Notes: Sanders back in lineup
Cards start Mabry at third base in place of injured Nunez
HOUSTON -- It was a case of good-news, not-so-bad-news when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sat down to make out his lineup card on Sunday afternoon for Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
The good news? Reggie Sanders was available. So Sanders found himself playing left field and batting fifth after missing a game due to a nasty fall he took in Game 2. The bad news was that Abraham Nunez was out after a Saturday collision with Jason Lane, but Nunez is making progress from what the team calls a left quadriceps contusion. John Mabry started at third base in Nunez's place.
"It's just a good situation where we have Mabry, who can play third, ready to go," La Russa said. "As the day has gone on, Abe has felt better. You know he's having trouble walking, when he stood up this morning, and now he's been exercising and we're going to go out on the field and see how much he moves and see whether he's available later or not."
Nunez pronounced himself improved from Saturday, when Lane's knee collided with his lower thigh.
"It's better today," Nunez said. "Way better.
"When I woke up, it was stiff, but since I've been moving around, it's stretched out pretty good."
Sanders was a man of few words, at least when it came to his injuries, on Sunday afternoon. He has been bothered by a whiplash-like condition in his neck since hitting the ground hard on Thursday at Busch Stadium.
"I just said, 'I'm good. Let's go,'" Sanders said, when asked about his discussion with La Russa.
Said La Russa: "I said, 'How we doing, boys?' and he went thumbs up. I didn't want to ask any more. So he's in there."
Lineup tweak: La Russa did make one other lineup change, in addition to inserting Mabry. Mark Grudzielanek, who is 1-for-12 in the NLCS and 3-for-25 this postseason, was dropped from sixth to eighth. Mabry batted sixth.
"He's just in one of those classic funks," La Russa said. "He's trying to be aggressive and the ball is out of the zone and then he tries to be patient and [the opposing pitcher] can throw the ball down the middle. So you move him to eighth, and I think he's going to create some problems for them there because he's had hits off of Backe and he sits in front of the pitcher, [so he] deepens our lineup. So it's a little change of scenery for him."
Less offensive: Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals' Game 5 starter, struggled mightily at the plate for much of last year (5-for-62, .081). He did even worse for the first several months of 2005, carrying a 2-for-64 (.031) mark into September. But lately, he's fared quite a bit better. Carpenter picked up three base hits in September, including a pair of doubles. He squeezed home a run in Game 1 of the NLCS.
That's come with quite a bit of work, and it's helped Carpenter be in better position to win games.
"It's definitely a lot different than when I was in high school, you know," Carpenter said with a laugh. "I used to think of myself as I could hit a little bit. But once you come over here and realize how tough it is and the guys that you're facing, the stuff that they have, it's totally different.
"I try to work as hard as I can at it, because I know that at some point in time during the season, or obviously now in the playoffs, those little things, the bunt, the squeeze ... That one game, I think I got us two runs because I did the little things right. I know that if you do that, and do them successfully, you have a chance to score some runs and it might get you a win.
"So I've worked hard all year. I know that I haven't hit well and bunted well and things like that, but I continue to work at it and it frustrates me when I don't get the job done, so I really take it seriously. [It's about] trying to get better, and every day I've worked hard at it all year and I feel like I've gotten better at it."
Arizona update: The Surprise Scorpions lost, 7-6, to the Phoenix Desert Dogs in Arizona Fall League play on Saturday, with three Cardinals Minor Leaguers getting in the game. Travis Hanson finally cooled off a bit, going 0-for-4 with a run scored, and he was the only position player from the St. Louis organization to get in the game. Rich Scalamandre was roughed up for four runs on four hits in 1 1/3 inning, while Andy Cavazos pitched 1 2/3 shutout frames.
This date in Cardinals postseason history: On Oct. 16, 1985, the Cardinals secured their second trip to the World Series in four years when they beat the Dodgers, 7-5, at Dodger Stadium to claim the NLCS in six games. Jack Clark hit a three-run homer off Tom Niedenfuer in the top of the ninth to turn a one-run deficit into a two-run lead and the win. It was the second back-breaking homer off Niedenfuer in two games.
Coming up: Carpenter will try to remain perfect in the playoffs when he takes the mound in a huge Game 5 start for the Cardinals. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:28 p.m. CT, with a 7 p.m. broadcast time on FOX. Houston will send its Game 1 starter, Andy Pettitte, to the mound against Carpenter and the Redbirds.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.