in a 1-0 victory for that eventual world champion. So there is plenty of evidence in the past about big efforts by Morris on the road in the postseason, and the Cardinals would love nothing more than to see him do that again -- and continue to produce the kind of offense they have showed the Dodgers in the first two games of this series.
"There's really nothing different that I do," Morris said when asked about his relatively good track record of postseason pitching on the road. "I know the importance of the game. I enjoy coming into the opposing ballpark and trying to put up zeroes, trying to keep the crowd a little quiet.
"It's going to be tough, I know. The Dodgers play well at home. [Jose] Lima is going to be out there fired up. He's done well at home as well. Their backs are to the wall, so they're going to be fighting a little harder than normal. If I can use that to my advantage, some of their aggressiveness -- you know, change speeds and make pitches, get some zeroes early -- hopefully we can put a couple runs on the board off Lima and let our bullpen take care of the rest."
Morris said that Cardinals bullpen has become a big difference over previous seasons. "I'm not afraid to hand the ball over," he said. "I'm not going to worry about my pitch count. I'm not going to try to conserve anything. Like I said, it could be the last game that I pitch. So if I have 100 pitches through six innings, as long as they're quality pitches, I'm not scared to give the ball to the bullpen."
This has become the "Two-Out Series" -- with the Cardinals taking advantage of their two-out opportunities (13 of 16 runs scored that way) and the Dodgers failing to capitalize on theirs. Many people are still just waiting for the Dodgers to bust out offensively, especially if they can draw seven walks the way they did Thursday in St. Louis.
"The key as a pitcher on our team is to get out there early and get a couple zeroes right off the bat," Morris said. "It's no surprise that our lineup, one through eight, can put up a bunch of runs and do all the little things, [like the] big two-out hits we've been getting. If I can get some zeroes rolling right off the bat, I think our team will make a push to get some runs early and then that way L.A. has to play catch-up a little bit."
And then everyone will see whether Morris will come back to pitch another game in this postseason. Right now, he is treating it like there's no tomorrow.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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