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Cards hope for 'good' Morris
10/13/2004 7:32 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Morris is one of those surprise pitchers.

As in "yippee" or "uh-oh."

One national survey put the St. Louis Cardinal atop baseball's "flakiest" list, because Thursday's Game 2 starter in the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium against the Houston Astros can vary to the extremes on the hill.

The Rebirds are counting on Morris to help them build a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. A balanced hitting attack led the Cardinals to a 10-7 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday.

"Insanely inconsistent" was a frequent description of the eight-year veteran, who was 15-10 with a 4.72 ERA this season, but saw his ERA jump a full point in the second half -- from 4.33 to 5.35. Still, he was happily inconsistent by giving up 24 homers before the All-Star break, but only 11 after that.

Mr. Hot, Mr. Cold. In July, the right-hander threw a 6-0 shutout over San Francisco, but six days later he faced the Giants again and was blown out over two-thirds of an inning, walloped for eight runs in an 8-7 loss.

It was deja vu and deja phew in September, when he struck out 11 Dodgers in a two-hit shutout -- yep, a boffo effort -- then saw the fickle fates of athletics zap him in his next appearance in a two-inning, seven-run fiasco.

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You get the picture, but Cardinals manager Tony La Russa feels the much-maligned, much-backpatted hurler can do the job.

"Matt's been an upper-echelon pitcher for the last few years," said La Russa. "He's been going through a period of adjustment, adding things and working with [pitching coach] Dave Duncan, and I think he's capable of being better than than ever. He's a competitor and I'm looking forward to him starting."

Alrighty then, so it'll be a for-better-or-for-worse scenario when Morris opposes the Astros, and Cardinals fans are hoping his often-cranky shoulder is up to par.

"You want to be smart. You also don't want to walk the ballpark, either," said Morris on Wednesday. "You want to control the counts and attack these guys with your best stuff.

"But it's the same key for me as any other team that we face. Keeping it down, getting strike one and attacking these guys. We faced them so much, we know how to pitch them. It's just about execution right now."

Another variable in Morris' outings is a positive in Game 2, as it's at Busch Stadium, where the 30-year-old logged a 9-4, 3.69 ERA this season. On the road? You guessed it -- 6-6, 6.02.

Morris can't figure it out himself.

"Oh, I don't have an explanation," he said with a smile. "It was just a couple years ago where I was, again, terrible on the road and OK at home, or last year I think I was better in the daytime than I was at night. I think it's just the way it works out.

"I'm glad this one's at home, though. It's just more comfortable. You're the first guy starting off the game, your times are better as far as preparation. Good home cooking always helps out, so I'm looking forward to [Thursday's] start."

That's on Houston manager Phil Garner's mind as well, for when asked what he thought about Woody Williams starting Game 1 on Wednesday instead of Morris, he replied, "They have a very good Game 2 starter, and I believe that. I think he's throwing the ball better than he was two weeks ago. He can be extremely tough."

Against Houston this season, Morris won two games and lost one with one no-decision. Predictably, so-so. But this is now, when the stakes are higher and the Astros are a far different club than they were earlier -- before Garner, before their great stretch run.

"I thought they were a little more aggressive, even in the last series they played with Atlanta," said Morris. "Some guys who normally take a first pitch were swinging right out of the gates, hitting and running, trying to steal bags. Just playing aggressive baseball."

Seeing is believing, says Morris, but there was a plus to seeing the Astros at their best.

"We saw some different tendencies that might help us in this series," said Morris.

But as to which Morris the Houston hitters will see on Thursday, it's anybody's guess.

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

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