Tuesday Cards NLCS Workout Day Interviews

St. Louis Cardinals NLCS Game One starting pitcher Jeff Weaver, manager Tony La Russa, outfielder Preston Wilson and shortstop David Eckstein speak from New York's Shea Stadium on Tuesday's Workout Day.

Jeff Weaver

Could you just talk about the strange journey you've had this year and now starting Game 1 of the NLCS, just what a weird journey that's been and how well that's ended up for you.

Well, yeah, baseball I guess, you never know what you're going to get during the course of a season.

But, you know, obviously the way it started, had some struggles out there in Anaheim, and with those struggles, things are obviously going to be changed and, you know, I was sent to St. Louis. But at that point in time, you know, I just was excited about the opportunity because you kind of put things behind you, you can start fresh, new league, getting back to the league that I was familiar with for the last couple of years and had some success.

So, you know, with those thoughts in mind, you know, you just stay confident. I worked with Duncan quite a bit, just more so talking about who I was as a pitcher and trying to get back to that, and not trying to change who I was or what I was trying to do out there, but getting back to what got me to that point and having success.

With those things in mind, you know, just finally kind of got my feet on the ground and got back to who I was and, you know, I wasn't so mechanical. You know, my strengths are kind of changing my arm angles, giving different looks and kind of got away from that a little bit.

You know, when you come to a team that's built to win and you have that opportunity to help that team succeed and get to the post-season, you know, all of those things are motivation in itself to get back to the guy that you know you are. And just, you know, I've always kind of said, especially when you've gone through struggles before and worked yourself out of it, that things happen for a reason. You know, maybe this is what was supposed to happen to get me to this point and enable me to get back to the post-season. You know, despite all of those struggles, I was able to get out there in the first series and win a ballgame.

So, you know, when you do those things and accomplish those things, it's easy to put those tough times behind.

I was going to ask you, if, in fact, after winning the first game, if it put away a lot of those gremlins or whatever, the bad thoughts you had from the last time you pitched in the post-season and so forth.

Well, despite the World Series appearance, ironically enough, I pitched against St. Louis in the first round with L.A. a couple of years ago. I had a tough time with that start, too.

So, you know, having the opportunity again, obviously you want to make the best of it, finally get that first post-season win out of the way. You know, when you accomplish something that you haven't done before, it's just added confidence, and the way I've thrown the last couple of months, which just continues that process and hopefully just take this into this series and continue to help the team to win some games.

I'd be remiss to not ask you this while you're here in New York: You're sitting here and a couple of miles away the Yankees are having a news conference with their usual chaos, what impact did your stay on the Yankees have on your life and your career?

Tremendous amount. I mean, when you go from Detroit, a small-market team to the biggest market in baseball, you know, it's all new. You're on the biggest stage in baseball, and then on top of it, you're going through your toughest seasons as a professional and just added strain and stress to try to dig yourself out of holes. And sometimes when you do that, it even makes it worse.

So those experiences are something that I can always go back to, remember, remember how I handled it, remember that I was able to work myself out of it, remember that I was able to get back to who I was. You know, when you go through the tough times again, you can always remember that you worked yourself out of it. You're going to get back to it. Just continue to work, stay confident and know that your abilities are what got you there and eventually things will turn around.

You know, all of those things, good or bad, are experiences that help you to be the person and the professional you are today. That definitely prepared me for anything that can come my way.

Can you talk about the key to beating the Mets?

That's a good question. I don't know if many people have had that answer thus far this year. (Smiling).

Obviously, a huge key is trying to keep Reyes off the bases. That guy is a run producer. He's always getting on base and scoring runs. And then the middle of the lineup is as potent as any in baseball. Obviously you've got to be aggressive. You've got to get ahead of these guys and hopefully get them to swing at and try to hit pitches that you want them to, instead of falling into a place where you have to kind of give into them and have an opportunity for them to hurt you.

