NLCS Workout Day Interviews -La Russa, Mulder

The Cardinals manager and Wednesday's NLCS Game Six starter speak on Tuesday's workout day.

Tony La Russa

 

How does it feel getting on that plane last night knowing that you had just won the most dramatic League Championship Game 5 and knowing you were coming home to play Game 6?

 

Well, I don't think anybody really remembers getting on that plane. It was kind of magical, unbelievable set of circumstances, so you're trying to pinch yourself.

 

You know, it was really a combination of two things. Everybody was really excited, and really understanding that it was Game 5 and we're down three games to two. It's a great story; it's a lot greater if we can take it to Game 7 and see what happens in Game 7.

 

Do you expect Nunez to start tomorrow?

 

I think he's going to start. I know he worked out, I watched some of it. Unless I go in there and find out something that wasn't obvious, I expect him to start.

 

Especially with the off-day today, what's your theory on can the momentum be carried over for 48 hours or is it brand new tomorrow?

 

I think the first I guy I ever heard it say, Earl Weaver, maybe he heard it from somebody else, that's when I first heard it from years ago, and I think it's true, the momentum will be dependent on the two starting pitchers.

 

If we were playing today and it was a quick turnaround, maybe there would be a little carryover from Houston. But they have an off-day and they are going to collect themselves.

 

Our guys we might still be celebrating and might not be ready to play. It might affect both of us. With the off-day, we turn the page and by turning the page it comes down to Mulder and

Oswalt, as it does every game in this league, the starting pitcher has the opportunity to establish that.

 

Do you get the sense that you're going to be seeing that home run over and over and over for 20 years?

 

200 years? I mean, yeah, I think it's -- it would be tied for first with the most dramatic home runs that have ever been hit. I think if you're talking about drama, you might play off the fact that if you look at a World Series winner like (Bill) Mazeroski or (Joe) Carter, home run, you're a world champion, that's really dramatic. But we're playing tomorrow and we're not done playing.

 

So Dave Henderson and Albert Pujols, yeah, that will be played forever. I was on the other side of that in 1988. This side is a lot better.

 

Can you talk about facing Oswalt again just a few days ago, some of the hitters say it doesn't really matter whether you face a guy real quick or not. How do you see that and what do you expect from him?

 

Oh, I think if you have got an average starting pitcher or below average starting pitcher, if you get to see them quickly, a hitter gains a substantial edge. If you have an above average or outstanding starting pitcher, they are going to be outstanding for a long time because they have special stuff and a lot of ways to get hitters out.

 

So, you know, we've seen Roy four or five times this year. They have seen Mulder four times. So I think it's who is -- it's not really going to be stuff; it's going to be command. You know, do you locate your pitches.

 

Last year when you came back for Game 5 or Game 6 here, you were coming off the Jeff Kent home run. Talk about being back in that same situation 3-2 and coming home and having to win two.

 

I'd say the same thing I said last year: I'd rather be up three than down the two. They are in a better position. That's why I say it's more important for us to win. They can afford the loss more than we can, obviously. You know -- the simplest and healthiest frame of mind that our club has to have is are we good enough to win the next game that we play, period. With all due respect to the Astros and Roy Oswalt, you have to believe that we can win the game. Otherwise, why should we play it? But it's similar to last year, and we were going to compete as hard as we could, so we had no regrets when Game 6 was over, and we'll do the same thing tomorrow.

 

You talked a couple of days ago perhaps your hitters taking a more aggressive approach in certain situations. I don't know if you saw some of that last night, and second of all, do you kind of tie that with some of the struggles you've had with guys in scoring position this year; does one kind of go with the other?

