Workout Day NLCS Interviews – Astros - Friday

Phil Garner and Roger Clemens speak.

Phil Garner


What does it do for your team's confidence by going to St. Louis and winning a game there?


Well, a couple things have happened. Obviously last year, you had the stigma of them winning all four games in their ballpark last year, and we got so close, did it, and yet it seemed so far away a year removed from it. Now the fact that we've won a ballgame there, you feel that, hey, it's possible we can. We know it and they know it now, so I think that's a plus on our side. Even though I say that, it still doesn't get any easier. You still have to play good ball, and we had a well-pitched ballgame last night, well-played ballgame on our side to win the ballgame. And those are the kind of games we're going to have and we're going to have to keep doing that.


Are you amazed at the composure of the young kids, Chris Burke, Willy T. and how they are playing in such pressure-packed situations?


Well, actually I had not thought that much about it but, yeah, since you mention it, it's been a pretty good performance by them under pressure. I think maybe the fact that we've had, maybe not this kind of pressure, but certainly the pressure to get here, we took it down to the last game of the season. We've had to fight for several months to stay in the race, we got back on top of the race in the wild-card race, we fell below, we got back on top and then the Phillies got hot and it looked like they were going to catch us. So we had this kind of pressure going for a while, and they have maintained a great deal of composure under these difficult circumstances. That's good. It's a tribute to their personalities and their grittiness and their toughness.


After the first two games, just reflecting on what has happened, a lot of people have feared St. Louis and their lineup, the power that they have got and everything like that; it doesn't seem like your team is even thinking about that.


Well, we respect them; I guess is the proper word. We're not afraid of them. We feel like we're a pretty good ballclub.


Did you feel comfortable bringing Brad Lidge in for a two-inning save situation?


We had to bring him in last year in two-inning saves and once or twice in the 7th inning just to get out of a jam, and he pitched extremely well for us last year and he's done a remarkable job again this year. So I am completely comfortable and confident and particularly when he's rested, I don't have a problem using him for two innings like we did last night. He's done a very, very good job.


Just to follow up on that, as good as Brad is, is there some particular set of circumstances where matchups that seem to make him even more successful against St. Louis?


I don't know that. I think any time anybody can throw the ball in the 95-, 96-mile-an-hour range and you can locate it pretty well, you can have success, it doesn't matter who you are if you can locate. The name of our game, pitching, and it's location when you talk about pitching and Brad, and he has an electric slider. So if he gets his pitches where he wants to, he can be tough on anybody.


You were talking about the other guys in the bullpen, what have been the value this year of the setup guys, the guys that have allowed you to get from the starter to Brad?


Invaluable. You know, if I can -- if I paid $30 million for a Picasso and I went in the studio and I was getting ready to walk out with my $30 million purchase and I noticed at the last minute that he had not signed it, he had not finished the bottom portion of the painting, I would say, "Would you please sign it? "And he would say, "No, no, I'm not going to complete it." We've got the Picassos with the guys like Pettitte, Clemens and Oswalt, but what completes the picture is our bullpen and modern-day baseball, you just don't have pitchers, and I think we managers are as much to blame as anybody. We just don't stretch our starters nine innings. You just don't see complete games on balance in the course of the year. What works in modern-day baseball is that you have to have quality starters and certainly a closer, but you have to have somebody that bridges that gap, and our bullpen has done that for us all year. The middle portion of our bullpen has done that for us all year, and everybody we've had out there has done a very good job, so they have made it all work. We don't win if we don't have the starting pitching, the quality starting pitching we do. We don't win if we don't have the bullpen that we have, and we don't win if we don't have the closer that we have. So when you get down to it and you play 162 ballgames and you win by one game, everybody has had to do a pretty good job, and they did.


What are you anticipating with a 1-1 series and Clemens going out tomorrow?


Again, I have not been very good at making predictions in these playoff situations over the years, I couldn't tell you. I'll tell you this, Clemens will be ready and I expect him to give us a good ballgame. I know the Cardinals will be ready too, so it should be another well-played hard-fought ballgame.


