Friday Interviews – La Russa, Morris, Woody

The Cardinals manager and Saturday's starting pitchers answer questions from the press on the off-day Friday.

Tony La Russa

 

Does facing a guy like Woody, who you know so well, change the dynamic of the game at all?

 

Well, I think it makes it a lot more personal. I mean, whoever you're facing, you know, professionally what's at stake. But when you face a guy who's been such a great teammate, we have experienced so much together, it makes it a lot more personal. We know him; he knows us. You know, he got mad against their hitters. Just the Woody side of it, I mean, it's coincidence or whatever, but it's definitely a different type of game.

 

Can you update us on Mulder? Is there a chance he might be done for a while?

 

Well, he's real sore. Hoping it wouldn't be that sore. There's a question. Got to wait 24, 48, 72 hours before you see how quickly some of the soreness gets out of there. Right now we don't know when he'll throw off the mound. If we can win another game, get into the next round, when he'd be able to start. Just going to have to stay tuned. But it's definitely sore, as we suspected.

 

Is Ray King available? How will you use him, given his situation?

 

Ray did make the trip with us. You know, I think we all learned -- not all of us, but most of us have learned, whenever you have a close family member that's not doing well, when it actually happens, you know, that's a very tough situation to deal with. We were not going to pitch him yesterday. But I think he would be available tomorrow. You know, for sure we'll use him as a left-hand reliever. We got a right-hand starter. They'll have some of their left-handers in the lineup. Wouldn't hesitate to use him.

 

When Matt has had some problems this year, has there been a consistent identifier that would explain how he gets into trouble or he gets off form?

 

Well, he was real good early, I mean, for a long time early. Then he went into a real sluggish period. I think it really was explained mostly with location. Now, when you have a location problem, is it mechanical or is it concentration? You'd have to pick the location mistake and then try to figure out which of the two. All along, it hadn't been physical. He didn't have a good start the last one, but the two starts where he threw the ball really well... He's healthy, I'm sure he'll be concentrating, you know, we're excited to send him out there.

 

You and Duncan have always had great faith in him. You've referred to him in the highest -- some of the highest compliments you've ever given of a player that's performed for you. What is it that you see in him?

 

Well, he earned those compliments. I mean, you watch the guy throw on the sides, you say, "Boy." All he is then is just a guy with talent. But he's taken the ball for us a lot. He's been in a lot of critical situations. He's pitched really well a great deal of the time. He's had a couple times where he wasn't good. Last year when he wasn't good, I mean, if I had known how cranky his arm was, he wouldn't have gotten the ball, especially pitching with three days' rest in the World Series. That's not something you do. I can remember the games in 2003 when he came back, he had a broken hand, got back quicker than we expected. All of a sudden then he hurts his ankle. Always pitched with a lot of courage, a lot of passion.  You know, it's just the thing nowadays, a pitcher can get careless with his delivery. I think we've mentioned this from time to time, Matt will get wrapped up in competing, what he's throwing, where he's throwing it. Every once in a while I think he's probably tipping his pitches. I think that's been a part of his struggles from time to time. Tomorrow he's going to have to be careful because there's some veteran hitters on the other side.

 

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Matt Morris

 

How do you remember your last trip out here in the playoffs in '96? You weren't

here?

 

No, I don't remember it.

 

Your confidence level right now this season, heading into this start?

 

Well, it's as high as it could be. You know, this is what it's all about. It's all about getting to this point, into the playoffs, getting the opportunity to pitch, go out and compete, concentrate on every pitch and see what happens.

 

You're competing against a friend and former teammate. How tough is Woody

Williams?

 

Oh, you know, he's going to go out there and compete, we all know that. I was able to witness that over the last couple years. I know Woody's going to go out there. He knows our lineup. He's got a nice advantage. They're going to come out hungry. He's going to go out there and compete. I've seen it in playoff situations; I've seen it during the course of the year. You know, my job is to go out there and execute, compete right with him.

 

If you didn't know David Eckstein, just saw him on the street, you probably wouldn't think he's a ball player.

 

I think that's the beauty of baseball, though. You can be any shape or size, go out there and compete. At this level, maybe not. But once you start talking to him, get an idea of where he is mentally, you'll know he's a tremendous competitor, he's a winner. He is a catalyst for this team. What a great pickup for this year to replace Edgar (Renteria).

 

Could you have imagined what he would have done for this team, the grand slam, the suicide squeeze? Seems like he does everything.

 

He does whatever he's asked to do. There's no complaining. He just wants to win the game. Doesn't matter if he's called on to squeeze bunt or if he's called on to hit-and-run or turn a double play, hang in there at second base, he does whatever it takes. I think it's rubbed off on a lot of guys.

 

I know you put a lot of thought into what do you when you pitch. You study yourself. When things haven't gone well for you, have you been able to identify any one or two things, anything consistently, that there's a reason for it?

