From poor start, Benes recovers nicely for Cards

His season salvaged, starter goes in Game 4

NLCS notebook

League Championship Series

October 13, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - Every time that St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes goes out to the mound, he has to look at it as a bonus for himself and ... if all goes well ... for his team.

He'll take the ball today in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series with his team's postseason destiny hanging in the balance, something he couldn't possibly have envisioned just five months ago.

Benes never expected to be pitching in the postseason because he didn't expect to finish the season with the Cardinals after beginning a lengthy stay on the disabled list early in the season. When his comeback from knee surgery turned sour, he went home for the summer and didn't think he would be coming back.

"The actual word `retirement' was kind of out of the picture because I didn't want to close the door to any future opportunity or potential opportunity," he said, "but I really didn't think I was going to be playing."

He postponed a decision on retirement at the urging of agent Scott Boras and accepted to do minor-league rehab at the request of Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, who was open to anything that might improve his club's diminished pitching depth.

"There was a call from Walt ... and some of the options that they had earlier in the season did not look as good as maybe they would have liked," Benes said. "I think from their standpoint there was not much of a risk in me rehabbing. I was not playing at the time anyway, and if it didn't work out, then it didn't work out."

It worked out pretty well. Benes was 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA before he went home. He picked up a split-fingered pitch from Chuck Finley and re-established himself as a quality starter, going 5-2 with a 1.82 ERA and posting the lowest second-half ERA in the major leagues.

Benes knows that he faces another huge challenge today against a Giants lineup that can do it all.

"I think maybe the people in St. Louis didn't realize how good they were," he said. "We were playing the world champions [the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Division Series] to start with, and so I think they thought, `Well, the next round will be easier than that.' But the Giants have a really good lineup."

Rolen tested

Third baseman Scott Rolen was available to pinch-run in yesterday's game, but his status for the rest of the NLCS remains uncertain. He was scheduled to work out again yesterday and may have a better idea today whether he will play during the Pac Bell Park portion of the playoff series.

"He's going to have an indoor workout, push it as much as he can and see how he comes out of it later today or tomorrow," said manager Tony La Russa.

It seems highly unlikely that Rolen could be available to play today, but the likelihood of him appearing in the latter games of the series - if the Cardinals can stay afloat long enough to get back to Busch Stadium - clearly has improved.

Dravecky returns

Former Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky, who lost his pitching arm to cancer, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3. Dravecky played on the Giants team that lost to the Cardinals in the 1987 NLCS.

"It brings back an awful lot of memories from 15 years ago," Dravecky said before the game. "Right now, they are two games up and there is still a lot of baseball to be played. Obviously, you want revenge, but the bottom line is, you've got to take it one game at a time."

Dravecky's bout with cancer led to a pair of inspirational autobiographies, but he shied away from the notion that he was here to inspire the Giants.

"I would hope that it would inspire guys from this ballclub to go out and win today, obviously, but the reality is, my appearance out here makes very little difference as to whether or not the Giants are going to win today."

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