Astros rested, ready for NLCS
Two off-days help to prepare for Wednesday's opener
ST. LOUIS -- You would think the Houston Astros would have arrived in St. Louis tired or maybe emotionally drained following their classic 18-inning victory on Sunday.You would have thought after reaching a new high in their amazing season, the underdog Astros might have displayed some after-effects or signs that they might have a little trouble getting refocused for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Not the Astros. These guys are as calm as the Mississippi. Fatigued? Forget about it. "I think if we would have had to play today, or certainly if we would have had to play yesterday in Atlanta, it would have been a huge factor. But I think we've had enough time, hopefully, to regroup," said rookie Chris Burke, whose walk-off homer clinched the win over Atlanta. "With the huge task we have at hand, I think everybody will be able to bounce back and get in the game and play up to the best of our capabilities." The Astros held a light workout on Tuesday, and never was that description more apt. Everyone took their cuts -- and not all were in the batting cage. Burke was getting needled from his teammates regarding his numerous media appearances as a result of his home run. Even Roger Clemens got in the jibes, wondering aloud when Burke was going to be "doing Letterman." "I turned him down, I told him I was doing [Jay] Leno instead," Burke joked. "There's been a lot of jabbing, all good-natured. It's all been good-hearted." Manager Phil Garner tied a postseason record by using 23 players on Sunday. The two days off, however, means everyone who would normally be available will be ready if needed in Game 1. "The only thing that we probably lost in that game was probably a few voices, mine included," Garner said. "It's coming back, though. [Craig] Biggio, of course, was out there for 18 innings. [Brad] Ausmus [played] 18 innings and [Jason] Lane [was in] for 18 innings, and I think it's probably good they had a day or two to physically recover from it.
"A couple of our pitchers had gone longer than they had gone all year. I'm sure they will be fine and I'll find out after our workout here. If you lose [Game 4 against the Braves], I think it takes an emotional toll on you. But if you win it, I think it puts a couple of feathers in your cap and I think the guys are feeling pretty good about it."Third baseman Morgan Ensberg also went the distance, but Ensberg, like the others who were out there for all five hours and 50 minutes on Sunday, said he was good to go. "We've had two days off, so I don't even know if the extra innings really made anybody too much more fatigued, since there were only a handful of us that played all 18 innings," Ensberg said. "The next day, I felt fine -- a little bit tired, but not more than what I normally would be." Reliever Dan Wheeler, who went three innings on Sunday, said the long game won't be a factor. "We're ready to go," Wheeler said. "The two days off really helped us out, and with the light workout today, it's not a problem." If anything, the Astros are coming in on a high. The confidence from that amazing come-from-behind win over the Braves was on everyone's lips on Tuesday. They have another advantage in that they aren't expected to beat St. Louis. They weren't supposed to beat Atlanta either. The underdog role is one that seems tailor made for the Astros. Besides no return to Atlanta, Sunday's win also means the rotation sets up perfectly, with Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Clemens set to go against the Cardinals. "We're relaxed, why shouldn't we be?" Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said. "We weren't supposed to get this far, but here we are." They're here all right. Rested, ready and having a ball.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.