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05/06/10 1:37 PM ET

Roberts was 'real gentleman,' La Russa says

Manager got to know Phillies legend as a college coach

PHILADELPHIA -- News of the passing of legendary Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts early Thursday morning made its way into the Cardinals clubhouse before the game, and manager Tony La Russa was saddened by the loss of a man he got to know over the years.

"I knew him pretty well," La Russa said. "He was the coach over at University of South Florida. I remember taking the White Sox into there for an exhibition game one time, because Robin asked us to go in there.

"He was just a real gentleman," La Russa added. "He was a great man. No ifs, ands or buts, just a great man."

Roberts died at the age of 83 at his home in Temple Terrace, Fla. The Hall of Famer was the winningest right-hander in Phillies history, with 234 victories and a 3.41 ERA over 14 seasons.

The Phillies held a moment of silence for him before the game and hung his jersey up in the dugout.

"I saw him in Spring Training when I was a young guy," La Russa said. "He pitched in a great era, man. Threw against some great hitters, there were some great pitchers. Best ever."

La Russa calls early team meeting

PHILADELPHIA -- Even with a record that's eight games above .500, a four-game lead in the National League Central, baseball's best pitching staff and a top-notch defense, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa assembled the masses after Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Phillies for a team meeting.

Players indicated that the message was mostly positive. But corralling the team for a meeting so early in the year? That's just La Russa.

"It wasn't surprising," outfielder Nick Stavinoha said. "Tony only calls meetings when necessary, when he has something important to say. It's never a meeting that tears us down. It's always something we can learn from.

La Russa sensed his team was bothered by two questionable calls in Wednesday's game, and his message was to make sure the players wouldn't let such things weigh them down.

"If you get too upset with yourself or are fighting yourself, that's not good," La Russa said. "You have to always keep checking yourself."

Despite dropping two in a row in Philadelphia, St. Louis has won eight of the last 11 and owns the best staff ERA (2.62) in the NL. Its starters have turned in 14 straight quality starts, tying the longest such streak in team history (1973).

"He'll get us together every now and then, just like a manager does, to kind of corral the troops," third baseman David Freese said. "We know we've got a tough game today. We've got to come out with a win. They've been playing very good baseball."

Cards have had few looks against Halladay

PHILADELPHIA -- Against a pitcher like Roy Halladay, St. Louis is hoping for a little bit of blind luck on Thursday.

Only four active Cardinals players had faced the Phillies ace right-hander Halladay in their careers: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Skip Schumaker and Jason LaRue. Cumulatively, they are 1-for-13 against the former American League Cy Young Award winner.

Outfielder Matt Holliday also faced Halladay once, in the 2006 All-Star Game, and grounded out to shortstop.

Although the majority of the clubhouse hasn't seen Halladay live, they've certainly heard enough about him to have an idea of what he will bring.

"You've got to battle," Cards third baseman David Freese said. "You can't miss his mistakes, if he throws any. Obviously, he's one of the game's best. You really have to go out there and grind every AB."

Halladay, who spent 10 seasons in the AL with the Blue Jays before being traded to Philadelphia in December, is 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA in six starts in the National League this season.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa switched his lineup around for Thursday's game -- inserting regular backup infielder Tyler Greene, outfielder Nick Stavinoha and catcher La Rue into the order -- but said that was mostly because of the 1:05 p.m. ET start.

La Russa knows how tough a test Halladay will be for any lineup, though.

"Would it have broken my heart if he pitched against Atlanta on Friday? No, it wouldn't have," La Russa joked on Monday. "But there's something special about competing against the best."

La Rue doesn't recall his one game vs. Halladay -- he went 1-for-4 while with Cincinnati in 2003.

"Bottom line is he's a great pitcher," La Rue said. "You just got to hope he makes some mistakes and leaves a ball up out on the plate."

"I know I don't want to start thinking, I know that," Stavinoha said. "I don't want to bait him into using two sides of the plate. I don't want to take that approach with him, he's really good. I know I have to keep it simple."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.