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07/10/06 8:25 PM ET

Tired Cards excited to be in Pittsburgh

Four St. Louis players make late-night trip to All-Star Game

PITTSBURGH -- As the day progressed, so did the legend.

The more Scott Rolen talked about how late he and his Cardinals teammates arrived to St. Louis after Sunday night's game in Houston, the later the answer he gave.

"We're up to about 4 in the morning," Rolen said with a smile. "Truth be told, it was probably 3 a.m."

Whatever it was, it was late -- or early, depending on how you look at it. So when Rolen, Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter made the trip with their families to Pittsburgh on Monday for the 77th All-Star Game, they were dragging a bit.

Not that they were complaining, of course. The Cardinals were happy to be here. And upon arrival, they learned another teammate, David Eckstein, had been added to the National League squad as a last-minute replacement for the Mets' Jose Reyes, who's out with a hand injury.

Eckstein didn't make it to PNC Park in time to talk with the media, but Pujols did the talking for him.

"He definitely deserves to be here," Pujols said. "He's a great player. He's obviously one of the guys that got us going in the lineup and it's good to see him being here in the lineup."

Eckstein, Pujols, Rolen and Carpenter have all been to the All-Star Game before, so the event doesn't necessarily carry much in the way of novelty for the Cards.

But for Rolen, getting to this stage in '06, just a year removed from major shoulder surgery, was an achievement worth savoring.

"This is a special All-Star Game for me," he said. "You know, [the Mets'] David Wright was voted in and certainly earned that. I kind of had to earn my way on this one, which is great."

When he went under the knife, Rolen had no guarantee that his career would ever be the same. But a season in which he's hit .331 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs has again established him as one of the game's premier third basemen.

"I had a pretty extensive surgery on my left shoulder, and you never know what's going to happen the following year," Rolen said. "All I can say is that I have thanks that I need to hand out to people -- Dr. [Timothy] Kremchek in Cincinnati and [athletic trainer and physical therapist Hap] Hudson, who was training me for a lot of years. They helped me from the beginning and did an unbelievable job. They worked as hard or harder than I did and gave me an opportunity to be here today."

Rolen and his teammates are hoping to make the most of their opportunity to dispel some of the AL dominance that's been taking place in the All-Star Game and Interleague Play. The NL hasn't won the Midsummer Classic since 1996.

"It's crazy," Pujols said. "You look at those numbers and you can't believe it. But that's part of the game and that's why you play this game for so long and you never figure out why things happen. [The AL has] a great team and a great league, and so do we. Hopefully we can turn this thing around."

Pujols is the only Cardinal in the starting lineup for the NL squad. Rolen and Eckstein will likely get in the game as reserves, while Carpenter, who just pitched eight innings Sunday in Houston, isn't sure whether or not he'll be called upon.

"We talked about it, and I think that I'll probably be held back in case of an emergency, extra innings or something like that," Carpenter said. "I will throw, if need be, but they have enough guys and enough innings that I won't have to be used."

That should give Carpenter plenty of time to rest up after Monday's travel schedule, which gets increasingly complex the more the Cards talk about it.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.