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Homer unnerves Tavarez10/17/2004 8:21 PM ET
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- St. Louis reliever Julian Tavarez will long remember the ball Houston's Carlos Beltran belted into the far right-field seats in the seventh inning of Sunday's Game 4 in the National League Championship Series.
Heaven knows he watched video replays countless times afterward. Over and over, Tavarez saw his low-and-inside pitch heading toward the plate -- yes, right at the plate -- but suddenly its downward flight was interrupted by Beltran's bat.
It was like a Tiger Woods tee shot screaming into the warm Minute Maid Park night, almost out of sight.
And riding shotgun on that ball was Tavarez's cool. That was gone as well.
The homer clinched the Astros' 6-5 victory and knotted the best-of-seven series at 2, and that's what ignited Tavarez's self-directed fury, why he walked Jeff Bagwell in the next at-bat, why a wild inside pitch plunked Jeff Kent, why he was so incensed.
In the dugout, after an inning-ending double play, Tavarez expressed his frustrations by throwing his glove, attacking the bullpen phone and angrily putting his arms in the air in bitter frustration.
The pitch to Beltran caused Tavarez to let what he called his emotional temperament rise in the heat of battle. It didn't matter that 'penmate Kiko Calero had given up two runs in the sixth for a 5-5 tie on a Lance Berkman homer and an RBI single by Raul Chavez that drove home Jose Vizcaino.
This was the coup de grace.
"It wasn't the pitch I wanted to Beltran -- I don't know who else can hit that pitch out," said Tavarez, calmed in the clubhouse but with that moment etched in his mind. "I saw how low the ball was to the ground ... but he went and got it. I don't think even Barry Bonds could have hit it.
"I lost my control and my cool after that," he said. "I tried hard to come back and calm down, grab the rosin bag, and [catcher Yadier] Molina told me to try to relax and calm down, calm down. For a kid, he did a good job."
But Tavarez wasn't listening. He yelled at Kent that he wouldn't throw at him on purpose in a tie game, and after the frame ended he stormed off the hill, his mouth in constant motion.
"I was beside myself," he said. "As I came off the field, I didn't know what I was saying. I just said a lot of stuff and was talking to myself like Jose Lima. I was complaining to myself."
But Tavarez was only simmering then, for once he reached the dugout, his emotions flared. And though he realized he was out of control, he couldn't smother the flames. He saw teammates trying to talk to him, but with 50,000 fans yelling, it was useless.
Outfielder Reggie Sanders, the old pro, knew what to do, putting his arm around Tavarez and finally dousing the heat.
"It's just the heat of the moment," said Sanders. "It kind of got the best of him, so I thought it was time to cool him off a bit. A lot of times when you're going through emotions like that, you don't know what you're doing."
"I tried to calm down, but I wasn't able to. I was mad out there and started throwing stuff. I was upset at myself. I think most Latin guys would have done it. That's how we are. We're very emotional, because we care so much about the game."
It was uncharacteristic behavior for the 31-year-old native of Santiago, Dominican Republic, but it was perhaps precipitated by the strange turnaround of the vaunted Cardinals bullpen.
During the regular season, they had logged a 31-16 record, 3.01 ERA and had an all-time-best 57 saves, including four by Tavarez, who allowed only one homer all season.
Suddenly and inexplicably, the relievers are struggling, with Tavarez, Calero, Ray King and Danny Haren having a collective 7.84 ERA with a loss and no saves over 10 1/3 NLCS relief innings.
Crazy. How can this corps give up six homers and eight runs in only four games?
"That's how it is, that's baseball," said Tavarez. "It gets late in the year, and we see each other a lot. Those things are going to happen. We have a great bullpen, but things can go either way, especially in the postseason."
Reliever King, who has given up a pair of homers to Lance Berkman in the series, pitched to only one batter to close out the sixth after Calero's misfortune.
He's not about to have the 'pen throw in the towel.
"There's still no panic, they came back and won," said King. "It's 2-2 now, and we need to get two more wins. Pitching-wise today, we just didn't get it done. The bullpen didn't get the job done, but we'll come back tomorrow and try to take the advantage."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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