How much longer could Roger have gone on a Sunday if you needed him and if the game still would have kept going without any -- would he have played the field?


Roger? No, he would not have played the field. I had Roy Oswalt coming in -- I don't know the answer to that. I had said that it sure seemed to me like if they needed to pitch ten innings that day they probably would have done it. The man never ceases to amaze me and I don't say that jokingly. I say it in all earnest, the look that you saw in his face after he came off in the second and third, both the second and third innings that he pitched was total resolve. I don't think it was a matter of how long it was going to take, he was going to do whatever it took and I don't think I could have gotten the ball out of his hand anyway and it was his game. It was his game and I think he was going to do whatever he could to win.


You come home, split three straight at home now, Roger pitching tomorrow and seems like for the first time in maybe two years you're not fighting uphill with absolutely no margin; do you sense for the first time in a long, long time your back is just not against the wall?


I would agree with that a little bit. Although last year when we came back here we were lined up pretty good with our pitching, we had Backe going in Game 4, we had Backe pitching the fifth game last year, but I'd say we are a little more on equal footing. I still can't tell you how much we respect the Cardinals and what they can do and what they have been able to do and capable of doing the last couple of years. Still I feel comfortable with the way our pitching is lined up, we're healthy going in here so we're not nursing any problems, so we feel good about that, so we're I think more on equal footing than perhaps we were last year.


How much longer can Roger pitch, period?


Well, after he starts a couple of more years, he might go in the bullpen and pitch a couple of years, I don't know. (Laughing) It's not something that I've talked to him about. I'm enjoying every day that he goes out there and pitches now. I think certainly Houston fans and baseball fans all around the country really enjoy watching the legend pitch now, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all times so, if it's this year, we're going to enjoy it and if there's anything that comes after this, that's up to Roger, obviously.


Obviously Chris Burke showed he's not just a one-hit wonder, just talk about what he's brought and what you saw in him even before he did all this?


Well, we felt that Chris is sort of caught in a little bit of a dilemma. We signed him as shortstop and put him at second base and he worked hard to become a bigger second baseman his opportunities to come to the big league this year was not in second; it was in left field. He worked hard to become a very good left fielder, and along the way as we struggled offensively and Mike Lamb started swinging the bat better we got into a little bit of a platoon situation and he was playing against left-handers. I don't see him as a platoon player by any stretch of the math in addition and in other circumstances he might have gotten a chance to play every day and you would have seen more of this type of player every day but we just didn't have the luxury of letting him fail a little bit along the way to becoming the player that he is. He has tools that you'd like to see, and his speed, swings the bat well, but I think his endearing trait, his enthusiasm and how he plays the game, never is down, you always feel like that he's a guy that's going to help you win late in the ballgame. That's one of those traits that's hard to find in a player; that you feel like if you get in a tough situation in the ballgame, he's capable of doing it for and you he's shown that he can do that.


You've talked about how pitchers have developed in modern day baseball, because of that, is it inconceivable that we will ever see anybody do what Roger has done again?


I don't want to say ever again, because I'm sure there's going to be somebody coming long that's going to do some fantastic things, and I would hope so and I would expect it would happen. But what Roger has accomplished is absolutely phenomenal, the longevity and to be good over a long period of time is a trademark of a true Hall of Famer. And then I think you've got to put a special wing in the Hall of Fame for the Rocket. But who knows what will happen beyond. Athletes are getting bigger, better and stronger and I'm sure they will be bigger and better and stronger as we go 10 years from now, 20 years from now, as science gets better and better. Who knows how that is going to turn out, but our kids will be reading about the Rocket for a number of years to come. People will write stories about it, books and they will write essays in high school. I remember writing a paper about Mickey Mantle because I had to write a story, people will write stories about the Rocket and it's great to watch him play. You know, the beautiful thing about our game is there are some people coming along who do better than they have in the past, but I'm certain that we all are enjoying what the Rocket is doing now.


