Thursday Interviews – TLR, Mulder & Eckstein

The Cardinals manager plus Thursday's winning pitcher and offensive sparkplug answer questions from the press after their NLDS Game 2 victory.

Tony La Russa


Tony, Mark's performance today. Would you say you got what you wanted out of him?


After that line drive we got more than we expected. I mean, that ball hit him flush. Barry was saying that it was muscle and not joint, so it was going to be sore but he should be able to pitch. He would keep us abreast. That was more than we thought.


Did you ever think any time to take him out?


We kept talking to him, watching the way he was throwing. He threw the same as he did before he got hit, so we just talked to him, watched him and in that one inning got him out.


How did you keep him loose the whole time? Were you afraid at all that he would tighten up or that arm was -- that something would go wrong there?


The way I saw it get hit, I would have thought, you know, maybe a couple outs, maybe another inning or two. I didn't expect him to get into the seventh, but he would get off in between innings and he would get -- I'm not sure what they were doing, whether it was hot or cold. They were treating him and we watched him through. He wasn't altering anything. He was throwing good stuff.


Tony, the Padres felt good about their last series today. How important was it for Mark to put up zeros early?


Well, as you can see, we had a lot of respect for Pedro Astacio, so we thought the way the game had to be played was for Mark to really hold them down. I mean, we got some runs. We didn't really do very much, didn't string hits together, so I think the first key to the game was Mark and then, you know, you get a guy on base and turn a double play.


Tony, David seemed to think that after Mark got hit it actually seemed to calm him down just a bit and his ball was sinking a little better. Was that your observation also?


He's playing behind him. He's got a better view than I do. I mean, if he says it, as smart as he is and honest, I don't think there's a BS bone in his body, so I think that's probably -- he had a better sinker. That's a difficult way to improve your sinker, though. It's not -- he needs to try to work on his mechanics next time.


Tony, some baseball people theorize as steroids go out of the game, small ball will come back. Do you think that there's going to be a renaissance, and do you think the way your team played today is kind of an example to be followed?


Well, I don't -- I don't think there was a whole lot different today versus other years. We have always been taught to play the scoreboard. We play the scoreboard. Only thing is that sometimes, you know, if David is at the plate, you might think about a squeeze. If Reggie's at the plate, you're going to let him swing, but you know, we try to have a bunch of weapons. We try to play the scoreboard, and that's been true, you know. I was taught about it a long time ago, and it was true before I heard about it, and it's going to be true, so I think there's always a place where runs are hard to come by. You're facing quality pitching and you're going to have to do something to create an opportunity.


Tony, your game on Saturday night on the west coast is 10:00 St. Louis time. Do you think that's a disservice to the fans here in St. Louis to have it so late?


No. Our fans are here at 12:00 on a weekday, right? They're going to be there if they would play at midnight, 1:00. They're going to watch it. I mean, Sunday's a day off, so my biggest concern is that gives Friday night, the off day in the gaslight district. I may have to have curfew. I'm going to see how many wives are on that plane so we get some rest.


Tony, three double plays in game one, four today. How important have those been in getting to where you're at so far?


It's part of what I said earlier in spring training. I really liked what I was seeing in the middle in the field because you watch the drills. I mean, Dave gets to the ball, he feeds it quick. Mark's real quick releasing it, a strong arm and vice versa, and they both have no fear, so it's the way we played all year long. I mean, the total was there, and you know, our pitchers are not afraid to pitch to contact and hopefully get a ground ball.


Tony, Randy Flores getting that last out, key out late in the ballgame. He's really come on late, hasn't he?


It's an important role. He had some issues coming into this thing, and we had to get them resolved in our favor. You know, Mark Sweeney is one of the best pinch hitters in the game. That's a tough out. I just watched the replay of  the strikeout pitch. That situation will come up a lot. Our condolences to Ray. Ray's father passed away today so we weren't going to use him, but both those guys we're going to need, and that was a big out just like Tavarez, you know, getting Klesko out. That's a three-run homer waiting. He looked solid all the way through.


Tony, it's not obvious that you're relaxed more, going to their place?


We're not real fond of relaxing and being comfortable. I heard David's comment about home field advantage, you know. We're going to their ballpark. Their fans are not pulling for the Cardinals, they're pulling for the Padres. We expect very difficult competition, and one of the things I like the best about our team, they're very solid between the ears. There's nobody will take anything for granted and celebrating. Woody Williams; we know all about Woody. He's going to be out there battling with everything he's got, so you've got to win three to get to the next level, and we know the Padres and their ballpark expect a real tough ballgame.




Mark Mulder


Mark, how does your arm feel?


I'm okay. It's pretty sore, but I can't really like bend it all the way up this way or kind of that way, but it'll be okay.


