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La Russa has Cards on road to ring
10/12/2004 7:06 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Nine times now, Tony La Russa has led a club into a League Championship Series with the requisite high hopes of reaching the World Series and winning a ring.

That's quite the postseason resume, tops among active managers with one more LCS appearance than the Yankees' Joe Torre.

But, really, the only one of those nine teams that matters to La Russa right now is the 2004 Cardinals, who will begin their National League Championship Series against the Astros with Game 1 on Tuesday.

It's clear La Russa has a special sense of admiration for his current club and knows the unique it presents to take the Cards to the ultimate level.

He's just not letting on too much.

"Well, I know what I think," La Russa said. "I'm just wondering how much I should say because I don't like in any way to be negative about anything in the past or too positive about anything now because you still have to play the game."

Now, that is the voice of experience.

No material for the bulletin board. No overly glowing comments about his players.

Yet, La Russa can't help but talk about this club, because it already has set itself apart from previous St. Louis teams with a club-record 105 wins in the regular season. Naturally, he hopes the club is able to further sets itself apart by reaching the World Series.

"The other chances that we [have] had here in St. Louis, we had more issues and problems we had to overcome," La Russa said. "But we also had won the Division Series, so that just shows it can be done.

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"I think we have more going for us going into this one, but I also look at Houston and I see an outstanding club."

Balancing confidence with respect might be another product of nine appearances in more than two decades of managing.

Starting with the White Sox in '82, through four appearances with the A's and now a fourth appearance in the NLCS with the Cardinals in 2004, La Russa has been there, done that. His lone World Series championship (in three attempts) came with the A's in 1989, but it's quite a body of work.

The experience La Russa carries with him into this series has a trickle-down effect on his clubhouse.

He shared a little bit of that experience with his players on Monday. For a newcomer like veteran right fielder Larry Walker, who is making his first appearance in the NLCS, it was a good way to prepare for the biggest series of his life.

Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Game 1 at St. Louis         STL 10, HOU 7
Game 2 at St. Louis Thu. Oct. 14 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 3 at Houston Sat. Oct. 16 4:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 4 at Houston Sun. Oct. 17 4:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 5* at Houston Mon. Oct. 18 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 6* at St. Louis Wed. Oct. 20 4:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 7* at St. Louis Thu. Oct. 21 8:00 p.m. FOX  
 * If necessary

"He talked with us today, and he's a man of a lot of knowledge and experience," Walker said. "Everything he says is helpful. It's a good thing to absorb, take in and go with it."

Said catcher Mike Matheny: "There's no question when it comes to leadership, it starts with your manager, and if he's been there and done that, you realize there's some wisdom to be gained and maybe some advantages. You take advantage of everything you possibly can to give yourself an edge, and having the experience he has is definitely one of those things."

Whatever wisdom La Russa imparts to his team this time around comes more from knowing the pain of losing the chance to play in the World Series than winning it. He owns a 20-20 record in LCS play, with three consecutive AL pennants in Oakland (1988-90).

La Russa said the only time he came away with a bad feeling about his team's performance was in 1990, when the A's were swept by the Cincinnati Reds in an upset.

"Every other time our club has competed, I thought we put out our best effort," La Russa said. "The only time I was very brokenhearted was [the Cardinals] losing to the Giants in 2002. The club had been so heroic to do what they did during the season, eliminating the Diamondbacks. I mean, that was heartbreaking.

"I thought, 'Here's a group of men that deserve to get to the World Series.' Just shows you there's no justice in baseball; it's whoever plays best."

La Russa heads into LCS No. 9 with confidence that this club can play best in this NLCS.

Even if he won't let on too much about his feelings, he knows the Cardinals -- and any team that advances to the LCS, including the Astros -- already have put together a great run.

"I mean, getting to this -- when you have a chance to play for the league pennant and there's only four clubs left to do that -- you're talking about some serious baseball to get here," La Russa said.

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

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