Tuesday Interviews – La Russa and Carpenter

The Cardinals manager and NLCS Game 1 starter field questions from the press after Tuesday's workout at Busch Stadium.

Tony La Russa


Can you tell us how your starting rotation is going to line up and how Mulder is doing?


I guess he had a positive throw today and we're going to wait and see how he feels tomorrow, if he comes out of the throw in good shape, then he would be number 2, and then Matt would go 3. Still haven't talked to Jason and Jeff about 4, but I think if Mark did not feel good enough tomorrow, we may not push Matt to 2 and just leave him at 3 which complicates things a little bit. Right now, I'm hoping and I think there's a chance that Mark is going to pitch Game 2.


You guys have not seen a lefty in ten days at least; does that matter or how do you change things tomorrow?


Well, we saw quite a few in the last three weeks. We just haven't seen them lately. You know, I don't even think of Andy Pettitte as a lefty. I just think he's an outstanding pitcher. He gets righties out, he gets lefties out. The one thing we'll do probably is move Reggie to the 4 spot and move Larry to 5. Other than that, it will be the same lineup. Move Yadier to hit 7.


This year, unlike last year, the Astros have their big three pitchers lined up on full rest, how formidable are those three guys at top form?


Well, they are outstanding. They are every bit worth the reputation they have earned. All three are very different, so they present different problems for you. But we look at it two ways. One; we're going to match up each of those guys with an outstanding pitcher of our own, so it's not like Houston is going to have a lot of fun hitting against our pitchers. And what we've done over and over again for a while now is the eight guys that have played, whoever they are, they are going to take their at-bats. If they are really sharp, it will be hard to score and if they make a mistake or two, maybe we'll break through, but that's the way you play the games.


How is Larry doing after taking that spill in San Diego?


Well, I can tell by how much he's cutting up, so he must feel great. He's driving everybody crazy, so he's ready to go.


What have you seen from Carpenter this year, what has made him so much better than any other season?


Well, the only thing we have to compare with as far as our own observation is last year. And for the entire season, he had all of his pitches working, I think last year, the second half, he started really adding to what he was going out there with. But when he has all of his pitches, you're talking about four or five things he can do to get hitters out, he can go against righties and lefties, and what we've seen, he's a terrific competitor. The guy tomorrow is an outstanding competitor, he isn't going to compete any harder than Chris is. I mean, he's really capable of concentrating, tuning all of the distractions out. He's been pitching big games all year long. Tomorrow will be another big one.


This is a rematch of last year but both teams have undergone a lot of changes, can you talk about your changes specifically up the middle and also the job that Núñez has done?


Well, it's really been a fun club to watch. You know a lot of what we do starts at pitching and defense, and there were a lot of questions, we lost Mike, Tony and Edgar and we go to spring training and Núñez is looking great and we see Mark and David and they have been consistently outstanding. The double plays are a good example. So we thought we were a strong defensive club last year and we are this year again with different pep. We were really concerned. We had a huge hole to fill with Scott Rolen, and if Abe had to play second and short a lot, then that would have been a fair challenge, which he's played third, less than two handfuls of games. And he's played outstanding and he's also contributed offensively, and the thing about him is, he's exactly the same every day. There's no up-and-down, they have been very consistent, very reliable.


What's the biggest thing that Abe had to learn about third base, the biggest adjustment?


That's a good question for him. I have not heard him answer that question. My guess would just be reading the ball off the bat. You play the middle between second and short, you see the ball in and then you see the ball off. When you're on the corners, it's a different angle. My guess would be that; not the throwing, because he's got a good, quick arm. He would be better to answer that question.


How is the state of your bullpen? You did a lot of pitching changes in all of the San Diego games, and the bullpen allowed the Padres back into almost every one of the games.


Well, I've answered this question every time exactly how I believe it, and that is that we had the luxury of a crooked-number lead, and the responsibility of our relievers were No. 1, get outs, but No. 2, don't give them any cheap opportunities, which means walking guys because you're being too fine. So several times, I mean, the last game we played, Brad got behind, threw him a fastball and he hit a home run. I feel like in that series, just like all year long, when things got tense, each of those guys made pitches and we kept the lead.


When you look at the changes from last year, you guys added starting pitching and lost a couple of big boppers with Scott and Beltran. That seems to be a fair trade-off for the Cardinals, would you agree with that?


