Suppan not sweating new assignment
Cardinals veteran pushed back from planned Game 2 start
NEW YORK -- For Jeff Suppan, it's all about command. Command of changing speeds to keep hitters off balance. Command of the strike zone. Command of a game, keeping big innings to a minimum, not letting the moment overwhelm him.These are things he can control. What he can't control, Suppan reasons, is best left to the concerns of others. His keep-it-real attitude clearly has served the 31-year-old Cardinals right-hander well in big-game moments such as those that await him in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Busch Stadium, back home in the heartland. After St. Louis' 9-6 victory on Friday night at Shea Stadium, the series is even.
In a game of constant adjustments, Suppan adapted professionally, moving right along, when he discovered he'd been shoved back to Game 3 to accommodate ace Chris Carpenter in Game 2."I think you try to keep it as normal as possible," Suppan said of his preparation for the Mets' heavy-handed lineup. "I think it doesn't matter when you're pitching. As an athlete, as a baseball player, you have to deal with distractions or delays. You prepare the best you can. "So if it's the playoffs or not, you still try to keep that same frame of mind. You're focused, but you're loose, because you don't really know what's going to happen." A native Oklahoman who attended Crespi High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino, Suppan has a history of elevating his performance under pressure. It dates to his mid-teens, when he drove his team to the 15-16-year-old Mickey Mantle World Series title in Waterbury, Conn. His credentials as a big-game artist were validated in the 2004 postseason, his first season in St. Louis after stays in Boston, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Boston again. In front of family and friends, Suppan beat the Dodgers in the decisive Game 4 of the Division Series, yielding two runs in seven innings.
Making two starts against Houston in the NLCS, Suppan ran head-on into the Rocket, Roger Clemens, in Game 7 and won a memorable duel by holding the Astros to two runs (one earned) in six innings.In the World Series sweep by Boston, Suppan performed capably, surrendering three runs in seven innings while absorbing a loss. A 16-game winner his first two seasons with the Cards, Suppan was 12-7 this season with a 4.12 ERA. "Each of his first two years, 16 is a big total," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "And you've got to give him special credit in '04 when he pitched the clinching game a couple of times. Those are all really important for the way those seasons went. "This year in the second half, when we struggled so much, he's the one guy who really was a consistent starter who would give us some wins." On the second-to-last day of the season, Suppan delivered another pressure victory at home against Milwaukee -- seven innings, two runs -- to position the Cards for their third consecutive NL Central title with a Houston loss. Moving on to the NLDS against San Diego, a team that had roughed him up on Sept. 25 with five runs (four earned) in 3 2/3 innings, Suppan once again struggled, lasting only 4 1/3 innings in his Game 3 outing at Busch Stadium. The Padres reached him for three runs on six hits and three walks. The big blow was a two-run double by Russell Branyan, followed by Geoff Blum's sacrifice fly. Suppan, outdueled by Chris Young, was charged with the loss. "I gave up three runs and missed with the location of a changeup [to Branyan]," Suppan said. "I mean, that happens. I'm really just focusing on what I have to do to pitch against the Mets right now." Distilling his pitching philosophy to its essence, Suppan said: "I think when you keep it at the basics, you're able to control your emotions a little bit better. Of course, you're going to have different feelings [in big games] -- maybe more adrenaline or more thoughts going in, possibly. "I think when you're able to just focus on that bottom line, it takes all those extra distractions away from your thoughts and puts them on the task at hand." The Mets, of course, create their own brand of distractions, starting with explosive Jose Reyes and running down through a batting order as complete and versatile as any in the game. "Yeah, he's a good player," Suppan said of Reyes, whose vitality and multiple skill set everything in motion for New York. "I mean, he does a lot of things well. He's a good leadoff guy. Obviously, keeping him off base is key. "But you just really try to make your pitches, make him hit it on the ground -- and, hopefully, at somebody. And you go from there." So there you have it. Another day, another challenge in the life of Jeff Suppan, big-game pitcher.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.