Sunday, October 22, 2006

Unproven Reyes Is Weary Cards' Best Hope

DETROIT - One week to the day after his Tigers last played, Detroit manager Jim Leyland will learn tonight whether having a set, well-rested rotation is as big an advantage as it appears at the start of the 102d World Series.

"You never know what any pitcher, theirs or ours, is going to take out there on any given night," Leyland said Friday.

Spoken like a manager whose rotation is not only fresh, but deep, talented and, so far in October, absolutely dependable. More important, Leyland spoke like a man who has luxuries his counterpart, Tony La Russa, could only dream about as the series between the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals and the American League pennant-winning Tigers loomed.

La Russa arrived in Detroit knowing that while the Tigers had seven days to prepare for yesterday's workout and walk-up to that organization's first World Series since 1984, his Cardinals had about seven hours.

That's the remarkable difference in lag time between a team that swept its league championship series as opposed toand the one forced to play a seven-game war of attrition.

Because the Cards couldn't finish off the New York Mets until Game 7 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night, La Russa couldn't align his rotation to counter Detroit's Game 1 starter, Justin Verlander.

Chris Carpenter? Jeff Suppan? Jeff Weaver? Simply not available.
Instead, La Russa announced yesterday after much deliberation, "we're going to start with Anthony Reyes."

Reyes, as in the rookie who lasted only four innings in a three-hit, two-run, four-walk no-decision in Game 4 against the Mets. As in the pitcher who was 1-2 with a 6.10 ERA in Septemberin the regular season after August.

No starter has ever brought fewer regular-season victories to the mound for Game 1 of a World Series. Reyes is also the first to get the opening assignment after posting a losing record in the regular season. He went 5-8.

So he won't be confused with fellow rookie Verlander, a Cy Young Award candidate after a 17-9cq regular season. For that reason, this was not the ideal way for the Cardinals to return to the World Series for the first time since being swept in four games by the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Not with a pitcher who didn't make the Cards' postseason roster until after St. Louis defeated San Diego in the NL division series.

Still, La Russa knows, it beat the alternative of not playing at all. Now he can only hope that Reyes, 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA in 17 regular-season startsall cq, is the better bet than, say, Jason Marquis, the 14-16 pitcher who lost eight of his final 10 decisions and may not make the Series' active roster.

"It's not an easy call," La Russa said one day before the rosters have to be set. "We wrestled with this - not really anything clearly against Jason Marquis; he really helped get us here. But the way he ended the season, it was a tough assignment to give."

Leyland, of course, likely spent more time trying to decide where to make dinner reservations than he did figuring out how to deploy his comparative embarrassment of riches against Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds & Co.

Verlander will be followed to the mound by Game 2 starter Kenny Rogers, simply the most impressive veteran pitching this October (two starts, 15 scoreless innings, two victories).

Lefthander Nate Robertson (13-13cq) gets Game 3. Game 4 will belong to Jeremy Bonderman - the hard-throwing righthander who stifled the New York Yankees in the AL division series clincher, allowing two runs in 8 1/3 innings.

"Basically, we wanted Kenny to pitch two games at home - 2 and 6 - if it goes that far," Leyland said.

Tonight, Verlander will make his third postseason start after pitching to a no-decision against the Yankees in the AL division series (51/3 innings, 3 earned runscq) and a victory over the Athletics in Detroit's four-game sweep of Oakland (51/3 innings, 4 earned runs).

"We think he's an excellent choice because he obviously has real good stuff," Leyland said.

As he said, that good stuff can come from any arm on any given day.
That is what La Russa and the Cardinals are counting on from Reyes.
Getting to Weaver, Carpenter and Suppan is now his responsibility, a heavy one Reyes admitted had not hit him "quite yet."

"I'm just trying not to think about it right now, just trying to relax and just get rested up and ready for tomorrow," he said.

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