 

I think bottom line is the location of the pitch. Whether you're struggling mechanically or your selection is off or you're not executing the pitch, the bottom line is that the pitches that are hit, whether they're curve balls, change-ups, fast balls, cutters, whatever they are, usually they're in the same area. You keep the ball in the edges of the plate is the bottom line. When you're pulling off or your mechanics are intact, if the ball is in a good location, it's probably going to get the job down. Bottom line is to concentrate out there, keep it down, and work both sides of the plate, keep them off balance, you know, kind of attack these hitters.

 

This probably isn't foremost in your mind right now, but you are a free agent after the season. Given any thought to your desire to come back or maybe go out and test the market?

 

Right now I'm just worried about tomorrow. These things, I dealt with it all last year when my arm was a little sore. You know, I'm worried about tomorrow. There's nothing else on my mind but tomorrow. All that other stuff will take care of itself. Would I like to pitch for St. Louis? Of course, there's no better place to play. Great fans, great friends on the team, great friends in the clubhouse. It's all I know. Great manager, coaches, pitching coach. It's what I know. But right now it's about concentrating on tomorrow, going out and competing.

 

A lot of pitchers over the last two years have talked about this place being a good place to pitch. I was wondering your observations, what you like about the park, what you might not like about it.

 

I've only pitched here once, and I didn't fare so well. Is that what you're getting at (laughter)? No, you know, it's a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Do I know that firsthand? No. But, you know, especially at night, I don't think the ball travels as well. The bottom line is I'm going to try to keep the ball on the ground anyway, not give them the opportunity for the big hit. It's beautiful. The grass, the infield is spectacular. Not going to have any live hops or bad hops. It's a beautiful place. The weather's great. But I believe it's a pitcher-friendly ballpark, so we'll have to test that out.

 

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Woody Williams

 

Just generally the opportunity to go against your old team, a good friend, in a game of this much significance.

 

I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's just a shame we're against the wall as much as we are. But my job is to go out there and help us continue the season, and that's what hopefully I'll be able to do out there.

 

What do you admire most about Matt Morris? You have been friends, you've watched him pitch over the years. What turns you on about him?

 

Just his resiliency. He's been through some injuries and some tough times as far as health-wise. He's never given up and he's always come back stronger. When he's going out there, you definitely know what you're up against and what he's going to give you every time he goes out there.

 

As a guy who has pitched in the playoffs before, do you see players expand the zone, particularly when they're behind in a series?

 

That's a good question. I think for the most part the guys that do have some experience handle it very well. But I know when the chips are down and your back's against the wall, things may change a little bit. Might get a little bit uptight. Tomorrow we have really nothing to lose and everything to gain by going out there and playing a nice, solid ballgame.

 

Can you discuss the late start of the game tomorrow night, then again Sunday afternoon. Is that kind of a slap in your face, for the networks to bump you in time?

 

I don't think so. It works good for us here. I mean, it's late for people in the Midwest and people out East, but here it's 8:00 our time. I think everyone knows everything revolves around a couple of the teams as far as the networks and the prime time TV. That's the way it is. You just have to deal with it.

 

As a veteran, what do you bring to the table in a game like this, your past playoff experience, that you can share with the team either before the game or when you go out on the field?

 

I think, you know, pretty much that kind of stuff has been relayed. We've all talked about it. It's not just me. There have been times when teams have come back from the situation we're in. We are in a hole, but the hole's not closed up yet. We still have some life. We just got to go out there and win tomorrow and see what happens after that, where that takes us.

 

In terms of emotions of facing your former team, the fact that you've already faced them this year, does it reduce that a little bit, make it easier just to pitch?

 

Pitching against an offense like the Cardinals never makes it easy to pitch at all. I am familiar with their hitters; they are familiar with me. It's about me executing my pitches tomorrow and making sure I do what I want to do and not let them dictate what happens, but for me to take control of the game.

 

Is it more emotional than going against just any opponent?

 

I don't believe so. Not in the situation now. It may have been if it was Game 1 or Game 2, able to pitch in St. Louis. But pitching here, have the home fans behind me, familiar area, a nice stadium, I think it's going to be juiced up and the fans are going to be great here. I just think things should work in our favor as far as the home field advantage tomorrow.

 

What went right for you last post-season? I remember especially the Championship Series was very emotional with you going to Houston, hometown, family, everybody coming in to see you pitch against the Astros. Sort of analyze it going back.

 

Obviously, we had a great run last year and fell short in the World Series. We ran up against a hot team. The three starts I had before we got to the World Series I believe were pretty good. I was able to keep the team in the ballgame all three of those starts. That's what I strive to do every time I go out there. Tomorrow's no different. It was a lot of fun, a lot of memories that can always be held on to. Hopefully tomorrow night I'll just have another one of those times.

 

It was Game 4, the inclement weather, did that have anything to do with it?

 

You can't blame not pitching well on weather or where you're at. Bottom line is you have to do your job no matter what the situation, and I wasn't able to get that done.

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