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Suppan makes playoff debut10/09/2004 10:08 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Jeff Suppan led the Cardinals' pitching staff with 16 victories this season, and the only time he lost on the road was his last outing -- Sept. 29 at Houston. That means his long-awaited next start Sunday in Game 4 of the National League Division Series will come 11 days after last taking the ball, and he honestly was hoping that wait would be even longer.
Because the Dodgers extended this best-of-five series with a win on Saturday night, that wait finally will come to an end. Suppan will throw the first postseason pitch of his career when Dodgers leadoff man Cesar Izturis steps to the plate.
"It really hasn't been difficult at all. Well, I'll take that back -- the waiting is definitely always the hardest part," Suppan said, when asked before Saturday's game how he has dealt with this disruption to his season-long routine. "The excitement, you can't wait to get out there. I mean, that's how I feel.
"But as far as being a routine guy, I mean, I think this is where your routine is crucial. This is where you believe in your routine more than you ever have before, whether it's mental preparation or physical with bullpen [throwing sessions] and things of that nature.
"My focus has been very strong. It's a situation where there's going to be a lot of excitement out there for me. Falling back on my routine -- my pregame routine -- I think that's going to help because I've done it before. It's my same routine I've had for a number of years. Sticking with that should help, or I hope it helps me get back to feeling like, 'Hey, you know what, the excitement is over. I'm out here, pitching. What do I need to work on?'"
Suppan said he has thrown "a little simulated game, throwing three bullpens. I feel good. My legs feel good. My arm feels good. ... Mentally I feel strong. I think that's part of the key, being focused. ... I think with a layoff, you really have to keep your focus sharp on what you have to do out there."
Suppan said he has been given no indication from manager Tony La Russa when he would pitch in the NL Championship Series should the Cardinals advance. And La Russa gave no insight when asked before Game 3 about a possible NLCS rotation -- he was not about to get caught looking ahead. He was content to talk about what Suppan has meant in his first Cardinals season.
"[Suppan] is a pitcher who's done exactly what his career has said," La Russa said. "He's been very, very consistent in every way. Every day at the park, every day he pitches, he looks exactly the same. Sometimes when he's out of whack, it's a little bit different. But as far as mentally, he's into it.
"His road record is one of those crazy stats, because he's looked good at home, too."
Suppan's 10 road victories in 2004 tied for second in the NL with San Diego's Brian Lawrence (Florida's Carl Pavano led with 12). Those 10 decisions were all in a row, finally ending with his regular-season finale at Houston. He had been bidding to become just the third pitcher in Major League history to go undefeated in a season on the road while winning 10 or more road games.
None of those 10 conquests included Dodger Stadium. Suppan did not face Los Angeles in either series. He is 0-3 in his career against the Dodgers, including 0-2 at Dodger Stadium.
"It is tough to explain for me," Suppan said of the personal road anomaly in 2004. "I'm not really trying to explain it. I just went with it and it just seemed to happen. You know, I've had years where it's been the opposite. So it's a situation where, maybe at the end of the season, whenever that is, or maybe in Spring Training, [pitching coach Dave Duncan] and I will sit down and talk about the situation as far as the road record.
"But as far as right now, it's just one of those things."
It's one of those nice things if you are a Cardinals fan hoping Suppan will close this out at Dodger Stadium. If he does, then the Cardinals advance to the NLCS and everyone will find out when Suppan might start again.
He will make the most of this one. Suppan is a 1993 graduate of Crespi High School in nearby Encino, Calif., and he said plenty of family and friends were going to be watching here at Dodger Stadium.
"Actually, everyone's coming [Saturday], and they'll be here [Sunday] also," Suppan said. "They're very excited. They're actually just trying to leave me alone. You know, no phone calls or anything. But it's very exciting for them and myself, growing up here in L.A., the San Fernando Valley, getting an opportunity like this to pitch."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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