10/20/2004 4:12 PM ET
Notes: Lamb gets first playoff start
Third baseman in Game 6 lineup in place of Ensberg
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
|Used to coming off the bench, Mike Lamb was surprised to get the start in Game 6. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- Mike Lamb had not started any of the Houston Astros' first 10 playoff games, so he was somewhat surprised when he saw his name on the lineup card prior to Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on Wednesday.
Lamb was slated to bat sixth and play third base, an assignment that has been Morgan Ensberg's for the better part of a month.
"We've been winning, so I didn't really expect any changes," Lamb said. "I'm surprised, but I'm looking forward to it."
No one would ever question a manager for putting Lamb's bat in the lineup, as hitting is the third baseman's strong suit. Lamb's defense, however, is often suspect, especially when he's had a long layoff.
"I appreciate the opportunity, obviously," said Lamb, who missed Games 3 and 4 due to the birth of his son. "I don't think my expectations are so high. I haven't been on the field in a month. I don't know what to expect. I'm obviously going to go out there and do my best, and we'll see what happens."
Manager Phil Garner relied heavily on Lamb off the bench for much of the season, and considers the left-handed hitter one of his key weapons in late-game situations. He saw Game 6 as a good opportunity to give Lamb some exposure to keep him fresh.
"You can't ask a guy to come off the bench and maybe win a ballgame for you in any one of those situations," Garner said. "He hasn't had more than one at-bat in the last couple weeks. Plus, he's been a good player for us in these situations, too. We mixed and matched him and Ensberg, and both have done a fantastic job.
"We're going to need his bat somewhere along the line. If we go to [Game] 7 tomorrow, you're asking him to step off the bench, and his last at-bat was last week when he was here. It's been four, five days since he saw live pitching."
Oswalt available: Following the Astros' 3-0 win over the Cardinals on Monday, Garner pulled Roy Oswalt aside and asked him if he could pitch out of the bullpen on Wednesday in Game 6.
"After that win, [Garner] said, 'It looks like we're going with Pete [Munro],'" Oswalt said. "He was wondering if I could throw out of the bullpen."
To prepare, Oswalt skipped his normal between-starts side session on Tuesday, estimating he would be able to throw 30-40 pitches in relief of Munro, if needed.
Travel plans: Regardless of whether the NLCS went to a Game 7, the Astros were planning somewhat of an extended stay in St. Louis.
Even if they win Game 6 to clinch a World Series berth, the earliest the Astros are planning to leave St. Louis is Thursday night. If the Yankees win Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, the Astros won't be able to check into their hotel in New York until Friday. If the Red Sox win, the Astros will fly to Boston on Thursday night.
Admittedly anxious: Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said Wednesday was the most nervous he felt throughout the postseason.
After all, until just recently, the Astros were considered by Braves fans and Cardinals fans as a mere speed bump on their way to the World Series.
Suddenly, the Astros were one win away from reaching the Fall Classic themselves, and for Hunsicker, the euphoria of simply getting this far had worn off.
"Up to this point, you always felt you were on this amazing carpet ride that seemed surreal at times," he said. "No one expected you to get this far. Nobody expected us to beat the Braves. Then we beat the Braves. Then it was, 'Well, certainly, they won't get past the Cardinals.'
"Now, all of a sudden, you get to one game away from getting into your first World Series. The pressure, all of a sudden, starts to increase. You've come so close, and if you don't get there after coming this close, then it's going to leave a real pit in your stomach."
Fines: Major League Baseball vice president of on-field operations Bob Watson confirmed that Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez was fined for throwing at Jeff Bagwell's head during Game 4 of the NLCS. However, Watson did not reveal if the reported $10,000 price tag was accurate.
"He's been fined. Other than that I'm not going to comment on it. We don't comment on fines," Watson said. "The umpire said he threw at the man intentionally. He was fined an undisclosed amount for throwing at the head of Jeff Bagwell."
Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa had not heard about the rumored amount of the fine until a reporter asked him about it during a pregame meeting with the media.
"You talk about a precendent, so when the ball is thrown in that area, gets $10,000 for now on?" La Russa said. "They're going to go back and nail guys? That's so ridiculous.
"In that game, [Tavarez] is going to do something like that? I even said it, I said it looks bad, but there's a lot of balls that get thrown out there that don't look good. That [$10k fine] better not be true."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.