Just to follow on that, you said that perhaps he's the greatest pitcher in history, but it's hard to take people out of their eras. Cy Young, he threw, probably started about 1,000 games and completed 700 of them, so obviously Roger didn't pitch in that era, so how do you size him up when you cut across years?


I'm not smart enough to cut across the years and size him up. I should say arguably the best pitcher.


Well you said perhaps.


Well, perhaps. I couldn't begin to compare across time zones and eras. I think every era has its particular nuances. When you travel across the time zones, when you have as much scrutiny on everything that you do as you do today, it brings additional pressures. I think just in my short career in terms of the history of our game, they have gone to where we know we're playing in these games and we didn't have this much media. I didn't see this much media in a whole season then and I came up with the Oakland A's, and we were a World Series team. Now there's a whole lot of pressures and things that you have to deal with, and that I think it makes it -- you have to be a very special person to be able to deal with all of that and succeed time and time and time again, and that's what he does.


He's gotten better at it.




With Reggie Sanders' situation, he's been so hot the last couple of weeks, he's been one of those guys that can really just carry a team when he's that hot. If he's less than healthy or out, how big of a swing is that in your favor and how important is that to you?


I wouldn't say it's a swing in our favor. I think that's what happens, take a look when St. Louis lost Scott Rolen, they didn't miss a beat. They still win by a long shot. So that I'm sure someone is dying to get an opportunity if Sanders can't play. You know what, these kind of stories are made in these playoff series, every year it's some unsung hero; it's a Chris Burke, it's maybe somebody else that steps up and gets an opportunity, so I don't think it helps us nor does it hurt them.


What did you learn about Roger Clemens as a manager that you didn't know before you were his manager?


Well, I don't know how tough he was, he really was. You see on the other side of a diamond how good a player he is. And I didn't have real good teams when he we were facing him, so I just kept seeing balls down, balls down. We kept saying we have to quit swinging at those 150-mile-an-hour splits that's in the dirt. You can't do that; it's just too hard to do. Now that I've watched him day-in and day-out, he's good because he's exceptional, because he's an exceptional talent, because he works harder than most people. He can endure things more than most people can. He's just mentally tougher than most people and that's what you see with the guy every day when you watch him time and time again. I'd say I'm duly impressed, as you can tell.


Are you surprised with Chris Burke's power?


Am I surprised by Chris Burke's power? Not really. I would expect him to be more like what he did last night, fly ball into center, and we haven't seen him go to right field as much as I know he has in the Minor League system. But I think his power, you don't have to hit it a long way to hit a home run. But I think when he becomes a complete player in a couple of years, you'll see gap-to-gap type of power and a few home runs, too.


Roger Clemens


As you approach this are you impressed with the composure of this young team and how they respond here?


I've been impressed by the way we have performed probably ever since the second half of the baseball season, so it's nice to see that the guys, the younger guys are fairly calm, fairly loose, they seem to be having fun and we've got that nice mix of guys like that. I mean, Lance, he keeps everybody loose and funny the way he is, and I think it spreads, especially to our everyday players for sure, the younger guys and for the most part I think that somebody like Willy and Chris, you know, they are just happy to have the opportunity. Whether it be the regular season or the post-season, and just being out there and taking advantage of the opportunity, they don't seem to be too worried about what's going on, they just hope that when they walk in the clubhouse they see their name in the lineup and I think they get pretty excited about it.


Just a follow-up question as you face the Cardinals tomorrow, you know it's a power-packed lineup; your thoughts about how to approach the game, what you're going to do,

how you're going to attack them?


Well, I'm not going to tell you that at all. (Laughter.) I just -- Brad and I will do the same thing. It's not all about what's going on with me, it's how Brad and I are going to attack. Of course I'll let him know and everyone else know, once we get to the bullpen, how my body is feeling and I'll make adjustments from there. Again at my age, it's that way. I know that if I get out there and my arm is feeling alive and I can power pitch I'll do so and if I have to work my way into the first few innings before I get going I'll do that, too. I'll just have to emphasize on location a little bit better. But throughout the series, throughout the post-season especially, when we look at film or I had a chance just the other day in St. Louis to run upstairs or watch Roy, or when Zeke got in the game, watched their pitches, when you leave a ball in the middle, the guys hit it. That's just the way it is. There's nothing different than the post-season or regular season; get ahead, expand the strike zone and move people around, same thing that you do all year.


