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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE | ST. LOUIS vs.
ATLANTA : NOTES

Cardinals' Stephenson Hopes Troubles Are Over

October 07, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

ATLANTA — The St. Louis Cardinals will try to complete a sweep of their division series against the Atlanta Braves today, pitching Garrett Stephenson, who was 16-9 in a breakout season. Stephenson was 2-0 against Atlanta, permitting only one run in 15 2/3 innings, but he was bothered by elbow tendinitis in September, missed one start, and has thrown only 10 innings since Sept. 11.

"The last month has been a struggle," he said, his elbow so tender that he was unable to even lift his children at times and wondered if he would even be on the postseason roster.

Now, however, with the rest and medication, he said he is prepared to "go out there, throw strikes and have fun. This is what you play for. I feel good. I feel confident."

Said Manager Tony La Russa: "His preparation hasn't been great [from the standpoint that he hasn't pitched many innings], but he's won as many big games as anyone on our staff and I would expect him to be what he's been all year, very clutch."

La Russa's two other options were Andy Benes and Pat Hentgen. Benes has been troubled by a sore knee. Hentgen, who was hit hard in his last two starts, returned to Detroit on Friday to be with his wife, who gave birth to a daughter. Rick Ankiel will pitch Game 4 if needed, and Darryl Kile Game 5.

*

In the five years since the playoffs were expanded to include a five-game division series, the home team has won about 57% of the games. The Braves blew the home-field advantage against the Cardinals on the last day of the season when third baseman Chipper Jones made a two-out, ninth-inning error and John Rocker yielded a three-run homer to Todd Helton, wiping out a potential Braves' win.

"We were going hard for the home-field advantage, but once it was over I don't think anyone has dwelled on it," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "I haven't heard it mentioned.

"We just didn't play good baseball in St. Louis, and the Cardinals have a very powerful team, play great defense and their pitching is so much improved over last year."

All of that may be true, but players on both sides think the Cardinals had a huge advantage opening at home before sellout and passionate crowds that Mark McGwire termed "absolutely electric."

"When we heard that Helton had hit that home run [the news coming as the Cardinals were beating Cincinnati in St. Louis], the dugout was ecstatic, and I definitely think that carried over," McGwire said. "I think it was a major advantage for us opening at home."

No argument from Chipper Jones, who seemed to dispute the Cox contention that his team isn't dwelling on it or talking about it.

Jones cited the supportive atmosphere in St. Louis and said, "Over the two games, I think that could have gotten them four, five, maybe even six runs."

The Braves, of course, hope for a little of the same today, but 4,000 tickets remained Friday for Game 3.

THE SERIES

Game 1: St. Louis 7, Atlanta 5

Game 2: St. Louis 10, Atlanta 4

Today: St. Louis (Stephenson) at Atlanta (Millwood),

10 a.m., ESPN

* Sunday: St. Louis at Atlanta, 10 a.m., ESPN

* Monday: Atlanta at St. Louis, TBA

* If necessary All times PDT

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