Notes: Piazza gives way to Bard
Future Hall of Famer watches backup catcher start Game 4
ST. LOUIS -- One of the stories of the Padres' season has been superstar Mike Piazza's team-first, egoless attitude. The future Hall of Famer was in character in the graceful way he stepped aside for backup Josh Bard in Sunday night's Game 4 of the NLDS, the season on the line for San Diego as it tried to get even with St. Louis and force Game 5 Monday evening at PETCO Park."That's what we've done all year," Piazza said, preparing himself for a pinch-hit or late-game role as Bard got the call behind the plate with Woody Williams facing Cards ace Chris Carpenter. "Whether I'm on the bench or not, that's what's gotten us through the whole year. "Bottom line, I've told [manager Bruce Bochy], 'I'll do whatever you need -- start, come off the bench, co-catcher.' Everyone on the team feels the same way. ... That's the way we do it." Bochy decided to go with Bard, who went 0-for-4 in his Game 2 start, but was the club's hottest hitter in September, in part because he was behind the plate when Williams beat Carpenter at Busch Stadium in the season's final week. Down, 5-2, in the seventh, Bard and Mike Cameron cracked two-run doubles that gave the Padres a come-from-behind decision over the reigning Cy Young Award winner. It was a different Carpenter carving up the Padres in Game 1 of the NLDS with 6 1/3 dominant innings. Piazza was 0-for-3, lining out in his first at-bat against Carpenter. "This is what you dream about as a kid," Bard said of the opportunity to play October baseball with the nation watching. Bochy referred to that Sept. 26 victory, and the chemistry between Williams and Bard, as reasoning behind his decision to go with the 28-year-old switch-hitter from Denver, who made 50 starts behind the plate after being acquired from Boston, and batted .378 in September to finish at .333 overall and .338 as a Padre. There also was the matter of Piazza's physical condition. He fell hard to the ground on his back, banging his head, catching Scott Rolen's seventh-inning pop foul on Saturday in Game 3.
"Mike is a little beat up," Bochy said. "He could play, but he took a pretty good shot on that popup and jarred himself pretty good there. But the plan was to have Bard back there.""Josh Bard said if I didn't have my long hair," Piazza said, grinning, "I'd have gotten a concussion. It was a quality hair day." Barfield back at second: Josh Barfield also was delighted to get the call against Carpenter after Todd Walker started Games 2 and 3 at second base. "He's a great pitcher, obviously," Barfield said, "but I'm going to give it everything I've got. I've always loved big games, and this is about as big as it gets." Walker is 2-for-32 in his career against Carpenter. Barfield was 0-for-2 against Carpenter in Game 1, striking out and flying to center. Barfield, third in the NL in road batting average at .319 and NL Rookie of the Month for July, finished the season in a nice groove, putting together a career-high nine-game hitting streak from Sept. 18-28. All hands on deck: Bochy said the entire pitching staff, with the exception of Game 3 starter Chris Young, was available in Game 4 -- including Jake Peavy, scheduled to start Game 5 Monday evening if the Padres make it happen. "Even Boomer," Bochy said, referring to Game 2 starter David Wells. "And that's the way it normally is at this stage. So they know it, and they'll be ready and available." Peavy, who would be working on his normal fifth day Sunday, said he'd be ready to jump in and relieve if necessary. Hoops prepared Young: Facing the Cards on Saturday in front of 46,634 at Busch Stadium and a national television audience, his team's season hanging in the balance, Young used his Princeton education wisely to see through all that red to his target, a strike zone framed by Piazza. A center talented enough to lure a guaranteed contract offer from the Sacramento Kings after two seasons with the Tigers, Young leaned on his experience in pressure situations -- threading passes to cutting teammates, knocking down jumpers and free throws -- when he took the Busch Stadium mound. "I do think my basketball background is invaluable," Young said in the afterglow of his overpowering performance in the Padres' 3-1 season-saving win. "Something college basketball prepared me for was playing in front of big crowds in big games, not letting surroundings affect you in a negative way. You learn to use that energy to give you focus and energy, not to let the energy disrupt your concentration. "The closest I got to a big crowd in baseball was when we made the NCAA tournament and played at the University of Houston in front of 8,000 fans." This uncommon ability to focus in unfriendly environs also has to be a major factor in his remarkable streak of road starts without a loss, which reached 25 on Saturday. When the 2007 season opens, however, the official number will be 24 -- postseason statistics are separate -- and Young will be one away from the longest such streak Elias Sports Bureau has uncovered, by the Yankees' Allie Reynolds in 1948-49. A keen student of pitching, who reads everything he can get his hands on, Young enjoys consulting with pitchers from the past, notably tall ones such as former Dodgers great Don Newcombe. The two share time whenever the Padres visit Dodger Stadium. Young has learned to use his 6-foot-10 frame to create different angles and perspectives for hitters, who frequently refer to the deception not only of his delivery, but of the speed and break of his pitches. "It's an ongoing process," Young said during Spring Training when he was struggling to find his mechanics and release point. "As a pitcher, you never stop learning. That's one of the challenges I love about baseball, how you have to keep working at your craft." Pitching to Pujols: The dominant subplot to this series has been the Padres' decision not to walk the lethal Albert Pujols in potential game-turning situations. It cost them in San Diego, where Pujols was 5-for-8 with a homer and three RBIs, but the Padres managed to contain the reigning MVP on Saturday, keeping him hitless in four at-bats, twice in game-altering situations. Young struck out Pujols in the sixth with a high fastball, and Scott Linebrink's slider in the eighth resulted in an inning-ending double play, Pujols representing the tying run on both occasions. Discussing the perils of Pujols after the game, Piazza finally grinned and said, "The last thing you do as the pitch is on the way is say a few Hail Marys."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.