But, you know, there's going to be some runs scored. There's no doubt about that. But we've just got to as a staff stay away from the big innings that they are capable of. If we can do that with the guys we have, we're going to put up some runs and hopefully just a few more than them.

All of the players who have joined the Cardinals since Albert Pujols has been there has said it's stunning to watch him on a daily basis, as opposed to just the little times you see him on the other side. Can you talk about what that's been like for you and how he's a game changer, maybe the best one in baseball.

Well, I mean, coming over, it was a situation where, you know, you get to see him on an everyday basis and you just understand how consistent he is. I mean, it really is on an everyday basis he has an opportunity to change the game, and usually, I mean, it was evident with all of the go-ahead RBIs he had this year, he comes up huge in the clutch. For the last couple of weeks when we were struggling, it was him that was constantly putting up the production.

And not only because of his offense, as good as it is, his defense, the way he plays first base is as good as there is in baseball, also. He's just an all-around great player, and as consistent as they come.

Any question in your mind he's the MVP of the league?

I don't think there's any doubt, any doubt in my mind.

Tony La Russa

Can you tell us how you arrived at Wainwright as your closer if, in fact, that's your plan for your series and kind of a state of your bullpen?

Well, he's been stepping up since the first day of Spring Training and every time you give him a new responsibility, he handles it really well.

And we had a real good situation with Braden pitching in front of Izzy, and doesn't mean that Braden can't get the ninth inning for us if we're in these games, but we kind of felt like we needed to -- disrupting one real good thing for us, if there was a way to make it work, and added a guy with a lot of weapons. He's been out there, and some of it has to do with the lineups you face. I mean, he looks really comfortable in that role.

This time of year a lot of guys are hurting, Cliff Floyd is being tested today, and you've been through this. Is there a fine line between being a gamer, just going out there and playing, and fessing up that there's pain?

That's a real fine line. We have the perfect example in Scott. You admire, especially nowadays when guys have guaranteed money, and for years, a lot of us, whether it's front office, ownership, coaches, managers, a lot of us have problems that you can't get those guys on the field. Every little ouch, they are out.

So when you have a guy that's got all that security and he's doing everything he can to stay in the lineup, I mean, you respect that. That's the better kind of problem.

But in the end, I stressed with Scott, you know, you just want the players to be straightforward. That way, you have an idea about, you know, how close to themselves they are. Otherwise, if a guy is not swinging right, you don't know, sometimes your swing gets a little funky, or maybe there is something physically wrong. So there's a real fine line.

I think what we usually go by is the doctor or trainer, they evaluate and if it's a sore spot that doesn't get worse with play, then all you're doing is battling the effectiveness. If he has something like a hamstring or Achilles' like Cliff has, if you tweak that, it will get worse or it might blow it out, and that's a different kind of thing. If you put all that together, I make the point with Scott, I was never, and not now, upset with him, because I really admire the fact that he wanted to go out there. It's just you need the information so that you can make a better call.

Do you think modern medicine has made a difference in a club being able to evaluate and check out a guy before a series like this?

Yeah, it's been like -- well, we talk a lot about that among ourselves, and even in the industry. There's some wonderful advances and all of a sudden you have things that get scoped and the recovery is so much quicker. But they uncover stuff that was -- older players years ago that we're not aware of and played through.

And clubs are in such a precarious position because there's so much money involved and if you find something, and if you don't err on the side of caution, you're laying yourself wide open, and a player's career. It's really, in some cases, it's been really good. In other cases, it creates a lot of complications.

Has Jeff pitched better over the last couple of weeks, and if he has, what do you think the biggest change has been in the way he's been pitching?

I think you've got to start with the fact that he's been an effective starting pitcher in the Major Leagues for a long time. So he got out of whack. And these guys are men, not machines, so when they get out of whack, whether a pitcher or a hitter, it gets into their coconut and they start pressing and they try stuff and it just drives you nuts. Sometimes a change of scenery, he came over, we looked at him, he's healthy and he's a competitor and every time he's out there, he's had success, he's got more confident and he's more himself.

