10/06/2004 6:47 PM ET
Marquis faces Dodgers in Game 2
Cardinals eyeing 2-0 lead Thursday in NLDS
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
|Jason Marquis talks about his Game 2 start during a workout day press conference. (Ben Platt/MLB.com)
ST. LOUIS -- Jason Marquis will be the starting pitcher when the Cardinals try to make it a 2-0 lead Thursday night in the National League Division Series, and he will be dealing with all kinds of excitement and expectations.
But nothing like what was going on the last time he faced the Dodgers.
It was Sept. 10 in Los Angeles, and Marquis -- who had thrown seven scoreless innings against the Dodgers just a week earlier at home -- had one of his roughest starts of the season. He gave up five earned runs over six innings of a 7-5 Cardinals loss, leaving with a no-decision, and it is practically impossible to gain any insight from that performance in looking ahead to this one.
After all, on the same day of that loss, in the earlier wee hours back on the East Coast, Marquis' wife, Debbie, had given birth to their first child, a daughter named Reese Madison. The first thing he was asked at Wednesday's interview-room session was how he had dealt with that precious moment in his last meeting with the Dodgers.
"Well, the previous night around 12:30 in the morning, my wife and I were on the phone all night," Marquis said. "I knew she was going to have the baby sometime that night, and I wasn't able to make it home. I wound up staying and making my start and flying out the next night. It was definitely an exciting time.
"It was also tough not being there for the birth of my child and to be there with my wife, but it was a lot of emotion going on. That didn't change what happened during the game, though. I just didn't execute pitches during that game. I was overly aggressive. My mechanics weren't where I wanted them to be -- that's the reason that happened."
You know you're having a great year when even your bad days are good, like that one. And Marquis has had a great year for the Cardinals.
He was acquired along with reliever Ray King from Atlanta for outfielder J.D. Drew last offseason in one of the most mutually beneficial trades of the year. While Drew became a fringe National League Most Valuable Player candidate for Atlanta, King has been stellar in a setup role and Marquis had personal bests nearly across the board. He went 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA, reached 200 (201 1/3) innings for the first time, and went over the century mark (138) in strikeouts for the first time.
Most notable was Marquis' streak of consecutive starts without a loss: 18, including that no-decision in his game against these same Dodgers. It included an 11-decision personal winning streak. He lost three of his final four starts of the regular season as the club in general struggled to maintain its intensity level with an easy path to this postseason.
Now he follows a Woody Williams outing in which a Cardinals starter was blessed with some historic offense. Is there an advantage for Marquis in having a 1-0 series lead going into this start?
"I think that it allows for a little more ease," he said. "Definitely if you lose, the pressure is more on the team that happened to lose that Game 1. Now the Dodgers have to come out and they're the ones behind so the pressure is more on them than us. Especially being a first-time experience with our first start, I think it will take a little of the pressure off.
"Obviously I'm not going out there with a lackadaisical attitude, because every game is as important as the next, but Woody set the tone for the series. I'll follow his lead and go from there."
Marquis has done it all, even with the bat. During Wednesday's off-day workout, he hit a ball that landed five or six feet up the grass embankment in dead-center at Busch Stadium. Marquis said it meant something to him that he won a friendly competition among the Cardinals pitchers, an honor with criteria that included non-pitching endeavors such as the best bat and glove this season. Even in that emotion-surrounded Sept. 10 roughup at Los Angeles, he singled twice and scored a run.
"That's definitely secondary to pitching, but it's definitely fun," he said. "I always try to pride myself on anything that will win a ballgame, from hitting to bunting to fielding. ... I try to put myself in a position where I think it did help me out a couple times this year. They preach hitting and bunting and fielding a lot over here, and we work on it every day whether it's on the field or in the cage, but the competition is friendly but very competitive ... and we have fun with it."
Marquis credited Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan with the reinforcement of a two-seam fastball that has become the right-hander's bread and butter. Marquis throws that pitch -- which sinks whereas a four-seamer rises -- perhaps three-fourths of the time.
"I'm definitely a different type of pitcher in the sense of my repetoire," Marquis said, explaining the difference between now and a year ago with Atlanta. "I've always been a fastball-type of guy, covering the outer half of the plate, and coming into Spring Training I started throwing more two-seamers. Duncan really thought that would benefit my game plan. It's something that I stuck with and trusted in him and trusted myself with, and it's worked, and it was to try to get my pitch count down."
Marquis also said that when things have gone well this season, it has been when he has started hitters low in the strike zone early in the game and then "expanded the zone" gradually over the next innings. Look for him to attack Dodgers hitters that way, starting low and growing the zone from there.
Marquis was eligible but did not appear in the Braves' 2001 and 2002 NLDS against Atlanta. His only postseason outing was a two-inning role in the 2001 NL Championship Series against Arizona: four runs, but none of them earned, and three strikeouts.
Now he makes his first postseason start, and Reese is almost a month old as Dad now faces an opponent that will always have a special meaning for the Marquis family.
There is just a little bit of extra excitement surrounding this start against the Dodgers, too. Manager Tony La Russa said he sees no reason why Marquis can't handle it. La Russa is hoping to see that same bulldog mentality that Marquis has shown Cardinals fans in his first season with the club.
"Well, we've seen him in games where he's struggled even with men on base, so that bulldog attitude, he just doesn't give in," La Russa said. "We saw him in some real tough matchups on the road where there's a hostile environment, very good team, good starting pitching against us. He refused not to compete, so he really gives us a great chance to win. He got something going and didn't just stop with four in a row. He came out the next time and built a real nice winning streak. I think he's excited about his start in the big leagues and his start in the postseason. If he remembers to breathe, he'll be all right."
That's what Marquis was telling Debbie before his last outing against the Dodgers. Now it is his turn to do it.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.