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10/11/05 5:24 PM ET

Phil Garner workout day interview

Astros manager discusses facing the Cardinals again in the NLCS

After the 18 inning game the other day, is there any concern that that took anything out of your team physically or more importantly emotionally, drained them?

GARNER: Absolutely not. The only thing that we probably lost in that game was probably a few voices, mine included. It's coming back, though.

I think the good news is we had a couple of days not for anything other than pitchers more than likely. Biggio of course was out there for 18 innings. Ausmus 58 innings and Lane for 18 innings, and I think it's probably good they had a day or two to physically recover from it.

A couple of our pitchers had gone longer than they had gone all year and I'm sure they will be fine and I'll find out after our work out here.

If you lose that game I think it takes an emotional toll on you but if you win it I think it puts a couple of feathers in your cap and I think the guys are feeling pretty good about it.

Can you talk about the primary difference between this year and last year and how that changes the dynamics of the series with the same teams?

GARNER: Well, I didn't think I thought the Cardinals were going to be hard pressed to duplicate what they did last year, and they did duplicate it and I think they did it differently. Their pitching is much improved over last year. Their offense is still very good. They have guys that can get on base, they have guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark and hit for high average along with their power all the way up and down the lineup. So they are not an easy club to have to face and they are not an easy club to defend.

We are a different club and we are probably not as offensively as potent as we were last year. We certainly don't have the possibility to break a game open with the long balls like we did last year. We're a little bit younger in our offense, but somehow we found a way. Our pitching is more solid than it was last year from top to bottom. Our bullpen has been good on the balance of the year and having Andy Pettitte healthy has helped our rotation quite a bit. We are probably a little stronger in the pitching department and probably a little weaker in the offense department. I don't know how that's going to work out. I've been very bad at makes predictions in these post seasons.

How reassuring is it to know that you have Andy, Roy and Roger lined up on full rest to pitch in this series?

GARNER: Well, that's the advantage of winning on Sunday, obviously, and it was nice to be able to get Rocket out there for just a little tune up for his start. (Laughter.)

You know, you've got to feel good. These are our big guys. If I had known it was this easy to manage with guys like Clemens and Pettitte, I'd have gotten them a long time ago.

Last year the home team won every game in the series, so does that put any extra onus to try to at least get a split before you go back home?

GARNER: Well if I could have done it last year, I would have done it, and we would do that. Obviously if that were in our control all the time, then I wouldn't even play for a split here, I'd just win them both and not even worry about it.

You're right, and it was strange. We noticed that the fourth game into it that it looked like the home team was winning every ballgame, and yes, we'd like to obviously win a couple of games here or one game here or something, but who knows how it's going to turn out. I've been surprised, pleasantly surprised by our ballclub. I've been disappointed at times that I thought we were going to win ballgames, I thought we could win, series and we bounced back to do much better. I am enjoying the ride now. I don't even really think of what we might do or might not do. I'm just enjoying the ride. We're going to do the best we can to win every ballgame we play and it would be nice to win a couple up here and take it home.

You just said the Cardinals pitching is much better than it was last year; how so?

GARNER: Well, to me I think well, some people are going to say the bullpen is not probably as solid this year as it was last year. But for me, Mulder is a plus. Carpenter is coming off a great season and strong as ever. And I think Morris is probably in better shape right now than he was last year at this time when we faced him.

I think that makes them a little better ballclub. They have got formidable starting pitching that they can throw at you. Marquis is a good swing guy, however they are going to use him. He's pitched very well against us. So whether he's going to start or whether he's pitching out of the bullpen, it doesn't matter, he's pitched well against us. I think their pitching is pretty solid.

Every once in awhile, you'll make a move and I'll say, why did he do that, how could he make that move, and then it works. How would you describe yourself as a manager; seat of the pants kind of thing, is it a gut feeling or how do you come up with some of your decisions?

GARNER: Well, without knowing which moves you're talking about, it would be hard to say. I do sometimes by the gut, but most everything is calculated.

We have interchangeable parts, more so I think than most of the teams in the playoffs. We have a guy that can play every position. If I want to take any one guy and I want to maneuver around the lineup in some way I have him that I can just keep moving to any position on the field and he'll play a great defense. He's actually probably saved three games for us because he's made phenomenal defensive plays not to mention what he's done with his bat for us over the course of the season.