Can you just talk about, it's been kind of a lot of swings, stretch run and then the great series, can you talk about how this club has bounced back.

Three different streaks, and a lot of losses to have a winning record. Tells us overall, when we've been good, we've been real good and we've had some periods where we have not been a good club. I think when we struggled, we did the right things. We never quit playing, nobody pointed any fingers, we just kept trying to fix it. I think we're coming into the post-season, and we've gotten by one series with a lot of character and we know we've been tested in ways that have not been fun to go through.

But we've gone through it.

What are the updates on Edmonds and Rolen as best you know for their chances for tomorrow?

I watched Scott work out. He's been surrounded most of the morning and the afternoon. But I know the report is that he came through the workout well. Looked like he was moving well, so I'd be optimistic that he would be in there.

I think Jim has got through that first series, and probably got a little discomfort from time to time but he's playable and I expect to start him as well.

What about Adam Wainwright has impressed you and how far has he come since not this Spring Training but the year before, talking about the progress he's made mentally and physically?

Well I think you have to separate the two. He's tall and kind of a gangly young guy and with that frame, you knew he was going to grow into it. Outstanding character. Smart individual. First year he came over, you could tell, he wanted to learn; not one of those guys that has all the answers. Last year in AAA made a great start and made a good impression with us.

Came to Spring Training. He was a dark horse to make the club. But he's got talent, so if he shows something, one of Duncan's favorite things is to take that young, potential starter and just like the old days, just give him a year in the bullpen and protect him and just get his feet wet and just seems to really work.

What happened, we were not out of April, and we had changed from just spotting him here and there to giving him important assignments, and he's gone from there to what it is now.

Could you talk about Jeff and the kind of changes he had to make in his game. And can you talk about Glavine and what you've seen in the last year, year and a half. He's talked a lot about having to reinvent himself a little bit.

Well, he's had a phenomenal career, but he's had a really wonderful year. He's doing all of the things that he used to do all of the time to get you out, and now he's added enough variety where he's tougher to read, and he still executes pitches. He pitches to all parts of the zone and a very cool customer, just got an outstanding career, and great deception. You can never tell when he delivers the ball whether it's one speed or the other.

So I mean, he's a real challenge for tomorrow, but I do believe that he's added some weapons that a hitter has to contend with.

I haven't seen scouting reports on your team but I have to believe up at the top is "Don't let Pujols beat you," yet he continues to beat you and beat you and beat you. How does that happen, and are you amazed at times yourself how often he beats the other team?

Well, I'm amazed that he's so good, but if you watch our games day-in and day-out, just like the clincher against the Padres, he walked. So if you want to walk him, walk him. The guys that hit behind him have made that strategy not pay off enough to where managers say, this is not good.

I keep repeating Felipe's -- my favorite quote, when you deal with really dangerous hitters, it's about competition, not cowards. You raise competitors, not cowards. I really like that. In the end, the other side is not comfortable going like that all the time. I don't think it's the right way to compete. We don't do it to Barry.

So the reality of our games, if you've got guys on base ahead of him, and you just put Albert on, that's another run that's likely to score. If you start out saying you're not going to pitch to him, we end up scoring more runs.

He's just a terrific weapon, with his on base percentage. Once he gets on base, he's a good baserunner.

While you're talking, the Yankees they are having a press conference and Joe Torre just announced he's staying as manager. Just your thoughts being a veteran manager yourself.

Well, you're talking about a no brainer. I am no veteran manager, but he's a veteran manager with incredible credentials. This time of the month, the success they have had -- they have had a couple tough series here recently. I think however he's involved with it or whatever the Yankee brain trust, that's a no brainer. Those results don't just happen because they have got talent and he shows up and talks to the press. He's an outstanding manager, and person.

For all of your experience and all of your success, are you a believer in the way teams get along and are you a believer in chemistry, does that have any impact on how teams play?

