We'll find out if Houston's too tired, St. Louis too relaxed
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Cardinals pitcher Woody Williams listens to a reporter's question during a news conference at Busch Stadium on Tuesday. (James Finley/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- The Astros don't get much of a breather. The Cardinals might have relaxed a little bit too much.
That'll all begin to shake out Wednesday night when the National League Central rivals clash for the 19th time this season in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series at Busch Stadium.
The Astros just finished a tough first-round series against the Braves on Monday. Phil Garner, who's managing for the first time in the playoffs, said it's not a tough way for his team to go.
"No, not at all. I think it works well," Garner said. "I would much rather do this than to have several days to wait around."
The Cardinals finished off the Dodgers on Sunday in Los Angeles after dominating them in every phase of the game. Tony La Russa, who is managing in his ninth League Championship Series -- four of them with the Cardinals -- believes that could work to his team's detriment.
"The tougher the series is, the better chance you have in the next one," he said. "Competition toughens you. The better the competition, the tougher you are when you survive it."
The Cardinals haven't been pressed all season. They won 105 games and their division by 13 games over the Astros, who haven't had a chance to gasp since they began an heroic second-half charge for the NL's Wild Card berth that ended on the final day of the regular season with their 92nd win, one more than the San Francisco Giants.
Because they were pressed to the limit in the Division Series, their starting pitching is in disarray, while La Russa was able to set up his rotation to his liking, starting Woody Williams on seven day's rest Wednesday night with Matt Morris, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis to follow.
Chris Carpenter, their usual No. 1 starter, hasn't been available for the postseason because of nerve damage in his upper right arm. And Williams, who beat the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, has been slipped into that slot.
"It's real special," said Williams, who defeated the Dodgers, 8-3, in Game 1 of the NLDS. "Having the confidence of the manager and the team behind me, it goes without saying that it's very special. It will always be for me. I think the way things went in the first game of the Division Series, it had a lot of play on their decision. Hopefully it will turn out as good this time. "
Brandon Backe / P
Weight: 180 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Garner opted to go with Brandon Backe in Game 1 on three days' rest, informing him of the decision Tuesday only about 15 minutes before the right-hander made an interview-room appearance. Pete Munro, who was passed over in the NLDS and hasn't worked since Oct. 1, is scheduled to start Thursday's Game 2.
Garner said he's not daunted by having to go with the back of end of the rotation against two of the Cards' top aces.
"This is what it took for us to get here," Garner said. "This is what we'll go with. Brandon's pitched well for us, Pete's pitched well for us. Our bullpen is OK, ready to go. Who knows how the game is going to turn out, but we're delighted to be here and we don't feel handicapped in any way whatsoever."
With Andy Pettitte and Wade Miller out for the season, Garner went with a three-man rotation in the first round. Thus, his top two starters -- Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt -- won't be available until Games 3 and 4, respectively. Both NL Cy Young Award candidates started two games each against the Braves.
When Clemens came down with the flu, Backe replaced him against the Rockies on the final day of the season and won the game they just had to have. Ditto in Game 3 of the NLDS.
"Those were pretty key games that I was in," said Backe, the 26-year-old who made nine starts this season. "It's adding experience. I haven't been pitching very long. But just to be out there on the field in situations like that definitely helps to prepare me for this game.
Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals
at St. Louis
STL 10, HOU 7
at St. Louis
at St. Louis
at St. Louis
* If necessary
La Russa said his team's not overconfident, despite the way the NLCS rotations stack up. The Cardinals lost to the Astros five of the six times the two teams faced in September when the Redbirds were simply wading toward the shore as the season ended and Houston had to fight for every game.
Overall, the Cardinals lost 10 of the 18 times the teams faced this season so La Russa is well aware how dangerous the Astros can be.
"I know we're not going to fall into the trap, because Clemens or Oswalt is not pitching, that we've got some big advantage," La Russa said. "They'll have a legitimate starting pitcher, a legitimate bullpen, a legitimate club behind them. What you'll see is, you better separate every game, seven times and try to get four (wins) before they do. I think that's our best attitude."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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