ST. LOUIS -- Brandon Backe is too busy pitching big games to sit around and worry about their magnitude.
Is that the secret to his success?
"Well, he's not stupid, I don't think," Astros manager Phil Garner answered with a smile. "But, you know, it could be a good question and a good point, because I think sometimes young people are just so involved in what's going on that they don't stop to think what this means."
On Wednesday, it means more than ever before. Backe, a 26-year-old converted outfielder and a poster boy for Houston's improbable second-half surge, will start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on three days' rest against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Yep, Brandon Backe. Not, Roger Clemens, the Hall of Fame-bound icon. Not Roy Oswalt, the 20-game winner. Not even Pete Munro, the well-rested right-hander.
"You start to believe after three or four starts of him being consistent," said Astros outfielder Lance Berkman. "Shoot, I'm very comfortable with him being out there on the mound."
Even for a game this huge? Game 1?
"Absolutely," Berkman said. "He's pitched some huge games for us. Every time we've needed him, he's responded. Backe's the kind of guy who embraces that stuff. He loves that spotlight. I think that's part of the reason he's successful and I love to see it."
Backe has had plenty of the spotlight of late. The Astros' rotation has been without Andy Pettitte and Wade Miller for much of the season, so the team turned to Backe down the stretch and he delivered.
He delivered this season against the Cardinals, going 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in six games, including two late-season starts. He delivered in the final game of the regular season, pitching the Astros to a win over Colorado that clinched the Wild Card. Then he delivered in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Braves, pitching Houston to a 2-1 series lead with Clemens and Oswalt on deck for the final two games.
Houston Astros vs. St. Louis Cardinals
at St. Louis
STL 10, HOU 7
at St. Louis
at St. Louis
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* If necessary
In large part because of those contributions, the Astros found themselves in St. Louis on Tuesday, having finished off the Braves on Monday night. With Clemens and Oswalt unavailable, Garner told Backe the big news about 15 minutes before he broke it to the assembled media.
"You know, it gives me confidence that he has confidence in me to take the mound in Game 1," Backe said. "I'm just going to go out there and treat it like any other game I've been pitching in and try to get through that lineup."
Trouble is, this is entirely unlike any game Backe has ever played. Garner is betting that he is up for the challenge.
"I think in his case, he's aware," Garner said. "He was a high school football player at Galveston in Texas, took the team to the state championship. You know what high school football's like in Texas; that's a big deal.
"He's already been sort of in that environment before. Now, certainly this is a grander stage, but, you know, when you're in high school football playing in the state championships, that's a pretty big stage, too. This is not something that's necessarily a first-time affair for him."
Why Backe over Munro? It sets up the rotation such that Backe would be available for a Game 5 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where he has enjoyed the bulk of his success. During the regular season, Backe was 4-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 17 appearances at home and 1-2 with a 6.52 ERA in 16 appearances on the road.
"He's pitched his best ball at home," Garner said. "I think this is the best way to go."
Brandon Backe / P
Weight: 180 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
It certainly is an interesting way to go. The Cardinals are going with University of Houston product Woody Williams in Game 1, followed by Matt Morris, two guys with plenty of postseason experience.
The Astros, meanwhile, are lined up to start Backe followed by Munro, two guys who spent much of 2004 in the minors. They will turn to some combination of Clemens-Oswalt for Games 3 and 4, leaving that duo ready to work on short rest, if needed, for Games 6 and 7.
"This is what it took for us to get here," Garner said. "This is what we'll go with. Brandon's pitched well for us, Pete's pitched well for us. Our bullpen is OK, ready to go. Who knows how the outcome of the game is going to turn out, but we're delighted to be here and we don't feel handicapped in any way whatsoever."
Backe calls his hyper nature a plus, but said he would have to keep it in check on Wednesday night. He will be starting on short rest for the first time in his 10 big league starts.
"I don't think it matters with him," Garner said. "I think he could pitch on one day, two days' (rest). I think he can pitch tomorrow and he'll probably be ready the next day. He's been in the office a couple of times already saying he's ready to pitch in between starts."
Backe couldn't remember making a start on three days' rest at any level. He converted from an outfielder to a pitcher after the 2001 season.
"But I feel good," he said. "I think the adrenaline's going to take away any soreness or whatever I have.
"The big thing for me is just to calm my emotions down when I'm out there on the mound and to just concentrate on the task at hand, you know, take the challenge for each hitter, don't try and get too ahead of myself, and just do what I can do. I can only do as much as Brandon Backe can do, like I said. I'm going to take it one hitter at a time, one pitch at a time, and see where I can go."
Adam McCalvy 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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