What's the comfort level with pitching here and is that part of you guys having such a great home record the last two years?


I don't know if there's a comfort in that. I think that you're familiar with the surroundings. I don't try and pitch to the middle of this ballpark which is obviously the most spacious. I think that this ballpark is a little more difficult to pitch in than when I was younger at Fenway. I mean, the distance is almost the same but the wall is not, you don't have the height of the wall. So you know if -- just the other day, Lance's Grand Slam probably went out, obviously one went out in Fenway, but we know what we're up against there. I'm sure the top will be closed, so you know, we take advantage of home-field advantage with the loud crowd and that's what post-season is supposed to be about. We hope that to be the case, nice and loud and get our people into it and have things work out our way.


I think we've been asking you this for years, but every time you go out there it always seems like it could be the last time. Is that an extra edge for you, do you always use that as an incentive, even last couple of years, retiring, coming back, do you think about that at all when you go out there and pitch now that it could be your last time out?


I haven't thought about that. 2003 is when I really thought about it to be honest with you. Those final pitches were the hardest for me at that point because I didn't obviously know what was in front of me lying ahead. And for that matter, I still don't. You know things have changed for me over the last couple of weeks. There's a big part of my heart that's missing now with my mother gone, that's just the way it is. I knew I pitched for her but I didn't realize how much that I did. But make no mistake about it, that still doesn't diminish -- some of my will is gone but not all of it. You just look at things different. Like I said, every time I hear the anthem, I think about her, I think about seeing her face for the last time and that's where I'm trying to draw my strength from and I owe that to my teammates. I owe that to my teammates, to stay upbeat and keep them laughing and they get after me in their own certain ways and have fun with me with their jokes. You know, like I said, ever since I've come home to pitch, my job has been more than just about pitching. I still recognize and understand that that's the most important thing, to get out there and win. You know, some things have changed for me now.


Along those lines talking about the camaraderie on this team when you're having fun with each other, Brad Lidge is saying he fully expects to see Chris Burke on the Tonight Show. Every time he looks up, it's Chris Burke flashing all over the TV set; are guys keeping the kid in his place?


Same thing I told him, Letterman and Leno, we don't get the phone call, we thought we would be at least getting the limo with him to go to these places. Like I said, it was great to see. That kid, I don't know if his feet ever touched the ground but to hear his comments as well as a lot of the stories from my other teammates that I didn't get to hear it until well after because I was sitting out in the bullpen alone, while all of the relievers were in the dugout we kind of switched roles; obviously we switched roles. They've done their work and were there and just to hear what was going on, not only in our dugout by the wonderful stories I heard all around town where people were at, not only the people here at the ballpark but outside the ballpark and what they were doing was a pretty neat deal.


The Astros finally wining a playoff series and coming back from a 15-30 start and an 18-inning game the last round, do you think the perception of the franchise has changed to the one that loses in the first round to the one that is going to find a way?


Yeah, I would imagine, I would hope that to be the case, but to be honest with you, I don't really care, because until really Andy and I got here and -- I was a fan before, because even when I played elsewhere, I still rooted for these guys, these cornerstone players that were here. I rooted for those guys anyway. Even before that, well before that, the Terry Puhl's, the Vern Ruhle's, the guys that came out to my high school to work out. They made an impression on me a long time ago. Being my hometown team now, I always watched these guys and rooted for them. And there were some unbelievable games even though that team never advanced, so it's a little different time right now. I have a lot of fond memories of the Astrodome. I know we have moved into a new building now but hopefully we're moving into reaching for higher places, if you will. So we'll see what happens. The opportunity is there. You know, we see it and hear it and it might not come around again and we night not have that opportunity. We know that there are a handful of us that are a little bit older on this club and might not get that chance, so in that sense there is an urgency.


