Faces, not teams, change in NLCS

Healthy this year, Pettitte, Carpenter lead same Astros, Cardinals in series rematch


St. Louis -- Once the 2005 National League Championship Series is decided, the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros will have gone head-to-head no less than 45 times over the past two seasons.

Should this NLCS go the distance and mirror last year's edition, make it 48 games between the two clubs in a 19-month span.

Yet as the series opens tonight at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals and Astros this season were more like perfect strangers than renewed rivals.

This is the first NLCS rematch since 1991-1992, when the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves vied for World Series appearances in consecutive years.

They did so with the same protagonists. John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, David Justice and Ron Gant. Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Jay Bell and Doug Drabek. All took part in both series.

Among the former Astros and Cardinals missing from last year's NLCS: Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent, Edgar Renteria, Tony Womack, Mike Matheny and Woody Williams. Scott Rolen and Jeff Bagwell are still here but are unable to play due to injuries.

New to the landscape: Mark Grudzielanek, David Eckstein, Abraham Nunez and Mark Mulder for the Cardinals. Willy Taveras didn't participate for the Astros last season, and guys like Adam Everett, Mike Lamb and Jason Lane had complementary roles.

"I thought the Cardinals were going to be hard-pressed to duplicate what they did last year and they did duplicate it," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "We are a different club and we are probably not offensively as potent as we were last year. ... We are probably a little stronger in the pitching department and probably a little weaker in the offense department. I don't know how that's going to work out."

Last season pitchers Chris Carpenter and Andy Pettitte sat out with injuries. This time they are healthy and starting Game 1.

In addition, the Astros eliminated the Braves in four Division Series games this year as opposed to five in 2004. So that didn't force them into starting pitching mismatches. Last season, they couldn't use Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt until games 3 and 4, after they were already down 2-0 in the series.

"When I signed with the Astros, this is what I hoped that I would be able to help the organization do, is get past that first round of the playoffs," said Pettitte, an ex-Yankee with nine career LCS starts.

"Like I said a million times before, last year they did it without me and hopefully this year I can help us get past this round."

The Cardinals are the better offensive team, and they led the league in ERA (3.49), just ahead of the Astros (3.51).

Postseason schedule


American League

New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Angels

(Los Angeles wins series, 3-2) Game 1 -- New York 4, Los Angeles 2 Game 2 -- Los Angeles 5, New York 3 Game 3 -- Los Angeles 11, New York 7 Game 4 -- New York 3, Los Angeles 2 Game 5 -- Los Angeles 5, New York 3


(Best of seven; *-if necessary)

American League

Los Angeles Angels vs. Chicago White Sox

(Los Angeles leads series 1-0) Last night -- Los Angeles 3, Chicago 2 Today -- L.A. (Washburn 8-8) @ Chicago (Buehrle 16-8), 8:19 p.m. Friday -- Chi. (Garland 18-10) @ L.A., 8:10 p.m. Saturday -- -- Chi. (Garcia 14-8) @ L.A., 8:15 p.m. *Sunday -- Chicago@Los Angeles, 8:15 p.m. *Tuesday -- L.A.@Chicago, 8:20 p.m. *Next Wednesday -- L.A.@Chicago, 8:20 p.m.

National League

Houston vs. St. Louis

Today -- Houston (Pettitte 17-9) @ St. Louis (Carpenter 21-5), 8:19 p.m. Tomorrow -- Houston@St. Louis, 8:19 p.m. Saturday -- St. Louis@Houston, 4:25 p.m. Sunday -- St. Louis@Houston, 4:35 p.m. *Monday -- St. Louis@Houston, 8:20 p.m. *Next Wednesday -- Hou.@St. Louis, 4:20 p.m. *Oct. 20 -- Houston@St. Louis, 8:20 p.m.


(Best of seven; *-if necessary) Oct. 22 -- NL@AL, 8 p.m. Oct. 23 -- NL@AL, 8:10 p.m. Oct. 25 -- AL@NL, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 26 -- AL@NL, 8:25 p.m. *Oct. 27 -- AL@NL, 8:25 p.m. *Oct. 29 -- NL@AL, 7:55 p.m. *Oct. 30 -- NL@AL, 7:55 p.m.

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