Notes: Sanders misses Game 3
Walker starts for Cardinals despite nagging injury
HOUSTON -- To almost no one's surprise, So Taguchi found himself in the Cardinals' starting lineup for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. To the surprise of many, it was Reggie Sanders, and not Larry Walker, that Taguchi replaced.
A day after manager Tony La Russa expressed significant concern about Walker's availability for Game 3, and after Sanders pronounced that he would play, the two veterans flipped. Sanders was simply still too sore and stiff after taking a nasty fall in the outfield in Game 2 of the series.
"Once I got off the pain medication," Sanders said, "it was a lot worse than I thought it was."
So Sanders sat out, and Taguchi got the call to start against "The Rocket," Roger Clemens. Walker remains sore as he continues to battle a herniated disk in his neck, but the team decided that he was playable enough to put in the lineup.
"Larry's desire overcomes a lot of his pain," said head athletic trainer Barry Weinberg. "I think it's just a matter of being functional. If he comes in and feels like he's going to be functional and contribute, that's something he and Tony discuss. When Tony asked him the question, obviously he gave him a good enough answer to satisfy Tony."
Weinberg said that Sanders had been medically cleared to play. The decision to sit him was more a baseball decision, as La Russa was concerned with how mobile and ultimately how effective Sanders could be.
The change led to some re-jiggering in the St. Louis lineup. Taguchi took the No. 2 spot, with Jim Edmonds bumped down from second to fourth and Walker from fourth to fifth. Taguchi was a relatively easy choice to take the spot, both for his defensive skills and his 4-for-8 record against Clemens.
"I just played around with it a little bit and I think [there was] a little uncertainty about how 100 percent Larry is," said La Russa. "You know, one game or a couple of games this year, Roger was tough on him and one game he wasn't.
"So you get Jim four and Walker in the five spot," La Russa said. "I think that the other thing, too, if Reggie is not playing in the middle of the lineup and you leave Jim second, there isn't as much thump in the middle. So let's put some thump in the middle, and So gives you a lot of options."
Different look: Many Cardinals players and coaches are emphatic about not giving scouting reports, per the strong preference of their manager. On the other side, however, those rules don't apply. Houston's Game 4 starter, right-hander Brandon Backe, had a thoughtful take on how the 2005 Cardinals offense compares to the version he faced in the 2004 NLCS.
"To be honest with you, I think last year it maybe was a little bit more potent in the lineup," said Backe. "I think this year they just have a lot more pests, so to speak. It starts off with [David] Eckstein, who is just a tough out, even a tough guy to not even put the ball in play. He's pretty much expected to put the bat on the ball and keep it fair and maybe even foul a bunch of pitches off and get the pitcher's pitch count up. So I think it starts off with him, as opposed to last year they had [Edgar] Renteria, who could put the ball out of the ballpark at any time.
"I think they have a really balanced offense this year as far as guys that can get on, and obviously the power that they have in the middle of the lineup," Backe added. "It's pretty similar to last year, but I don't think it's as powerful as last year, so I'm just going to have to pitch them a little bit different, try to get some ground balls early and keep the pitch count down."
Today in Cardinals postseason history: Oct. 15, 1946, was the date of one of the most famous moments in World Series history -- Enos Slaughter's "mad dash." In the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, with the Cardinals and Red Sox locked in a 3-3 tie, Slaughter came all the way around to score from first on a ball that could have been ruled a single -- though Harry Walker was credited with a double. It was the winning and final run as the Redbirds locked up their third World Series title in five years.
Arizona update: Chris Lambert pitched three shutout innings as the starting pitcher as Surprise beat the Peoria Javelinas, 7-0, in Arizona Fall League play on Friday. Lambert allowed three hits and one walk, striking out two. Cody Haerther went 1-for-3 with a run scored, Travis Hanson was 1-for-4 with two runs and an RBI and Gabe Johnson went 0-for-3 with a sac fly.
Coming up: Game 4 of the series is another afternoon start, with a scheduled first pitch time of 3:45 p.m. CT from Minute Maid Park. Jeff Suppan gets the ball for St. Louis, making his first start of the postseason and his first start against Houston in 2005. For his career, Suppan is 2-2 with a 3.80 ERA in four postseason starts. Backe, who has a 1-0 record and 4.13 ERA in five playoff appearances, takes the mound for the Astros.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.