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Cards turn to Suppan in Game 310/15/2004 7:55 PM ET
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- As Cardinals right-hander Jeff Suppan heads into his assignment for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Astros on Saturday, choosing the best part of his postseason debut last week could be a multiple-choice question: Was it: A.) Pitching the biggest game of his life in Dodger Stadium, the hallowed ballpark of his Southern California youth? B.) Continuing his remarkable 2004 success on the road by settling in to get the win as the Cardinals closed out the Division Series against the Dodgers? C.) Getting dunked in a tub of ice water by his teammates and wearing swimming goggles during the postgame interview session to keep the spraying champagne from stinging his eyes? Naturally, it was all the above. There wasn't much more that he could have asked for from his first career postseason start.
But heading into his clash with the Astros' Roger Clemens at Minute Maid Park, Suppan says the aspect of his debut that will help him most was something simple."Well, I got to pitch," Suppan said. "I hadn't pitched in 11 days before then. "Getting out there, getting the adrenaline going, getting the juices going was good for me just to know what to expect in these games. I was throwing at home, first game in the postseason, had a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy. As long as I could focus that energy on staying with the game plan and staying on what I have to do, it's a benefit." With that first postseason start under his belt, Suppan heads into his second with the stakes higher and the competition stiffer. As it turns out, there's a juicy subplot for him in this one as well. Facing Clemens also takes Suppan back to his youth. Maybe not as far back as his days growing up in the San Fernando Valley and going to Dodgers games, but back to the beginning of his professional career. For a pitching prospect moving up the Boston chain in the mid-1990s, Clemens was the gold standard. Suppan said Friday that the first time he interacted with Clemens, it was over the phone and the Rocket imparted some advice. Now 29 and about a decade removed from that phone call, he can't recall the exact wisdom Clemens offered, but it's clear the influence the future Hall of Famer had on him was profound. "Going to Spring Training with him the next couple years, getting a chance to play with him in the Major Leagues was a great experience for me, just watching his work ethic," said Suppan, a second-round pick in 1993. "Obviously, he's done it for so long, he's such a great competitor, just has kept his body in great shape. As a young player, seeing that type of person is a great role model."
When he faces Clemens on Saturday, the feeling will be very familiar, yet on a completely different stage.The Cardinals lost all three matchups between the Game 3 starters in the regular season, with Suppan pitching decently in the first meeting in June, but not getting out of the fourth inning in their meeting on Sept. 14. Suppan and Clemens squared off a third time in the season's final week, a 6-4 Astros victory on Sept. 29 that snapped Suppan's road winning streak at 10 games. Overall, Suppan has been exactly what the Cardinals hoped for, and then some. He won a career-high 16 games and became a vital part of the second-ranked pitching staff in the National League. "I think [our] expectation was exactly what we've got," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's a known commodity. We've seen him in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, mostly. [He's] very professional, very workman-like. He's been like that every day since the first day of Spring Training, really goes about it right. You can see why he had established that record of 200 innings for four, five years. I mean, he just looks the same every time out there." Suppan says he could not possibly have done what he did this year without the help of the league's best offense and the rest of the 105-win Cardinals. "I attribute that to my teammates," Suppan said. "Offense, defensive, bullpen ... you know, that helped me become a better pitcher. "Also, what contributed to my success was experience, being able to get innings in from my prior years. Every year is an experience and that helps you out for the next year. The more times you're in a situation and experience that situation, it helps you for the next time and you can get out of it." That's certainly a lesson he can take into what now becomes the latest biggest start of his life.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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