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10/14/05 8:39 PM ET

Phil Garner workout day interview

Manager comments on his bullpen, Clemens' career

What does it do for your team's confidence by going to St. Louis and winning a game there?

PHIL GARNER: Well, a couple things have happened. Obviously last year, you had the stigma of them winning all four games in their ballpark last year, and we got so close, did it, and yet it seemed so far away a year removed from it.

Now the fact that we've won a ballgame there, you feel that, hey, it's possible we can. We know it and they know it now, so I think that's a plus on our side. Even though I say that, it still doesn't get any easier. You still have to play good ball, and we had a well pitched ballgame last night, well played ballgame on our side to win the ballgame. And those are the kind of games we're going to have and we're going to have to keep doing that.

Are you amazed at the composure of the young kids, Chris Burke, Willy T. And how they are playing in such pressure packed situations?

GARNER: Well, actually I had not thought that much about it but, yeah, since you mention it, it's been a pretty good performance by them under pressure. I think maybe the fact that we've had, maybe not this kind of pressure, but certainly the pressure to get here, we took it down to the last game of the season. We've had to fight for several months to stay in the race, we got back on top of the race in the wild card race, we fell below, we got back on top and then the Phillies got hot and it looked like they were going to catch us.

So we had this kind of pressure going for a while, and they have maintained a great deal of composure under these difficult circumstances. That's good. It's a tribute to their personalities and their grittiness and their toughness.

After the first two games, just reflecting on what has happened, a lot of people have feared St. Louis and their lineup, the power that they have got and everything like that; it doesn't seem like your team is even thinking about that.

GARNER: Well, we respect them, I guess is the proper word. We're not afraid of them. We feel like we're a pretty good ballclub.

Did you feel comfortable bringing Brad Lidge in for a two-inning save situation?

GARNER: We had to bring him in last year in two inning saves and once or twice in the seventh inning just to get out of a jam, and he pitched extremely well for us last year and he's done a remarkable job again this year. So I am completely comfortable and confident and particularly when he's rested, I don't have a problem using him for two innings like we did last night. He's done a very, very good job.

Just to follow up on that, as good as Brad is, is there some particular set of circumstances where matchups that seem to make him even more successful against St. Louis?

GARNER: I don't know that. I think any time anybody can throw the ball in the 95 , 96 mile an hour range and you can locate it pretty well, you can have success, it doesn't matter who you are if you can locate. The name of our game, pitching, and it's location when you talk about pitching and Brad, and he has an electric slider. So if he gets his pitches where he wants to, he can be tough on anybody.

You were talking about the other guys in the bullpen, what has been the value this year of the setup guys, the guys that have allowed you to get from the starter to Brad?

GARNER: Invaluable. You know, if I can, if I paid $30 million for a Picasso and I went in the studio and I was getting ready to walk out with my $30 million purchase and I noticed at the last minute that he had not signed it, he had not finished the bottom portion of the painting, I would say, "Would you please sign it? "And he would say, "No, no, I'm not going to complete it."

We've got the Picassos with the guys like Pettitte, Clemens and Oswalt, but what completes the picture is our bullpen and modern day baseball, you just don't have pitchers, and I think we managers are as much to blame as anybody. We just don't stretch our starters nine innings. You just don't see complete games on balance in the course of the year.

What works in modern day baseball is that you have to have quality starters and certainly a closer, but you have to have somebody that bridges that gap, and our bullpen has done that for us all year. The middle portion of our bullpen has done that for us all year, and everybody we've had out there has done a very good job, so they have made it all work.

We don't win if we don't have the starting pitching, the quality starting pitching we do. We don't win if we don't have the bullpen that we have, and we don't win if we don't have the closer that we have. So when you get down to it and you play 162 ballgames and you win by one game, everybody has had to do a pretty good job, and they did.

What are you anticipating with a 1-1 series and Clemens going out tomorrow?

GARNER: Again, I have not been very good at making predictions in these playoff situations over the years, I couldn't tell you. I'll tell you this, Clemens will be ready and I expect him to give us a good ballgame. I know the Cardinals will be ready too, so it should be another well played hard fought ballgame.

How much longer could Roger have gone on a Sunday if you needed him and if the game still would have kept going without any, would he have played the field?

GARNER: Roger? No, he would not have played the field. I had Roy Oswalt coming in , I don't know the answer to that. I had said that it sure seemed to me like if they needed to pitch ten innings that day they probably would have done it. The man never ceases to amaze me and I don't say that jokingly. I say it in all earnest, the look that you saw in his face after he came off in the second and third, both the second and third innings that he pitched was total resolve. I don't think it was a matter of how long it was going to take, he was going to do whatever it took and I don't think I could have gotten the ball out of his hand anyway and it was his game. It was his game and I think he was going to do whatever he could to win.

You come home, split three straight at home now, Roger pitching tomorrow and seems like for the first time in maybe two years you're not fighting uphill with absolutely no margin; do you sense for the first time in a long, long time your back is just not against the wall?

GARNER: I would agree with that a little bit. Although last year when we came back here we were lined up pretty good with our pitching, we had Backe going in Game 4, we had Backe pitching the fifth game last year, but I'd say we are a little more on equal footing. I still can't tell you how much we respect the Cardinals and what they can do and what they have been able to do and capable of doing the last couple of years. Still I feel comfortable with the way our pitching is lined up, we're healthy going in here so we're not nursing any problems, so we feel good about that, so we're I think more on equal footing than perhaps we were last year.