Not really. They have Pettitte last year and they didn't have him last year. They lost Beltran and Kent and got Ensberg now, as big a bopper as there in our league. Like anything else, a spot opens up. Jason Lane comes along, given them a lot of big production. They are a lot like they were last year. Maybe if they were -- I don't know, I wouldn't even argue if there was one hitter less, but they have one pitcher more. The center fielder is just a different, good player than Beltran, so I think they are really good.




Chris Carpenter


Can you talk about what it means to pitch in this series after missing it last year, especially Game 1?


Definitely exciting. I'm looking forward to it. Frustrating last year not being able to be a part of it, but you know, I'm excited about it, looking forward to tomorrow night and competing against a quality club. These guys have been playing well and they have got a good team and we've got to go and play our best baseball.


Obviously you just mentioned that you were not involved in this last year; how much better equipped is the staff as a whole, the rotation than it was last year at this time?


You know, I think we're all solid guys that are competitors that know how to prepare and we know what it takes to pitch at this level. I think everybody has been here before, besides me, but I was able to do it last series. Everybody's got the experience of pitching in the post-season. Mark was big, he's been involved in the post-season before, and he knows what it takes to pitch at this level, and you've got to be prepared and be ready to come out and be at the top of your game to beat this quality of a club. I think that we all are and we're all going to be prepared and ready to go just like we were last series.


What concerns you most about the Houston batting order?


They are a lot like our club. They take quality at-bats, they are patient, they have an idea about what they are doing and the pitcher that they are facing. They have got speed, they have got some guys that can hit the ball out of the park. They have got quality guys from top to bottom and definitely, like I say, you've got to be on your game and make quality pitches to get these guys out.


With the extra time off, what have you done to stay sharp since there's not the normal rotation you guys have had all season?


Just going to continue to do my work. Sometimes at this point in time, a couple extra days are nice, so it was nice to win that last game there in San Diego and have a nice day off on Sunday and then yesterday come in and get a work-out in and have some nice, long toss and then again today and get ready for tomorrow.


I don't know if you have been asked this question, but the success you've had this year against them what does that mean going forward?


It's a new game tomorrow night. That's the way I looked at it all year. I think that's why I was successful all year, because no matter what I did the last start, this next start was a different one, and you can't take the results from the last start into your next one. You have to prepare differently and prepare yourself to go out and execute pitches. Like I said, if you don't do that, no matter who you're facing, they are going to beat you. My last start of the year against them, they went out and got some hits.

It's a new game, everybody is going to be pumped up a little bit. I think that you've got to go out and relax and execute pitches the way I've done all year and I'll be okay.


As good as your rotation is, how formidable is theirs, now that Oswalt and Clemens are lined up on full rest?


They have quality pitching. It's a different look than what they had the year without Andy there and all of a sudden they throw Andy out there in Game 1, with Roger and Oswalt behind him, that's what got them there, is their pitching, and they proved that all year. It looks like Andy has just continued to get stronger and stronger as the year has gone on. But I'm pitching against the offense, and my hitters have to take care of their guys, so I'm concerned about going out and making quality pitches and not worrying about who I'm facing on the other side.


I don't know if you've answered this, but can you describe the intensity of the Cardinals/Astros and how does it compare to Cardinals/Cubs?


Cardinals/Astros since I've been here in 2002 or 2003, they are a lot like us. They go out and play the game the right way. They have veteran leaders on that club that know how to play the game. They have young guys that know how to play the game the right way and they love to go out and compete just like we do. It makes for an exciting match-up because there's no extra stuff going on besides going out and competing and playing the game the right way and trying to do the best you can to win. That's what made this series exciting last year and that is going to make it exciting this year, too.


This is a rematch, but there's a lot of new elements on both teams; could you talk a little bit about the changes on your club especially up the middle defensively?


As they showed last series, our guys, and all year, our guys up the middle with Eck have been turning double plays and making double plays all year long. It's nice to have them there. You get a key situation, get a ground ball and they make a double play, it gets you out of some trouble. Understanding the game, knowing how to handle the pitchers has been big and with those two guys up the middle and Jimmy in center that runs all over the place and catches every ball hit out there. And then with Mark, you know, coming to the starting rotation, I think that it gives us a new little look with that lefty there and a guy that's been there before that has pitched in the post-season and is a competitor and wants to win. He's going to be at the top of his game, too.