Well, you're asking my opinion, and I don't listen to talk radio anymore, and I used to, I do in the winter. I always mark the expert that says team chemistry is something that doesn't exist and it's not important. I mean, you spend more time together than you do with your family, especially in baseball, basketball. You're there seven to eight months. You tell me that the relationships between your teammates, the respect, the trust, that that's not a key factor.

So it was explained to me one time, if you have that, just like a general manager trading for a superstar and if you don't have it, you're missing it. We're working very hard creating an atmosphere where guys respect each other, trust each other and pull for each other and they enjoy being together. I think it's very important.

How do you do that? How do you help build chemistry?

It starts with the right people. You've got to have the right people. And they have to think that those things are important. If you have a bunch of jerks that ignore that message, get rid of the jerks.

You know, I'll give you one example that happens every year. The club decides that they are not going to point fingers. So you lose three or four games 1-0, 2-1, and you don't have pitchers walk in here and say, hey, we can't get any runs; or you have games, 10-9, the hitters walk in, hey, you can't make any outs. Our club does not allow finger pointing publicly. If you have a problem, you take care of it within the family. You'd be surprised when you're not pointing fingers and not trying to cover your butt by pointing at the other guy.

You've got to start trusting each other and you stay together. It's just human nature and common sense. Really, you've just got to be careful. Just treat your teammate like you would your family. Just be careful with them. It ain't all that tough.

Along those lines, the job that Willie Randolph has done over here, I know they have a lot of money to spend and they have a lot of talent, but can you appreciate how he's melded that together and they seem to have a good clubhouse chemistry over there?

Well, I was always kind of amazed that it wasn't until last year that he got a shot. I mean, talk about his credentials as a player and winning situations as a coach, a quality man. But I remember watching him last year in his first Spring Training. You know, the kind of staff we've got, we think that the big leagues are special so we look around and we were all really impressed with the way that Willie from the first day, the way he was dealing with his players and coaches.

And this year, it was a continuation of it. I think he's a real good man, outstanding baseball man, and does a terrific job of -- probably because of his background and what he's been through. He knows what's not right and he works to make sure that's not part of their situation. That's an important part of how they play. They are a very tight club.

Preston Wilson

Could you just talk about from your perspective the irony of coming back and playing the Mets now and what's going through your mind?

It's a lot of fun obviously. I grew up around this ballpark watching my dad play. I probably ran around the stadium more than I actually watched games for a long time here. It's always fun for me to come back here. A lot of the people that worked in the stadium 20 years ago are still here and remember me from when I was little. It's always nice to come back here and see smiling faces.

Was there a chance of you ending up with the Mets this year, did anything develop in that realm?

Well, no, nothing developed. I heard the rumors out there but nothing ever really came out of it. So, here I am.

Preston, where were you in 1986 during the World Series, and Game 6?

Right behind home plate here in the loge level, watching the whole play. I saw everything up right to when the ball went between his legs and everybody stood up. At 12 years old I didn't have much of a chance. The more I see it, the more I know it would have been a really close play and he got down there really good and Stanley got off the mound really well. It would have been a tough play even if he did glove it.

What's it been like playing for Tony La Russa and can you compare him with other managers you've had in your career?

The one thing you notice about Tony is you're not going to outprepare him. He always does his research, he gets his information and passes it on to the players. For me it's been an easy transition playing for him because he just wants you to come, be on time, play hard and try to think a little bit while you're out there on the field.

Aside from one family member, who were your favorites players on the '86 Mets, and what role did that play in your whole upbringing, in your whole upbringing as a ballplayer, being around that team?

I think being 12 years old, my favorite guys were the guys that played around with me. There would be days with a rain delay, Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, most of the pitchers, they had a lot of free time, and we would play stickball. Those are the things I remember, sitting down, talking to Strawberry, all of the guys, Gary Carter, seeing him go out, doing his thing. I really got an appreciation for professional athletes, but I also realized that they were just men with families, also.

Could you just describe what this year has been like for you. A lot of people thought you would be here maybe this year.

