ST. LOUIS -- As stoic and seemingly emotionless as baseball players will have you believe they are, even the most savvy couldn't deny that Thursday was definitely not just your average day at the park.
Besides the crisp autumn air -- unless you're in Houston -- that is so closely associated with the postseason, there was definitely an overlying feeling of anticipation during the hours leading up to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
"This is definitely not an ordinary game," Brad Ausmus said. "Today is either the beginning of your offseason, or the beginning of the World Series for one team."
General manager Gerry Hunsicker has tabbed several playoff games as the "biggest in the history of the franchise." He used that phrase again on Thursday, and, like the other times, he was right. He was also confident in the Astros' ability to win it, as he was before Game 5 of the Division Series and the final game of the regular season, when they clinched the Wild Card.
"As a player, you just try to keep yourself under control, not let your emotions get out of hand," Hunsicker said.
And how are you doing, Gerry?
"I'm in terrible shape. I'm a physical wreck," he joked.
"Really, I go up and down the emotional roller coaster, like anybody else," he said. "I'm actually very confident today. Very calm, very confident. I found myself on the bus coming out here just reflecting on all the extraordinary things that have happened to this team.
"Win, lose or draw, I've never been prouder of a team that I've been associated with than this one. It's been an extraordinary effort, and I'm looking forward to it continuing. But win, lose or draw, it's been a special team."
Shake on it? While the hand-shaking session between the Cardinals and Dodgers following the decisive Game 4 of the Division Series was applauded by many in the baseball community, the question still remains as to how appropriate the sportsmanlike gesture is the further the postseason progresses.
It comes as a surprise to no one that longtime rivals New York and Boston did not slap each other on the back and say "good game" when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS on Wednesday. The question still remained as to what the Cardinals and Astros were planning to do following their Game 7 at Busch Stadium on Thursday.
"I have no idea," manager Phil Garner said when asked about the plan.
Garner isn't against shaking hands after games. But he doesn't like that the fact that sometimes if a team goes straight into the clubhouse after a loss, that can be misconstrued as being sore losers.
"I think that's a mischaracterization of what goes on," Garner said. "When a team wins, it's their party. So when the team does not go and out shake hands, it is no disrespect for the other team at all. It is respect for the other team. It's their time."
"I take exception to the saying that baseball has had this stodgy, old rule where we don't go out and shake players' hands. We have a great deal of respect for the Cardinals. Not shaking hands doesn't mean that we don't have respect for the Cardinals, or vice versa. It just means in my viewpoint, that it's the winning team's celebration and party and let them enjoy it."
All hands on deck: Garner didn't offer specifics, but it was clear that everyone was avaiable to pitch in for Game 7. That encompassed the entire pitching staff, including Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, and, Garner said, Wednesday's starter, Pete Munro.
Brandon Backe / P
Weight: 180 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I talked to a couple guys when they came in, and they said they were feeling good," Garner said. "But I don't ever make a final deision until after batting practice."
Backe, whose normal day to pitch would be Saturday if he was throwing on his fifth day, would likely be the Game 2 starter of the World Series on Sunday if the Astros were to win the NLCS, with Oswalt getting the ball for Game 1.
Until then, Backe can always pinch-hit, as he did on Wednesday, when the Astros had run out of position players and Garner needed a pinch-hitter for Brad Lidge in the 12th. Backe struck out, but there were plenty of Astros observers who were thinking the former outfielder may just hit one out.
"It would have been a nice little story," Backe said. "I was trying to work the count. I didn't want to swing at the first pitch and make an out. I tried to work the count and maybe get a walk, hit by pitch, single, whatever. I didn't care what it was. I just wanted J.K. [Jeff Kent] to get up. That's all I was thinking about."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.