The other day in the 18 inning game, Ausmus goes out from behind the plate because I wanted to keep both catchers in in case we got into a drawn out affair and I had to bring in Clemens and I wanted Ausmus to pitch and flip flopped the two when Clemens came in. That's not a difficult decision, I'm confident with both of them playing out there because both of them do a good job and they practice it all the time. They take groundballs all year long and I would even put Brad at shortstop one game, or second base one game, I believe it was in preparation for something just like this.

They were mostly all calculated. I would say there's some things that I feel good about, some things that I don't feel about that. I didn't want to take Berkman out of the game but everybody in the world would say why would you take Berkman out because he's the guy that's going to win the ballgame for you and the guy I replace him with is the guy that hits the home run and wins the ballgame. I figure based on Atlanta's outfield, if we get a base hit there, they are aggressive, they all have good arms and they are accurate and if we don't take a chance to score I'm not going to like myself very much the next day. So you've got to do things, in my opinion, that way, so most of it is calculated.

How are you guys a different road club at this point than you were earlier in the year, and what kind of what's the catalyst in getting you over that hump that you had on the road earlier?

GARNER: It's a good observation and I don't know why, but we just played so poorly on the road early the first half of the season, actually. And I have no explanation for it. We just didn't click and we got off to a very rotten start in New York. We made a couple of miscues, misplayed balls. We hit the ball well but we had a cold northern wind blowing in at Shea Stadium and we didn't get anything for it and it was just almost like we just went in the tank for the next 30 games and 40 games on the road. We just didn't play well.

We got it turned around and we played better on the road. I don't even know what our record is since then but we've certainly played better on the road and we're still not at .500 on the road but we're playing much better. But it's not to the point where I go into shock when we go on the road anymore.

You've spoken about the importance of the closer on your team and the guys who get him the ball; are those guys overlooked on your team do you think?

GARNER: I think so. If you mentioned the name of Qualls and Wheeler and Springer, it doesn't exactly make people shudder and most people don't know who they are, Gallo even has done a tremendous job for us in the last month.

The tendency is to talk about our starting pitching and the tendency is to talk about Brad Lidge and that's justifiable. They all deserve and we can throw it their way, they have been fantastic and they do it, our starters have gotten us deep in the game and our closer has been fantastic, Lidge has been fantastic at closing out the game, but none of it works if you don't have the middle guys. If you can't bridge the gap, it's not going to work and our guys have done a fine job.

At this time of the year where your lineup was not rested, can you take us back to how tricky it was trying to figure out what to do for the first two games last year?

GARNER: It was difficult because we had used Rocket and Roy, I want to say both Rocket and Roy just to get here. We had to burn them up to get here. So we were not exactly lined up like we we'd like to be. But we had Roy who was a journeyman starter and give us everything he had. We were looking to get four or five innings out of him and he gave us four, I believe it was here, and we went to the bullpen. Our bullpen had gotten a little bit burned up too by that point. We had a young Qualls and a young Wheeler and it ended up being a tough series for us.

Guys played as hard as they could. They did everything they could do. They all did everything we could, and we came up short and were not quite good enough. We've got nothing to be ashamed of about that. We got beat by a pretty good ballclub.

Winner goes to the World Series which is obviously motivation enough, but having lost to them a year ago, do you think there's any extra juice, and if not that, the fact that you've played them so often?

GARNER: Well, they have beaten us up pretty bad this year. They have really thumped us pretty good. Just as a matter of pride we would not want to see them celebrate here again. We'd like to change that.

I don't think that we need any more incentive than we already have. We're an organization that has never been to the World Series, that's plenty incentive right there. We have guys, Bagwell, Biggio that have been the stalwarts and the reason this organization has been great for the decade and a half, almost two decades actually, and I know those guys want to get their shot at a World Series.

There's plenty of motivation around us. Matter of fact, I would not want them to be any more motivated than they are because I think sometimes in these key games like we're going to be playing, it's better to be it's better to try easier sometimes than try harder. And being overly motivated, only being aggressive, you can get too amped up and get outside yourself. We're plenty motivated, there's no question about that. We don't need to be anymore.

Can you talk about Lance Berkman and how different of a person he is, but also, the fact that since he got healthy, how your offense ...

GARNER: He's another one of those guys, and there's a few of them out there, that when the game is tough and on the line and the best pitcher is in the game, he can produce. We saw him do that in the big 18 inning game when he hit the Grand Slam. But he's a guy that appears to be asleep at some points in the game but when it's really key, he's there. I say that with a great deal of respect, because what you want in a guy is a guy with ice water in his veins. And if you have a guy like that, sometimes if the game can be boring to him, and I'm not suggesting that it's boring to him, but I would suggest that when it's in it's highest moment, when everybody else is nervous and anxious, he's the guy that you look at and he's cool and calm and knows exactly what he can do. So he's a completely confident hitter and he's a great hitter. That's what he did the other day when the chips were down and we needed a guy with a big blow. As I said to Cecil Cooper in about the sixth inning, the way Hudson was pitching, we're going to need somebody to do something spectacular, a big blow if we're going to get back in this game and you would expect that he would be the guy to do it.

