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NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFFS

Hope and Faith

Like Dodgers' Green, the Cardinals' Marquis dealt with Yom Kippur issue

October 07, 2004|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — Jason Marquis did not eat, or drink. He did pitch, and he won.

Shawn Green stirred national controversy last month with his decision to play for the Dodgers in one of two games during Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the Jewish year. Marquis, who makes his first career playoff start tonight for the St. Louis Cardinals against Green and the Dodgers, faced a similar quandary three years ago and devised his own solution to the dilemma of serving his faith and his team too.

"Baseball, family and religion are on the same level to me," Marquis said. "I'm not going to put one on the back burner. I don't see why you can't combine them.

"Some people may view that as wrong. That's what I decided to do, and I'll stand by it."

Yom Kippur extends from sunset to sunset. Marquis, then playing for the Atlanta Braves, elected to pitch in the evening, during the first few hours of the holiday, then attend religious services the next day. He honored the tradition of fasting, as he does every year, so he pitched without so much as a sip of water or Gatorade.

"I survived," he said. "I actually pitched pretty decently."

That he did, giving up one run over six innings of a 4-1 victory over the Florida Marlins. But consistent success eluded him until the Braves traded him to St. Louis last winter.

The Braves, desperate for outfielders, took the talented but oft-injured J.D. Drew. The Cardinals, desperate for starters, took Marquis.

In Atlanta, Marquis bounced among the rotation, the bullpen and the minor leagues for four years.

"I always felt like I was looking over my shoulder," he said, "wondering if I had a bad start, where would I be the next time? Bullpen? Sent down? Skipped?

"It was tough ... always trying to impress somebody instead of somebody handing you the ball every five days and trusting you."

The Braves commonly discarded young starters in the past, justifiably confident in their ability to fill a rotation beyond Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But with Maddux in Chicago, Glavine in New York, Smoltz in the bullpen, and the Braves depending upon such reclamation projects as Jaret Wright and Mike Hampton, the availability of Marquis sent general managers scurrying to their scouting reports.

After all, if the Braves and fabled pitching coach Leo Mazzone couldn't mold Marquis into a winner, who could?

The Cardinals, with a fabled pitching coach of their own in Dave Duncan, decided to try. General Manager Walt Jocketty said his scouts suggested Marquis could hold down a spot in the rotation if given one.

"The Braves were so deep in pitching they didn't need to use him as a starter consistently," Manager Tony La Russa said. "They've proven what they can do with pitching. We had a couple holes in our rotation. Right away, we told him he was a starter.

"He'd have had success in Atlanta. They could have used him this year, maybe, but they found other guys."

Duncan won his trust and adjusted the grip on his fastball, and the Cardinals honored their promise to pitch him every fifth game, even when he won once in his first seven starts.

By season's end, he won 15 games, one more than he had won over the previous four years in Atlanta.

"You could see it in Jason's face. He's more confident," said reliever Ray King, traded with Marquis from Atlanta to St. Louis. "I honestly believe Marquis has the stuff to be a 20-game winner."

He did not lose in June, July or August, winning 11 consecutive decisions and posting the Cardinals' longest winning streak in 19 years. He pitched 201 innings, eclipsing his previous career high in August, with an admirable 3.71 earned-run average. He even batted .292 and led National League pitchers with 21 hits.

Marquis' turn in the rotation did not fall on Yom Kippur, so he did not face the decision Green did, at least this year. Although he grew up in New York, with more of a traditional Jewish upbringing than Green, Marquis noted that all but the most orthodox Jews observe Yom Kippur in their own way.

As the debate raged in Southern California and across the country, sports-talk shows called rabbis and vice versa, discussing the value of Green's perceived compromise in playing one game and skipping another rather than putting faith first and skipping both.

But the strictest observance demands Jews refrain from eating and working, devoting the day to prayer, introspection, study and rest. Many American Jews observe the holiday in violation of orthodox rules, by driving -- rather than walking -- to religious services, or by skipping work but skipping services too.

"It's a tough decision, with them in a playoff race," Marquis said. "Every individual has a different way of interpreting it. I'm not going to say he's right. I'm not going to say he's wrong.

"People might say I'm wrong. It's a decision I have to live with, and I think I made the right one for me. There will always be someone to knock you. There will always be someone to praise you. You have to stand by your decision."

The Dodgers and Cardinals can only hope that Green and Marquis must make a decision again next year. In 2005, Yom Kippur falls during the National League championship series.

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