Astros won't start Clemens on short rest

Garner turns to Munro to face Cards in Game 6

Baseball

October 20, 2004|By Juan C. Rodriguez | Juan C. Rodriguez,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

ST. LOUIS - He couldn't ignore the numbers. Houston Astros manager Phil Garner couldn't dismiss the historical trend that says starting pitchers on three days' rest more often than not is a losing proposition.

Even with Roger Clemens ready. Even with a year-old example of how going for it with your best pitcher can work, Garner decided to give Pete Munro the ball for tonight's National League Championship Series Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

A victory away from the franchise's first World Series trip, the Astros will send a rested journeyman to the mound instead of a 42-year-old future Hall of Famer on abbreviated recovery time.

"No. 1, he deserves to get the shot to start again," Garner said. "Part of the other things that go into it, if you ask Roger to come back on short days two of the last three starts, I'm not sure that even though he's willing and able and fine with it . . . it's best to let him go on the fifth day and give Pete his shot."

Garner was no doubt encouraged by Munro's last outing. He went 4 2/3 innings (80 pitches) and held the Cardinals to three runs on six hits in Game 2. The Cardinals did not score off Munro until Larry Walker hit a two-out, two-run homer in the fifth.

Munro, who did not appear in the Division Series, did not pitch more than five innings in any of his past six starts. Garner said Munro could have gone longer in several outings, but he wanted to give players on his expanded September roster some opportunities.

"I honestly didn't think I was going to be that sharp," Munro said, of his Game 2 start. "I knew I was going to be around the plate, but from the first pitch in the bullpen I felt that I was ... on top of my game. That's one of the things that I took out that was very positive. I made them put the ball in play a lot."

Munro was in the Astros organization in 2002-03 and made 59 appearances (16 starts) for the big-league club. He started 2004 with the Twins and didn't make it out of Triple-A until he was given his release and the Astros signed him June 3.

"I've been underestimated my whole life when it comes to baseball," Munro said. "I'm sure that they'd rather face me than Roger. I mean, I'd rather face me than Roger, but there's a lot of underestimating going on about me. I guess I showed up in Game 2, right? Closed a lot of mouths then."

Nonetheless, Garner left plenty of mouths agape with this decision. Clemens, who threw 116 pitches in his Game 3 win Friday, went on three days' rest in the Division Series against the Braves, going five innings in a no-decision. Clemens was gassed after 87 pitches.

Josh Beckett's Game 6 shutout performance in the World Series last year for a Marlins team up 3-2 at Yankee Stadium didn't sufficiently move Garner to give Clemens the ball. Clemens is almost 20 years older than Beckett and threw 214 innings this season. Beckett in 2003 entered the postseason having thrown 142 innings.

Before Beckett's Game 6 effort, playoff starters had gone 5-16 with a 6.30 ERA on short rest in the past five years.

"The numbers don't suggest that it works," Garner said. "There's going to be a lot of people saying to you to do the opposite, start Roger. What I feel in my gut is what I have to do. If you take all the information that's available, all the facts, you assimilate them, and I haven't heard anybody give me anything I haven't thought about. Given all those circumstances, I think this is the best way to go."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Cardinals vs. Astros

Best of seven; *-if necessary Houston leads series 3-2

Game 1: St. Louis, 10-7

Game 2: St. Louis, 6-4

Game 3: Houston, 5-2

Game 4: Houston, 6-5

Game 5: Houston, 3-0

Today: Houston (Munro 4-7) at St. Louis (Morris 15-10), 4:19 p.m.

*Tomorrow: Houston at St. Louis, 8:19 p.m.

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