Mark, can you describe what that felt like?


You know what? At first -- at first I'm looking for the ball, you know, and I kind of took a couple steps towards the ball once I saw it because I knew the guy was going to be safe, and then I realized how bad it hurt and then I kind of bent over, but it kind of got -- it got a little tighter each inning warming up, so like my first, second, third warmup pitch, I just tried to basically throw it as hard as I could just to loosen it up, you know. Once the inning starts, I mean, there's so much adrenaline. It really didn't bother me that much.


Did you think you were going to have to come out?


I didn't want to come out. If I couldn't have made good pitches, then I would have said, you know, all right, I've had enough, but I mean, I felt I could still make some good pitches and I did.


Mark, what were you doing in between innings to keep it loose or at least try to keep it loose?


Just stretching it. Just stretching it and heating it, putting a heat pack on it as much as I could. I don't know if it really made a difference, but I threw some balls underneath in the net where the hitters hit underneath just to keep it loose. That was really the only thing I was trying to do.


Mark, your ability to get ground ball outs, I know you're a guy that throws the ball down in the strike zone. Talk a little bit about the groundouts, the double plays, how important that was.


I like using my defense, you know. That's why you give up a hit. I'm not going to get that mad about giving up a hit because you make one good pitch, the next pitch, you get a double play, and our defense, you know, Eck, the couple he turned with Grudzielanek and the one for Albert, those were huge for me. Those were big plays but that's part of my game in a way. I'm literally trying to get a double play, so whether it's something in or something down and away, I mean, that's -- that's part of my game and that's one of my strengths, I guess.


Mark, two questions for you. One right here. Can you just kind of show us exactly where it hit you?


It's like right above my elbow. It's right on my bicep but it's on the side. It's not on the front; it's on the side of my arm.


Do you figure it's just a bruise for a few days?


It kind of looks like I have a golf ball in my bicep, but I don't know. Randa's raked me all season, so I should have been ready for it. Every ball he hits off me is up the middle and I couldn't react quick enough. He hit me before I could get my glove up.


Eckstein thought your sinker improved considerably after you got hit. They thought you probably pitched better.


Probably because I couldn't overthrow, you know. There's so much adrenaline, especially at the first start of the playoffs. You might try to do a little too much but I really wasn't. I was really trying to stay calm out there and make pitches. Even in the first inning I got three ground balls, so it really -- it really didn't affect me that much once the inning started and I started making pitches.


Mark, if this were a game here say in June, do you think you would have stepped off and not been back in?


I don't know. That's tough to say because if it was the same thing I probably still would have wanted to stay out there, but like I said, it's a playoff game so the focus, the intensity, the adrenaline is just that much more, so I didn't want to come out of that game. Like I said, if I couldn't have made pitches, then I would have.


Mark, this is your first start in the National League. Can you compare it to playing in Oakland in the American League and also the small ball as opposed to the home run ball they play in the American League?


Well, I mean, you know, there's little differences, you know. I mean, Tony said to me in spring training, there's going to be games where you getting the bunt down is going to get you some runs, and tonight was an example of it. It took me three tries to do it but I got it down eventually, so it's a little different with the pitchers hitting, obviously, and you know, we squeezed a lot on this team, and stuff like that but we still got the big hitters, you know. They're still doing their thing.


Pitching in Busch Stadium in October versus pitching in Yankee Stadium in October. What's the difference?


That's my home fans. They're cheering for you instead of cheering against you. The intensity, how loud they are, just everything about it. It's so much fun. I mean, these fans, these fans are so into every pitch and every play. It's so great to be out there in front of 50 some thousand fans trying to do your job out there. It makes it a lot more fun.


Mark, in postseason play your earned run average is about a run and a half less than the regular season across your career. Is that just a matter of intensity, or could you make any assessment on that?


I don't know if there's really one thing but I said earlier it's the focus. I mean, I know when I'm out there in the playoffs it's a different focus. You're more focused. I mean, that's why I think you see so many low scoring playoff games. A lot of the pitchers I think need to step it up in the playoffs, really, without trying to do too much, but that's what makes it great.


Mark, going back to San Diego, what's the confidence level of the team?


Well, I would hope very high. I mean, we're up 2-0, and God knows I've been in this situation before and not won the series, but it's -- this team's a little different, man. It's going to be fun. Mo's going to go out there and hopefully throw a good game, and we'll see what happens.


Mark, do you think this puts to rest once and for all the day versus night thing?


I hope so, but I'm sure you guys will still keep talking about it. It's fun to put in the paper, I guess.




David Eckstein


David, your ability to manufacture runs today, especially those on the fielders' choice, talk a little about that.


