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Suppan tosses gem in clincher10/11/2004 2:09 AM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- You're Jeff Suppan, and this is the night of your life.
Once a nearby high schooler and a fan at Dodger Stadium, now you're pitching in front of the largest crowd in Dodger Stadium history.
By the end of the night, you are sitting in a giant tub of icewater, thrown into it by your teammates who have removed the champagne bottles that were chilling there, and are dousing you with the bubbly after you have just clinched the National League Division Series with the first postseason appearance of your long career.
"That's cold!" is all you can shout as you emerge from the tub in the middle of a raucous Cardinals clubhouse, and then you don the goggles someone gave you so you can answer question after question about what had just happened, because the champagne burns the eyes and there are corks flying everywhere.
This was the night of Suppan's baseball life, and he didn't want it to end.
"I came here as a kid, and to see it this loud and see it this full was incredible," Suppan said Sunday night. "It's just very satisfying. It's been a long layoff for me, and when you're a routine guy, you just try to stay with your routine and hope for the best."
It was better than the 29-year-old right-hander could have hoped.
After waiting his whole career to get here ...
After waiting 11 days to make his next start for the Cards ...
After shaking off catcher Mike Matheny and giving up a home run in the first inning to Jayson Werth ...
After piling up the pitch count ...
After giving up the sacrifice fly to Adrian Beltre that allowed Los Angeles to tie the score, 2-2, in the third inning ... Suppan proceeded to show exactly the kind of form that produced an incredible 10-1 road record and 16 overall victories this season.
"There was no point where I felt like, 'Hey, I've settled down,'" Suppan said. "I just took it pitch-by-pitch. I never thought about cruising. I wanted to stay focused, keep momentum going and stay in the bottom part of the strike zone." He ended that third-inning rally by striking out Shawn Green, whose two homers a night earlier had helped the Dodgers extend this best-of-five series to a Game 4, and that was the second of 14 consecutive batters Suppan put down before giving way to pinch-hitter John Mabry in the eighth inning.
Seven innings, two hits, two runs. The bullpen took it from there, and the Cardinals were on their way back to the NL Championship Series.
"It points back toward the fact that Jeff Suppan settled down," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said of the clincher. "It's very difficult to win a baseball game with two runs and three hits [one off Julian Tavarez]. It's hard to do, especially when you're playing a team like that, that you know if you hold them to four on any given night you've done a terrific job. ... You need the lead in order to be able to implement it exactly the way you want to and we weren't able to do that."
Suppan didn't allow it, not on the night of his baseball life. He never let a leadoff man reach base, and never broke when he seemed to bend early.
"Any of these starters could have been in this situation," Suppan said. "It feels so good. It's a very seasoned team with lots of guys who have been around, and you use that to your advantage as a pitcher."
Suppan threw 102 pitches, 61 for strikes. It was a much different ratio than in that third inning, when at one point he had thrown 29 balls and 28 strikes. At one point in the third, Kiko Calero began loosening up in the bullpen. It was anyone's guess how Suppan would respond from that long layoff, not having pitched since a Sept. 29 loss at Houston that ended his road winning streak at 10 games.
"Since then, we've maintained a normal routine of getting him into the bullpen," Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said just before the game started. "We've had some, actually I think, really good sessions. We've had the opportunity to work hard, where he's gotten himself ready and actually simulated innings of pitching against Dodgers hitters.
"I think it's been very beneficial to him as far as being prepared for this game, and I think this time of year when you can get a little extra rest when you've started as many games as he has started, it can work in his favor."
Suppan even brought his bat with him for this one. He singled in his first two at-bats, and he was involved in a controversial play in the fourth inning, preceding that big three-run homer by Albert Pujols. Tony Womack hit a sinking liner to right, and Milton Bradley appeared to catch it, but it was ruled a hit, so Suppan was going back and forth between first and second, and finally forced out at second.
"I haven't had that many hits this year," he said. "I was going up there to be aggressive. On that play, I didn't know what happened. It was a tough bang-bang play."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he thought Suppan had a "psychological edge" because of his road success this season, but he said more important was the consistency the veteran has shown in his first St. Louis season.
"It's the way he gets ready to take the responsibility as starting pitcher," La Russa said. "As Dunc defines him, he's a pitch-maker. He's got three fastballs, he's got two breaking balls, he's got a changeup. He's really got seven, eight pitches that you might see. ... He's like almost nobody in this league."
The number of pitchers who are still playing 2004 baseball in this league is dwindling fast. Now the Cardinals are moving on to face either Atlanta or Houston when the NLCS starts Wednesday, and Suppan will have his entourage there with him every step of the way. Just like Sunday night back home in Los Angeles.
"My family travels around to watch every game," he said. "My mom's seen every single game, my wife is here, with brothers and sisters. It was an incredible night. It's been an incredible season."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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