 

You know, what I was trying to say was we're being caught kind of in the middle, or in between. And there's sometimes where we're really aggressive and it's not a good pitch to hit. Like the first one to Albert, the day before, then he (Lidge) threw to Sanders. It would be nice to take that pitch to get the count 1-0. There are other times where the best pitch that you have in the at-bat is early in the count and you're just trying to get a good look at it and all of a sudden now you have a strike against you and the guy throws something nasty and you foul it off and you're in a defensive situation. What we need to do is that old classic, be ready to hit good strikes and work the count in our favor.

 

Before the series started, you talked about how important you thought the Game 2/Game 6 starter was. Why do you like Mulder in that spot?

 

Well, we like Mark pitching in our ballpark. We liked him pitching at night. Not that he can't pitch during the day; the first one was at three-something and I think this one is at night. You know, I think that with the left-handed starting pitcher, with all of the right-handed hitters that, short porch in our ballpark, we would much rather have those right-handers flip the ball in our park than theirs, so that's the biggest reason we did it.

 

As much as Albert has accomplished, does a moment like that take a guy to even another place?

 

Well, I think it does. I think it does for whatever amount of the public is interested in, whether it's casually or a lot. But if you're a student of the game, a fan of the game, and you watch carefully, since his rookie season, you will say that's something that Albert had a chance to do if he had something to work with. I mean, this guy has done it over and over again. Look at his game-winning RBIs. I can give you 50 examples of what he's done.

 

I think the reality is that a lot of people kind of watch the playoffs and don't pay a lot of attention or as close of attention; forever now, as long as baseball history is repeated, that home run is going to be part of history and Albert will have his place in it.

 

We've heard your cell phone go off three times in the past couple of minutes; can you describe what this past day has been like for you and the team?

 

You know, it's a good question, because actually I think it's a healthy reminder to do what we need to do, which is put the ballgame and the excitement of just being a part of it and the congratulations and the comments, put them off to the side and get ready. Because it's not as neat of a story if we don't keep winning.

 

But there was an interesting by-play there on the bus and then on the plane, guys were comparing the number of messages; I had 12, I had 15, I had 32. It's just the modern thing, you can call somebody's cell phone, leave a message and a lot of people saw it, you know. My case, it's actually a lot of coaches have called. I've got some great calls from coaches in NFL, college -- college and pro baseball basketball, guys that I thoroughly enjoy talking to at any time, all of them trying to recruit Eckstein and Pujols.

 

Either after their win or after your win, have you been in contact with anybody with the White Sox over either one of those wins?

 

Well, yeah. They were a significant part of the messages. A lot of friends -- that's why I was really thrilled for them. It has great meaning for the franchise, but the individuals that back in the '80s when I was there, they are still there. The family is still there. I mean, this is an unbelievable experience. So, yeah, got a number of calls.

 

Going back to '88, did you realize at the time that the (Kirk) Gibson home run was going to be as much, have the staying power that it was going to have, and now as you fast-forward ahead, do you think this home run will have the same kind of staying power?

 

I think my first understanding of the significance of Gibson's home run is the drama of what he did that day, as hurt as he was, that being his only at-bat. And if you saw him foul those pitches off and how gimpy he was, it was an incredibly heroic kind of at-bat, if you can use hero in sports. But I think beyond that performance, they won the world championship, and that's made it one of the greatest at-bats of all time, and that's why I think unless we can get another couple of wins, it won't be as great of a story.

 

Mike Martz was probably watching his team's game last night, but was he one of the guys that called to congratulate you?

 

I actually talked to Mike before the game at length. I haven't talked to him today, but I talked to him before the game and -- in fact, I don't know who was in there at the time. As soon as I walked in, first thing I did was turn off the discussion about our game and the highlights and turned on to see where they were. And I got the news about them being up 17-0 and so it was a tough loss. They just beat us in, I guess they arrived minutes before we did.

 

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Mark Mulder 

 

What was the mood on the plane coming home last night?

 

Well, it was late. A lot more guys were sleeping than I think we were -- I mean nobody was jumping up and down or anything like that. But it was a good win and we were obviously pumped and excited to be coming home.