How much longer can Roger pitch, period?

GARNER: Well, after he starts a couple of more years, he might go in the bullpen and pitch a couple of years, I don't know. (Laughing) It's not something that I've talked to him about. I'm enjoying every day that he goes out there and pitches now. I think certainly Houston fans and baseball fans all around the country really enjoy watching the legend pitch now, perhaps the greatest pitcher of all times so, if it's this year, we're going to enjoy it and if there's anything that comes after this, that's up to Roger, obviously.

Obviously Chris Burke showed he's not just a one hit wonder, just talk about what he's brought and what you saw in him even before he did all this?

GARNER: Well, we felt that Chris is sort of caught in a little bit of a dilemma. We signed him as shortstop and put him at second base and he worked hard to become a bigger second baseman his opportunities to come to the big league this year was not in second; it was in left field. He worked hard to become a very good left fielder, and along the way as we struggled offensively and Mike Lamb started swinging the bat better we got into a little bit of a platoon situation and he was playing against left handers. I don't see him as a platoon player by any stretch of the math in addition and in other circumstances he might have gotten a chance to play every day and you would have seen more of this type of player every day but we just didn't have the luxury of letting him fail a little bit along the way to becoming the player that he is. He has tools that you'd like to see, and his speed, swings the bat well, but I think his endearing trait, his enthusiasm and how he plays the game, never is down, you always feel like that he's a guy that's going to help you win late in the ballgame. That's one of those traits that's hard to find in a player; that you feel like if you get in a tough situation in the ballgame, he's capable of doing it for and you he's shown that he can do that.

You've talked about how pitchers have developed in modern day baseball, because of that, is it inconceivable that we will ever see anybody do what Roger has done again?

GARNER: I don't want to say ever again, because I'm sure there's going to be somebody coming long that's going to do some fantastic things, and I would hope so and I would expect it would happen. But what Roger has accomplished is absolutely phenomenal, the longevity and to be good over a long period of time is a trademark of a true Hall of Famer. And then I think you've got to put a special wing in the Hall of Fame for the Rocket.

But who knows what will happen beyond. Athletes are getting bigger, better and stronger and I'm sure they will be bigger and better and stronger as we go 10 years from now, 20 years from now, as science gets better and better. Who knows how that is going to turn out, but our kids will be reading about the Rocket for a number of years to come. People will write stories about it, books and they will write essays in high school. I remember writing a paper about Mickey Mantle because I had to write a story, people will write stories about the Rocket and it's great to watch him play. You know, the beautiful thing about our game is there are some people coming along who do better than they have in the past, but I'm certain that we all are enjoying what the Rocket is doing now.

Just to follow on that, you said that perhaps he's the greatest pitcher in history, but it's hard to take people out of their eras. Cy Young, he threw, probably started about 1,000 games and completed 700 of them, so obviously Roger didn't pitch in that era, so how do you size him up when you cut across years?

GARNER: I'm not smart enough to cut across the years and size him up. I should say arguably the best pitcher.

Well you said perhaps.

GARNER: Well, perhaps. I couldn't begin to compare across time zones and eras.

I think every era has its particular nuances. When you travel across the time zones, when you have as much scrutiny on everything that you do as you do today, it brings additional pressures. I think just in my short career in terms of the history of our game, they have gone to where we know we're playing in these games and we didn't have this much media. I didn't see this much media in a whole season then and I came up with the Oakland A's, and we were a World Series team.

Now there's a whole lot of pressures and things that you have to deal with, and that I think it makes it you have to be a very special person to be able to deal with all of that and succeed time and time and time again, and that's what he does.

He's gotten better at it.


With Reggie Sanders' situation, he's been so hot the last couple of weeks, he's been one of those guys that can really just carry a team when he's that hot. If he's less than healthy or out, how big of a swing is that in your favor and how important is that to you?

GARNER: I wouldn't say it's a swing in our favor. I think that's what happens, take a look when St. Louis lost Scott Rolen, they didn't miss a beat. They still win by a long shot. So that I'm sure someone is dying to get an opportunity if Sanders can't play.

You know what, these kind of stories are made in these playoff series, every year it's some unsung hero; it's a Chris Burke, it's maybe somebody else that steps up and gets an opportunity, so I don't think it helps us nor does it hurt them.

What did you learn about Roger Clemens as a manager that you didn't know before you were his manager?

GARNER: Well, I don't know how tough he was, he really was. You see on the other side of a diamond how good a player he is. And I didn't have real good teams when he we were facing him, so I just kept seeing balls down, balls down. We kept saying we have to quit swinging at those 150 mile an hour splits that's in the dirt. You can't do that; it's just too hard to do.

Now that I've watched him day in and day out, he's good because he's exceptional, because he's an exceptional talent, because he works harder than most people. He can endure things more than most people can. He's just mentally tougher than most people and that's what you see with the guy every day when you watch him time and time again. I'd say I'm duly impressed, as you can tell.

Are you surprised with Chris Burke's power?

GARNER: Am I surprised by Chris Burke's power? Not really. I would expect him to be more like what he did last night, fly ball into center, and we haven't seen him go to right field as much as I know he has in the Minor League system. But I think his power, you don't have to hit it a long way to hit a home run. But I think when he becomes a complete player in a couple of years, you'll see gap to gap type of power and a few home runs, too.

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