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Punchy Tavarez terrific in return
10/20/2004 6:54 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Forget the throbbing, cast-encased left hand. Forget the larger issue of redemption.

After beating the Astros on Wednesday in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series and staving off elimination, Julian Tavarez was just happy to phone home.

"I think what I did tonight is I got a win, I put two zeroes up there," said Tavarez, who pitched two innings and was credited with his second win of the series after Jim Edmonds' 12th-inning home run sealed a 6-4 Cardinals win.

"I put a lot behind. I can get some better sleep tonight. My dad will talk to me."

Tavarez's father, Frank, was watching Game 4 from his home in Miami and saw Julian's nationally televised meltdown. After Houston's Carlos Beltran reached for a low pitch and drove a go-ahead home run, Tavarez took out his frustration on a dugout telephone, among other items. He suffered two broken fingers in the tirade but felt real pain when he called home.

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According to Tavarez, here's how it went:

Julian: "Dad!"

Dad: "What?"

Julian: "I've got two broken fingers."

Dad: "Dude, you deserve it. You don't get no sympathy from me. Now go ahead and prove that you can do it."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was upset, too.

"He has that right," Tavarez shrugged. "Everybody has all the right to be upset with me, because what I did was stupid. But I can't take it back now. What I did, I did. It's done already. If there is a way I could erase it, I would. But I can't."

Tavarez's Game 6 performance may have helped. He came on at the start of the 11th inning and retired the side in order on 10 pitches. After the lights-out Astros closer Brad Lidge held the Cardinals scoreless in the bottom of the inning, Tavarez came back out and started the 12th with a rematch against Beltran.

"The thought in my mind was, 'Don't let anybody get on base. Don't go deep in the count on anybody. Just get as many outs as I can, quickly as I can,' " Tavarez said.

Beltran hit a sharp grounder to first baseman Albert Pujols. Instead of flipping to Tavarez, who was wearing a specially fitted glove for his cast-covered left hand, Pujols slid to the bag in time to retire Beltran.

Jeff Bagwell then popped out to bring up an unlikely pinch-hitter. With his bench already emptied, Astros manager Phil Garner turned to Game 5 starter Brandon Backe, who was an outfielder in the Devil Rays organization before converting to pitching in 2001.

   Julian Tavarez  /   P
Born: 05/22/73
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 195 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R

Backe worked the count full, then waved at a high fastball.

Tavarez jumped off the mound and pumped his good hand. He said he approached Backe "just like you're facing Barry Bonds."

"'Just go ahead and pitch tough to his guy,'" Tavarez said he told himself. "He's tough. When I struck him out, I got really excited, because I knew Pujols, [Scott] Rolen, Edmonds were coming up and we were going to get this win. I knew."

He was right. Astros reliever Dan Miceli walked Pujols and retired Rolen before Edmonds deposited a game-winning home run into the home bullpen.

"We have no tomorrow now," Tavarez said of Thursday's decisive Game 7. "They don't have tomorrow either."

At least he no longer has to worry about yesterday. Tavarez was the subject of intense media coverage after his tirade and was fined a reported $10,000 by Major League Baseball for throwing at Bagwell's head later in Game 4.

Tavarez disputed that charge and said he hopes to put the entire incident behind him.

"It's been tough, you know?" he said. "I go to bed every night just thinking if I'm going to pitch again, if Tony is going to bring me into the game. I had to be begging, 'Tony, Tony, please! I can do it!' He had been really concerned, the pitching coach [Dave Duncan], too. I had to convince them that I can pitch. I had to prove it to them."

He also proved it to his teammates.

"He threw the ball unbelievably," Rolen said. "He came out and pitched with a broken hand. He could barely catch the ball when you threw it back to him. That's as well as he's thrown all year."

Said fellow reliever Ray King: "It just goes to show that he's a true competitor. Sometimes we do things that we're ashamed of. Tonight is something that he can look back on and say, 'I did something stupid, but I turned around and did something positive for my team.'"

Tavarez said he learned that same lesson from dear old dad.

"My dad always told me, 'If the past is good, bring it to the present,'" Tavarez said. "And, 'If the past is bad, leave it in the past.'"

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

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