 

You've obviously pitched against some very tough hitters and played with some; how does Pujols, playing alongside him this year, how does he compare to the best hitters you've faced?

 

He's obviously the best I've ever played with. I mean, I was with (Jason) Giambi the year he won the MVP and stuff, but what Albert does day-in and day-out is just so impressive, pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, it's a lot of fun to be a part of and fun to watch.

 

More than Giambi or (Miguel) Tejada?

 

I'm not saying any more, it's maybe a little bit more impressive, yeah. But he's unlike anybody else, though. He's a special player.

 

What does pitching in Game 6 of the league Championship Series mean to you?

 

Well, it's going to be fun. It's a challenge. I think everybody on this staff, including myself, you want to be out there in an important game and be that guy who has got to make the pitches and get the job done. That's obviously where I'm going to be tomorrow night and I'm looking forward to it.

 

Is there such a thing as home-field advantage in baseball? In other words, is this game possibly easier for you to win since it's here, as opposed to if it was played in Houston?

 

I wouldn't say it's any easier. Obviously for our offense and the crowd and the support of the fans, especially the fans that we have here -- I'm not saying it's an advantage, but it's definitely nice to have, I guess is a better way to put it.

 

You say it's not an advantage but it's nice to have?

 

It's very nice to have. But you've still -- the crowd isn't going to determine whether I throw the ball. You've still got to make pitches whether you're at home or away. It's just having the crowd with you is obviously nice.

 

Because you just saw them a few days ago, pluses, minus, facing them a few days ago or does it mean nothing?

 

No, because it's the same as in the regular season if you face them two starts in a row. Obviously there's more on the line but you still go out there to make pitches. There's no advantage, disadvantage. It's just lots of times you face teams in back-to-back starts, one on the road and one on the road. Mine both happen to be at home so it happens all the time.

 

Have you ever seen such a drastic change in emotions from one game to the next?

 

No, because that was amazing, you go from one moment, trying to prepare myself to pitch in two days to going, "all right, well, I guess I'm going home," to, "are you kidding me?" And then all of the sudden getting yourself ready to pitch again.

 

Everybody would be lying if for one minute, one second you didn't think, "all right, it looks like we're going home." But all of a sudden, Eckstein gets a knock and Jimmy walks and Albert swings at a pitch in the dirt and the next ball he hits andit's like you see it going and you almost don't believe it because it was just such a shock.

 

But that's the guy -- I said to Matt Morris the inning before, I said we need to get two guys on in these last two innings so Albert can get a shot. And he did.

 

Can you ride those emotions into Game 6, or is it a different game, different day and just start all over again?

 

It's the same as when we lost Games 2, 3 and 4. It's another game, go on to the next day. You can't let wins or losses affect you. Obviously it was a great win, so we're all feeling pretty excited coming home, but everything changes when you get on the field.

 

I know that baseball players take games one at a time; but, the fact that the Red Sox came back against the Yankees and then the Marlins came back against the Cubs before that, does it maybe it a little bit easier to think that you guys can come back?

 

I don't think any of us are really thinking about that. We know it happened and stuff, but you haven't heard one person -- there's not one person who has said, oh, well the guys last year did it or the guys the year before that came back. There's none of that.

 

It's just we know what we have to do, is we have to win. We have to win ballgames. If we lose, we go home. Everybody is well aware of that.

 

You've told us about your easygoing personality and your teammates have told us about that as well. Has there been anything that has ever penetrated that, a game or an event or something that you have not been as easygoing as you would like to be?

 

No. I mean, I'm always -- I'm always the same, you know, but obviously a game like this, you know what's at stake and you get excited for it.

 

I know when I pitched Game 5 in Yankee Stadium, it's like I felt like I was sitting if the clubhouse for ten hours, the game just never seemed to start. You just get anxious, you want to get out there and you want to get the game going, and I'm sure I'll be that way tomorrow.


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