How much does having a manager like La Russa who has experience in the post-season keep you guys focused with the layoff?


I don't think it's as much Tony as it is the quality of guys that we have in the clubhouse to understand where we're at and what we're trying to do. San Diego was the first step and we're going to try to win the three games as fast as possible. Everybody knows what it takes to get themselves ready to compete and even with the day off on Sunday, there's guys here yesterday working out, and guys here today obviously who are working out and getting ready to go. Like I said, at this time of the year, sometimes those extra days are nice to give the guys a nice little day off and with Larry getting hit that day and giving him a chance to heal up and giving Mark a chance to heal up a bit, I think everybody was looking forward to that nice day Sunday.


The Cardinals having been in the World Series last year, the moves and winning 100 games, is there more pressure on the team now to win it all this year?


I think as much as we put on it. I think that when you get to the playoffs, I've said this before, there's eight teams. Now there's four, but there was eight teams, and there's a reason why all of those eight teams were here and that's because they played quality baseball all year. The records and stats, everything else, goes out the window and it's a new series every single series and a new game every game. So it doesn't matter what club you're playing. You've got to come out and play quality baseball and at this point in time in the season when there's four teams left, whoever plays the best baseball is going to win and hopefully we can continue to do what we did in San Diego in the San Diego series and play good baseball.


Beltran and Kent both had big series last time in this series, do you approach the lineup differently without those guys?


You can't. You're facing a Major League Baseball team that has quality hitters and there's a reason why they are here, no matter who is in Atlanta, if you don't make pitches they are going to beat you. You can't leave the ball over the middle of the plate. You can't leave the ball up, you have to get the ball down in the strike zone and get groundballs no matter who you are facing, whether it's Kent, Bonds, Beltran, no matter who you're facing, you have to make quality pitches or you're going to get beat. They are here for a reason, they scored a bunch of runs in the Atlanta series, so you have to make quality pitches.


In the back of your mind, did you think it would be the Astros again, in the NLCS, did you think it would come down to this again?


Me personally, never thought about it. I was concerned about Wednesday against San Diego. Wasn't looking ahead and we just know that as a team, we're going to -- like I said just a minute ago, at the time there was eight teams. Now there's four, no matter who you're playing, you're going to be playing a quality team and no matter who you're facing, if you don't go out and play good baseball, you're going to get beat and you have to go out and do that.


Is there any concern over your hand cramping up again or is that just the result of an unusually hot day?


I think people misunderstood. It wasn't just my hand. I had cramps all over my body, it wasn't just about my hand, I had it in my hamstring, my shoulder, both hands, my calves, so I'm not concerned about that. I think it was just a day that was hot, I was sweating and I cramped up. I'm not going to be concerned about that tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to going out and being strong.


As you said, the heat probably won't be a factor tomorrow, but if it's this cold, are you worried about being able to keep a grip on the ball and how do you keep your hands warm out there on the mound so that you can get the grip that you need?


Another question I never think of. I'm not concerned about it. I've never had that problem. I'm a guy that will sweat when it's 20 degrees out, so I'm going to be pleasantly warm and I'm not concerned with grips or anything like that. I've never had a problem.


You're set for Game 1 and Game 5, when you go to Houston to pitch. Do you look at your performance as pitching to their weakness, to the ballpark, to your strengths; how does it break down when you go to a quirky place like that place?


Again, doesn't concern me. I've said to you all year that no matter what ballpark you're pitching in and what team you're facing, you can get beat anywhere and if you don't make good pitches, I won't change my game, I won't change my approach. I'm just going to continue to go out and pound the strike zone and get the ball down.


It's an obvious question, but how critical is it to keep Biggio and Tavares from getting on the base paths early on?


It's no question, you keep those guys off the bases when Ensberg and Berkman come up and it's not going to be as much damage if they get you for one. But I think that's key with any order. It's the same with ours. If you don't keep Eckstein off the base paths, we're going to score runs. You go one out at a time and try to keep them off-balance and keep them out of their game and keep them off the base paths.


Do you enjoy the pressure and the responsibility of being the No. 1 guy?


I do and it doesn't concern me. We have five guys that have been here before, and at this point in time in the season, if you don't have a guy out on the mound that believes in themselves and believes that they can be that No. 1 guy, you're going not going to have a whole lot of success. We have five guys that can go out there and win at any time. I think that's what's nice about this staff.

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