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Respect won't prevent rivalry10/12/2004 4:54 PM ET
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- If you're looking for nasty, for a football-style rivalry with two teams that just don't like each other, don't look here. Try the American League Championship Series, with its soap opera subplots and foaming, frothing, rhetoric.
But if you want something a little more appropriate as far as an example for the little leaguer in your family, the NL Championship Series is the place for you. The Cardinals and Astros will go at each other hard, and they'll do anything and everything they can to win, but they'll still respect each other when the games are over. This is a classic baseball rivalry.
"Ever since I've been in the league, we've really had terrific competitions," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Monday of the Cards-Astros matchup. "If you look at our season series, a bunch of really good games, close games that [could have gone] either way. A lot of hard competition, minimum [bull]. There's a lot of respect between the two clubs."
Said third baseman Scott Rolen: "They have a bunch of professionals playing on that team. They play well at their place, we play well at our place. It should be a good series."
These are teams that know each other extremely well. They played 18 times this season, and they battle for the NL Central championship just about every year, it seems. But whereas the Cardinals and Cubs snipe at one other, the Cards and Astros seemingly trip over themselves complimenting each other.
Well, with one exception. Right-hander Julian Tavarez takes nothing away from the 'Stros, but he's not conceding anything to them, either.
"They've got a great team, but we don't look at the Houston Astros like they've got a great team," said Tavarez. "They are good, but we are better than them. We've got a better team than a lot of teams in the Major Leagues. We are the best because we've got 108 wins. We've proven it. We are the best."
But even fellow reliever Steve Kline, sometimes on the outrageous side himself, speaks well of the NL Central Division runners-up.
"We respect them," said Kline. "We're probably not gonna go out and eat dinner with them or anything like that, but...
"We're gonna try everything we can to beat them, and they're gonna try everything to beat us. We can save our 'hi's' and 'bye's' for after the season."
The Cardinals have seen the way the Astros have come on in the final two months of the season. St. Louis ran away from the division this year, but the Astros made a strong run to win the Wild Card. Houston overcame a great deal of history when it eliminated the Braves in the Division Series, securing its first playoff series win in franchise history.
The 105-win Redbirds know they have a challenge on their hands.
"From our perspective, it's another series," said catcher Mike Matheny. "It's about who plays the best baseball. They're playing very well right now, and we're starting to hit our stride, too. It's going to be a well-fought series. It comes down to who plays the best. I don't think you give an advantage to the experience. They've got a good group of veteran players over there that know what they're doing."
The Cards got an up-close view in September of just how well things have been going for the Astros. Houston took five of six games from St. Louis in September, finishing the year as the only team to win its season series against the Cards. Houston swept the final regular-season series against St. Louis at Minute Maid Park.
Houston is also the only team to sweep St. Louis twice this year, though the Cardinals also returned the favor earlier in the year.
"Last time they swept us, we came back and swept them," said Kline. "We're not real worried about that."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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