That's very big for us. We have many ways to go and attack you and we got a lot of bombers, but also when kwe have to, we can play small ball and find ways to manufacture. Many people didn't realize it, but the double that Nunez hit was a hit and run, too. We were just trying to put as much pressure as we can on them and put us in a better situation.


Can you talk a little bit about your infield and the double plays? It was huge the first game, huge today again. Something you guys take a lot of pride in?


Without a doubt. The person who doesn't get much credit is Jose Oquendo. From day one in spring training, he had me and Grudz trying to get a little better, a little quicker. Grudzielanek turns one of the quickest double plays in the league. It's something we pretty much from day one. It's a lot of fun. I think you have to give a lot of credit to Mulder. Mulder early on probably wasn't as sharp as he'd like. He let some runners on but was able to get the ground when he needed.


How many squeeze bunts have you had this year, and what goes through your mind when you see the sign from Jose Oquendo?


I had quite a few; probably about four or five, I think, on the year. I know that at some point in time it's going to be on, especially if we didn't do it the first time that sometime during the second at-bat with a man on third that it was going to happen, but I love it. It's one of my favorite plays. All the pressure's on to get the ball down, you know, and I just enjoy that.


David, can you describe what you're thinking when Mulder takes that ball off his arm in the second inning?


I was kind of happy. No, I'm joking. It calmed him down, you know what I mean. I think his sinker started working a lot better, and he was able to hit the zone. We were actually scared. You don't want to have to make up seven innings, and that's going to be tough. If you notice right after that happened, he wasn't muscling the pitches up to the plate. He was going up there and just letting it flow, and his sinker started working. He did such a fantastic job. I know it was killing him, but he's a tough guy.


What did you think Mark's chances were of getting down a two-strike bunt?


After the first two attempts? I mean, he battles up there. You know, I mean, it was one of those things. He does a good job. I mean, he -- he does a good job with the bat just being his first year over here in the National League, and he laid down a perfect bunt, you know. It was one of those things that you've just got to tip your cap to him. It was a pretty good pitch, and he was able to get it down. You saw what happened the next time up, but we're just, you know, very fortunate he was able to get that one down.


David, let's talk about home field advantage. You guys can't ask for better situation like that.


We had home field advantage. That's the job, and the one thing we've gotta do, we've gotta stay aggressive. We've gotta stay aggressive. The guys in the clubhouse are ready to play. We can't wait to get over there, and we'll be ready to play at 8:00 on Saturday night.


Speaking of 8:00, what do you think of that starting time? For your fans, that's 10:00 here.


I was sound asleep last night by that time. It's going to be a little bit different. They're trying to accommodate everybody, and there's a lot, you know, more of a prime time game probably going on and with the college football, they just, you know, put us wherever they wanted to put us. Our job is to show up and play. Whatever time they make for us, we'll be ready to play. They said 9:00 -- I mean 8:00 and we'll be ready to play.


Can you talk about Reggie's ability to come through with the clutch?


He's big. I saw it in 2002 when I was with the Angels and he was with the Giants. There's -- there's a certain coincidence. How come every time he plays on a team, their team is successful? I mean, he's a big part of that, and he's great in the clubhouse, and he thrives on those moments, on his at bats with men in scoring position are unbelievable. He takes them and is able to get good wood on the ball and just find some holes. He's a big key. He's a big key for this club, and we're very lucky to have him.


David, at the end of the season you guys have gone through sort of a downslide, but this team really looks like it's in rhythm. Can you flip a switch? Can you do it like that? What do you attribute it to?


Going down the stretch we're trying to get everybody healthy. Once we had it clinched, we were trying to get everybody healthy and ready to play. In this game we can't flip a switch. We're not that good, but I think this past weekend coming into the final three days here at Busch and with all the distractions and everything like that, I think that helped us get ready for the situations today. We were able to come out there and -- and play hard, especially on that Sunday game. We were down 5-1 and we were able to come back and win that game. This club is relentless, and it's -- it's a good quality to have.


Some of the things that the Cardinals did today are almost extinct to the American League. How much more time -- how much more emphasis is there on this team than on the Angels and on other teams on small ball?


Scioscia does a good job with it in Anaheim, but for the rest of the league, it's like you said, it's almost non-existent. It's something that it's not really played over there. You have so many big hitters, especially with the DH, you don't want to give up one at-bat. You come over here, and as you can see, the game works. I mean, you put a lot of pressure on the opposition and you create holes for yourself, and it's something that -- it's a good way to score runs. It's -- I mean, I saw it last night with the Angels playing the Yankees. You have Steve Finley bunting with a man on first, you know what I mean. You won't ever see that. AK comes up there and does the same thing. It's something that wins you ball games, and Tony has a good knack of picking the right pitches, putting us in a good situation to succeed.


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