ATLANTA -- Varying opinions may exist regarding the nature of the pitch from Juan Cruz that hit Carlos Beltran in the rib cage in the seventh inning on Wednesday, but the Houston Astros are united on one front: This is not time to stage a retaliation of any kind.
Some in the Astros' clubhouse suspected the plunking was intentional, while others were willing to give Cruz the benefit of the doubt. Either way, the incident will not affect how Astros pitchers approach Braves hitters for the remainder of the Division Series.
"Our objective -- and it has been since I've been here -- is we're going to win the ballgame," manager Phil Garner said.
"We're not interested in petty wars."
Prior to taking the mound for his final inning Wednesday, Roger Clemens took the same stance.
"I told Roger, and Roger was in the same mind himself: 'Let's go win this ballgame,'" Garner said.
The importance of each postseason game gave the Astros reason to believe the plunking was not intentional. As Jeff Bagwell pointed out, why would a pitcher want to generate unnecessary baserunners? But even for those who may not wholeheartedly believe Cruz's defense, there will be no paybacks from the Astros' dugout.
"This is the playoffs," Bagwell said. "People don't get in 'bean ball' or hit-batter wars in the playoffs. There's too much at stake.
"Do I think Juan Cruz intentionally tried to hit Carlos? No. There's no room to even discuss that, to even talk aboout it. This is too big of a time for all of us to be worrying about stuff like that."
"I don't know if he hit him intentionally or not," Garner said. "It didn't look good. The kid had been throwing the ball over the plate. I have no idea. But I'm not about to jeopardize our position in this game over something like that."
Next year: While the Astros have maintained their stance that they will follow Major League Baseball guidelines in terms of the interview process during a managerial search, there is no question that Astros players would enthusiastically welcome back Garner, should he return as the skipper in 2005.
"When you take over a team that's .500 and you get to probably four games under, then all of a sudden to be 22 games over, to make the playoffs, I think Phil deserves [to return as manager next year]," Bagwell said.
What has made Garner so successful?
"He's a very positive guy, he's a very vocal guy," Bagwell said. "He shows a lot of emotion. He's pushed the envelope, he has hit and run, he's let guys run. I think he's encouraged it. Probably at times, he probably wished that we'd run even more, but some of us guys are getting too old to run a lot.
"I think he's done a great job with the bullpen. Basically, for the last six weeks, he's managed every game like the last game, and that's a great way to be. At that particular time, it gave us an opportunity to win."
Jason Lane / RF
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: L
See ball, hit ball: Talk about making a splashy entrance. Jason Lane, who probably can expect about as much playing time in the playoffs as he did in the regular season -- in other words, not much -- considered taking a pitch or two when he faced Chris Reitsma in the ninth inning Wednesday.
Lane chucked that idea at the last second, and got the result he wanted when he sent a first-pitch fastball into the left-field stands.
"It was one of the first times I'd hit a fastball out in front like that," said Lane, who had entered the game in the seventh when Beltran exited with an injury. "It felt good, for it to be in a playoff game, in my first at-bat. It was exciting. I was happy to contribute a little bit and win. It was really important for us, with all the talk about how we struggled in the playoffs in the past, to play a solid game and get that first win nailed down."
Lane, playing in his first postseason, doesn't feel any extra pressure because it's October.
"It's just really fun," he said. "This is a fun time to play, and if you enjoy it and have fun and don't put extra pressure on yourself, it's great.
"I just try to focus on the task at hand and play in the big games at all the different levels, I feel like I've been able to do a good job of that. I just try to go with that. A lot of pressure is what you make of it and what you put on yourself. You shouldn't take yourself out of your game because of pressure."
Jeff Bagwell / 1B
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
In for the long haul: As much as Bagwell believed in his team this year, it would not have surprised him in the least bit if the Astros decided to break up the team around the trade deadline when it appeared thhe club was going nowhere.
"They never wavered from their stance that they were going to keep this team together," he said. "A lot of us in the clubhouse thought, 'Why?' We were that bad."
Bagwell is grateful to the front office for letting the team work its way out of its funk, even if it did take three months -- a long, agonizing, frustrating three months.
"Credit our organization," Bagwell said. "They believed in us and they thought, 'Hey, this our opportunity to get things done, and if you don't get it done, then at least we gave you the opportunity.' As veterans, we could be nothing but happy about that, and proud that they stuck with us."
He said it: "Rub some dirt on it and let's go. No time for pain." -- Bagwell, joking about what he said to Beltran on Thursday morning
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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