Saying it wasn't in his team's best interest to use Roger Clemens on three days' rest for the second time in three postseason starts, Houston Astro Manager Phil Garner said Tuesday that he would start journeyman Pete Munro today in Game Six of the National League championship series.
Garner's decision surprised many among the St. Louis Cardinals, including slugger Albert Pujols, who only minutes earlier had told reporters he figured the Astros would go with Clemens in a game that could clinch Houston's first trip to the World Series.
Even Munro, who opened the season in the minor leagues, seemed somewhat taken aback.
"I'm sure that they'd rather face me than Roger," Munro said of the Cardinals. "I mean, I'd rather face me than Roger."
Garner said Munro, who gave up three runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings during a better-than-expected performance in Game Two, which the Astros lost, 6-4, was simply a better alternative than Clemens on short rest.
Clemens gave the Astros five solid innings while pitching on three days' rest in Game Four of the division series against the Atlanta Braves, but Garner said he noticed that the veteran right-hander "hit the wall a little quicker than I've seen him hit the wall before." The Braves rallied for four runs after Clemens departed and won, 6-5.
The evidence against using Clemens on three days' rest is substantial. While his regular-season numbers under those conditions are not terrible -- Clemens is 6-4 with a 4.74 ERA in 11 career starts -- his effectiveness dips on short rest once he hits the playoffs (1-2, 5.17 ERA in six starts).
Clemens will pitch Thursday on normal rest if there is a seventh game.
Munro had a 4-7 record and a 5.15 earned-run average after signing with the Astros in June.
"We have a lot of confidence in Pete," closer Brad Lidge said. "Every time he goes out, he gives you a chance to win the game."
Matt Morris will start for the Cardinals.
Lidge would be the story of the postseason in the NL if it weren't for Houston's Carlos Beltran and his record-tying eight homers.
The hard-throwing reliever put the finishing touches on the Cardinals in Games Three, Four, and Five, throwing 77 pitches in five scoreless innings and recording two saves and a victory.
"He deserves to be placed among the best closers in the league this year, there's no question," Garner said.
St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said he expected relievers Julian Tavarez and Steve Kline to be available Wednesday. Tavarez broke two fingers in his glove hand when he punched a dugout phone after yielding a go-ahead homer in Game Four, and Kline aggravated a torn tendon in a finger of his throwing hand in Game Two.
Tavarez was fined $10,000 by the commissioner's office for throwing a pitch over the head of Houston's Jeff Bagwell in Game Four of the NL championship series.
Tavarez plans to have the players' union file an appeal on his behalf today.
In the Cardinals' past six postseason series when the count was 3-2 after five games, the team that had two wins has rallied to win all six. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they have been on the losing end in four of those situations.
They lost the 1968 World Series to Detroit after leading three games to two and, in fact, 3-1. They won the 1982 World Series in seven games after trailing the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2. They lost the 1985 World Series to Kansas City after leading 3-2, and also 3-1. They won the 1987 National League Championship Series from San Francisco after trailing 3-2, but lost the World Series that year at Minnesota after leading 3-2. And, in 1996, they lost to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS after leading 3-2 and also 3-1.
In all but the 1968 World Series, the home team won the final two games.