It's been a strange year, to be honest with you. There were a lot of things that I never thought would happen. But I think to go through what I went through this year, to have a situation where I was actually released and then now to be able to play in the post-season, I definitely wouldn't have seen that coming.

David Eckstein

How long did it take you to get comfortable with Ronnie Belliard at second base and the defense?

Actually we really didn't have that much time together, because when he came over, we do something every day. Jose Oquendo takes us out there early to work out, and soon after that I was injured and I was out for a month.

He's a great veteran guy over there that knows how to play the game. It was one of those things that we just went out there and worked as much as we could, but he's very smooth. He plays very deep, and he gets to a lot of balls and it's been helping us out.

How do you explain your team, you guys staggered to the finish, barely got in, and then you go and kill San Diego. How do you explain your team?

Very frustrating. We had an up-and-down season this year, but we've got a veteran-type club that understands how to go about playing the game. There was a lot of things that did not go right with us this year, but we were still able to right the ship enough to get into the playoffs, and that's what this is all about is trying to find a way to get into the playoffs, because once you get there, anything can happen.

You know, we got Chris Carpenter, who does a great job in our bullpen, stepped it up. And Ronnie Belliard made so many great plays that helped change the course of the series.

What's it like playing for Tony La Russa and maybe some contrast between him and playing for Mike Scioscia?

Actually, they are both pretty similar, especially with this style of game that I play. They will call anything at any time. You know, I remember watching when I was in Anaheim with Mike Scioscia, he put three straight hit-and-runs with Bengie Molina 0-1, 0-2 and on 0-2 he got a base hit. That's the same thing that Tony will do, you just don't know what's going to happen, especially with putting guys in motion and trying to make things happen from an offensive side of things. Scioscia will show a little bit more emotion. Tony is pretty straight laced and especially on the bench, I don't think he will crack a smile at all. But he's very focused on what's going to happen and he plans the game and how to go about it.

You've been through this before, you've been successful. The Mets talk a lot about chemistry, do you believe in that, does chemistry help, or do the two teams have chemistry because they are playing well, which is which?

I think chemistry is a major factor in a club. If guys get along inside the clubhouse and like each other, they are going to go out and play harder on the field. I think it's huge. You know, you watch, like you said, you're talking about the Mets, you watch them play, they look like they are having just loads of fun out there. You've got a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of guys coming together.

On our club, we have a good veteran leadership-type of deal in which we know how to go about it and we have a good time suiting up and playing hard. I think that's a huge factor in becoming a championship club.

Albert Pujols might be the biggest game-changer in baseball. What's it like having him on your side and are you flabbergasted how many teams pitch to him?

Definitely. I think he's probably, if not, he's right there, one, two, with the best guys in the game today. He has the ability up there and he knows the strike zone. I think that's what makes him an even better hitter than some of the other guys. He's not willing to force the issue, he's willing to take the walk. But he has the ability, like you said with one swing of the bat to change the game.

That's why it's really important for us to have Jim Edmonds back in the lineup, backing him up, so that at least you're kind of, well, do we pitch to him and if we pitch to Edmonds worrying about runners on base. It's one of those things, we need him and hopefully Scottie is going to be healthy here soon. If we have those two guys backing him up, he'll get more pitches to hit and if not, the guys behind him will be facing the pitching.

You have a better eye for this than we do, as a shortstop, as a fellow professional, what is it that sets Reyes apart? Just from your practiced eye, what makes Reyes special?

I mean, I think anybody that's watched him play loves his enthusiasm, his love for the game. It just shows through. His raw talent is unbelievable. He gets to balls, makes the good throws. His ability from the offensive side of things, switch-hitting, can lay down bunts, can hit for power. He has pretty much the total package out there, and being so young, just his eyes are so wide, he's just fun to watch. When I was talking about chemistry, I think he brings a lot to the club. I think he gets the club going, and he adds to it, just his young, enthusiastic style of play.

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