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After tough first, Suppan impresses10/16/2004 10:34 PM ET
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The last time Jeff Suppan started for the Cardinals, he was dripping with champagne after winning the clincher of their National League Division Series against the Dodgers. The next time he pitches, it could be in a possible Game 7 of the NL Championship Series against the Astros. "That's the plan," said manager Tony La Russa, after Houston defeated Suppan and the Cardinals, 5-2, in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Evidently, La Russa liked what he saw from Suppan, who battled future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens for six innings, leaving the game with St. Louis trailing by just a run, 3-2. Suppan retired the last 10 batters he faced.
Suppan has been his team's road warrior this season, winning 11 of his 13 decisions away from home. The only two losses came at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros have won 20 of their last 21 games. Both of Suppan's road losses came during that run."They're a good team anywhere you play them," Suppan said. "They have very good hitters, professional hitters, who know how to play the game right."
La Russa thinks the 29-year-old right-handed Suppan plays the game right and has all the stuff to be a big-game pitcher. He proved it last Sunday evening by pitching seven innings of two-hit, two-run ball as the Cards wrapped up the first round at a hostile Dodger Stadium, La Russa said."He's a very cool customer, a very cool guy. I don't mean the way he talks or dresses, but on the mound he doesn't get fazed," La Russa said. "The game he pitched in L.A. to end the Division Series had a lot of significance, much like this one. Maybe more, because if you lose that one, it goes to a deciding game." Suppan has those rugged good looks. He's a dead ringer for Colin Farrell, the movie actor who starred in films such as "Phone Booth" and "Minority Report." And just like some of the parts Farrell plays, Suppan has a way of working his way into trouble and then out of it again. Saturday's first inning was a perfect example. Craig Biggio singled and Carlos Beltran walked. Jeff Bagwell grounded into a double play, leaving a runner on third. Suppan threw two quick strikes to Lance Berkman and seemed to be on the verge of getting out of the inning. But Berkman took a ball, fouled off a pitch and then drilled a single to center, scoring Beltran.
"I thought I had a pitch set up," Suppan said. "But he was able to stay with it."The next hitter, Jeff Kent, fouled the first four pitches off before working the count full. Kent smacked the next pitch into the short porch in left for a two-run homer. "In the situation with Kent, he's swinging the bat well," Suppan said. "I had him 0-and-2, but he dug in there and battled back. Then I threw a fastball down and away, and he goes out and hits a home run. For me, I'm trying to stay out of the big inning, especially with Roger pitching." When the smoke cleared, the Astros led, 3-1. Clemens and closer Brad Lidge had all the runs they would need. Until this season, Suppan was a journeyman starter, pitching for five teams, including the Red Sox twice. He had a 62-75 record in 222 games, 206 of them starts. This season, under the tutelage of La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, Suppan blossomed into a competent pitcher, who went 16-9 with a 4.16 ERA. His start in the last round against the Dodgers was his first appearance in a postseason game. And his next one either could be Game 7 of this series or in the World Series. "It'll be something," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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