Since La Russa has been here ten years, except for one year, either the Astros or the Cardinals have won the division and now two years in a row, you're playing for the right to go to the World Series, what makes this such a good rivalry? It seems like it's special because of a lot of factors. In your mind, why do you like playing the Cardinals?

GARNER: Well, it's not really a rivalry until we start beating the Cardinals a couple of times and they can really go home mad then it will become a really good rivalry. Right now, it's one sided.

I think they have been a storied organization, a fantastic organization, one of the ones that you would look to as we're going to try to model yourself if you were a young organization. I would consider us an upstart based on the number of years the Cardinals have been in existence compared to ours. They have great numbers of success going to tons of World Series, playoffs and successes like that, and we haven't.

So we're fighting to get there. And for us, the road to the World Series the last couple of years has been through St. Louis and that sort of, as we were talking about the motivation earlier, certainly we are motivated to do that and that in part helps the rivalry I would guess. Plus they are a good team and when you're playing good teams, you just want to beat good teams.

In general, how would you like to see your hitters approach Carpenter in what they were not doing in the wins they had against you earlier on during the season?

GARNER: Well, now, that's a secret. We couldn't tell you our game plan there, but it's okay with me if we go up and we hit the first thing we see and we hit it hard. We'll go at it that way. We want to be aggressive. It's no time to sit back and if we see something we like, we're going to swing at it.

You mentioned that the offense is maybe not quite as strong for you guys this season, does that put more of a premium on Biggio and Tavares getting on base?

GARNER: I don't think so. I think obviously Biggio had a nice couple of nice games in the playoffs and he got us going. I do believe as Biggio goes, we go as a team. I just kind of think he sets a tempo. But I think it's unfair to put a lot of pressure just on those two guys. It really is going to be a team effort on our part because we are not going to hit a bunch of home runs. So we have to have guys that get on and we have to have guys get base hits when they are key.

So the bottom of the lineup is just going to have to do something just like when Brad did when he hit the home run to tie the ballgame up and just like the bench did coming through with some big hits for us. It's not going to be all about Biggio and Tavares at the top of the lineup and it's not going to be all about Ensberg or Jason Lane or what somebody doesn't do. We are all going to have to, when we get a chance, an opportunity, we're going to have to bunch a couple of hits together and we have to have some big hits in there and one day it's going to be an Ensberg and one day it's going to be a Berkman and one day it's going to be a Biggio and Tavares.

All of the changes that your club has had from last year, the Cardinals actually have quite a few changes, could you talk a little about how they are different from last year, especially up the middle?

GARNER: Up the middle. When they originally made those changes, I was I thought it was somewhat benign. I didn't think it was a great move, or necessarily a great move, but I think looking back on it, Grudzielanek and Eckstein have played great ball. You've got to tip your hat to David Eckstein. He's been pesky and gets on base, moves runners, does everything this a manager would to do because you felt like if he needed a double he could hit it. And there's been times when you want to squeeze with the guy, you can squeeze with the guy, he can do all kinds of things. He doesn't have an ego that you have to work around. He will do what you ask him to do and plays the game as hard as you can play it and you've got to love the guy and you appreciate him as a former manager and player on the other side, you appreciate it, you don't like him and he really gets in your hair but you have to appreciate it, you have to appreciate what it does for you. There are two guys up the middle and Mark Grudzielanek has been hitting well all season, and played very well at second from what we can tell. It was two good moves for them after I thought it might hurt their ballclub when they lost the middle of their field.

Obviously there's other parts of the game that are very important, but getting back to the starting pitching, you have Andy this year to go along with Roy and Roger, they have Carpenter and they added Mulder; is the starting pitching going to be the primary factor that decides this series?

GARNER: Again, I've already said I'm a very bad predictor of how these things are going to turn out. Sure would look that way to me on the surface but who knows. It could be somebody that steps up, it maybe a Wandy Rodriguez that comes out of nowhere and pitches a couple of ball games and does a fantastic job. You see it all the time.

I would count on the big guys pitching very well but it may come down to some player of lesser stature or notoriety that might end up being the big key here.

Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.