When you say some things have changed for you, obviously you explained it, but does that diminish the possibility of you returning again this year?


I'm not going to address that. I've been trying to shut it down for two years and I still can't answer that now. I'm glad I left that percentage point open. If nothing else, there's -- I could give you more than probably ten reasons, but look at the game that I had the chance to perform in and what happened here, just those memories are enough, worth the decision for me to make the decision to get up off my couch and do this.


That hamstring problem that you had towards the end of the regular season, how much does that affect you and how much any lingering effect of that right now?


I'm not experiencing the stinging pain that I had. It altered a few things. I don't think I was as violent as I needed to be out there, but I was good enough. Some of the results were not great. I made some mistakes that I wasn't real happy with. Again, that's the -- when I use the word frustrating, when your body breaks down, or when my body doesn't do what I'm asking it to do at my age, that's when I start getting upset because I try and keep up with the Joneses. I'm trying to do the work so I can stay up with somebody like Andy and Roy when they are doing their job. I don't think it's any different than y'all out there, you have pride in what you do or you wouldn't be doing it if you didn't have pride in what you do. That's the disappointing part of that. But the leg feels better, I hope my energy level will be high; if not, I'll try and find other ways as far as drawing off the crowd or certain situations, trying to get my energy where it needs to be.


Obviously pitching in the postseason, the margin shrinks, one could be the game or series or whatever. All regular season you've had to pitch without knowing how much run support you're going to get. Being in that mode for such a long period in the season, does that give you something extra going in tomorrow or is that kind of a reach?


I know it going in, and you can see how certain games are unfolding in front of you. They are going to be tight games. I would expect that. I fully go into tomorrow expecting that. So, you're right. Over the last two years, I've had a ton of tight ballgames, and you want to stay away from the one mistake that's going to put your guys behind the ball where they are going to have to press, you don't want them to do that. So I think that's why I was disappointed when I was just basically trying to waste a pitch in Atlanta and they hit it out. You're upset for a minute and then you have to bump it down and go from there, especially when your stuff is not as good as you want it to be. You still want to try to find a way to get it done. You know, that's kind of how I made my mark over my career anyway; even when I was in trouble, I was able to get my way out of it. I was able to buy a few more innings here or there, a few more situations from certain managers that would allow me to get out of my own problems out there and I was able to show that I was able to do it. You know, sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and it doesn't set well with me, but I know it happens.


From your record the last two years, it doesn't seem that your body broke down very often; how often did it break down, at least in your mind?


Well, I was fortunate. I had only a few problems with my legs, one coming out of spring training and I had to go back and look at my log to tell you exactly how my body -- what was going on. For the most part, my shoulder and elbow held up fine and I was really lucky. I mean, again, the toughest decision pacing back and forth in my home to come back and play is just that. I did not want to come out here and let these guys down and get hurt in the first month where, you know, I might need surgery or something where I couldn't perform. If my body would hold up, am I going to have that same drive and determination to do it, to take on this challenge? But again, what's going on right now tells me it was all worthwhile. So I'm very thankful for that.


How much did you enjoy watching your son play pro ball, and can you envision at some point being on that field out there with him?


I'm sure at one point I'll be on the field with him. I don't know, he'll probably be competing and I won't, but it was a joy. I mean, I talked about it long before Coby was even a teenager when I had the opportunity to see the Griffeys and Boones and the Bells. I thought it was the neatest thing, so I know how hard it is, but I know that it's been a dream of his to have the opportunity and thank goodness he got it. I think he'll take advantage of it, also, and I think his mother and his brothers, when they saw him in his first week of professional baseball and they send the little kids out there to stand next to him for the anthem, I think that's when it really set in for them that he was a month and a half removed from the high school baseball playoffs and here he is with 20-year-old men and other men. His childhood basically came to a quick end, which I explained to him. If he goes to college, he'll still be able to have a little fun and do that, not that he's not going to have fun now, but you've got to grow up extremely quick he found that out when he went to the next level, being 18, he was playing with 22 and 25-year-olds. Great experience and the sky is the limit. I just hope the best for him.


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