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Rainout Effect Depends on Perspective

Cardinals and Mets both can find good and bad about the postponement until tonight of Game 5 of the NLCS, which is tied at two games apiece.

October 17, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — The National League Championship Series took another unscheduled break Monday, yielding to a storm that blew through the Midwest and brought unrelenting rain.

Major League Baseball said its reports had the rain falling hard until mid-evening, then becoming steady drizzle until early in the morning.

So, Game 5 was called nearly three hours before the first pitch, sending the New York Mets back to a hotel they'd already checked out of, the traveling secretary reminding them loudly their keys would be "dead."

A handful of St. Louis Cardinals players hung around to have their hair cut by a man who set up a folding chair in the clubhouse bathroom, but otherwise cleared out, then stomped through the puddles in the parking lot.

The NLCS, which remains tied at two games apiece, has had two rainouts. Both have delayed Tom Glavine-Jeff Weaver pitching matchups, the latest postponement allowing both pitchers to return tonight at Busch Stadium on regular, four days' rest. It also meant another 24 hours of down time for the Cardinals' bullpen, which pitched five innings Sunday night in the Mets' 12-5 victory. Mets relievers could use the break as well, having thrown nearly as many innings (17 1/3 ) as the starters (17 2/3 ).

There had been some talk late the night before about shifting momentum, particularly as the Two Carloses, Beltran and Delgado, battered Cardinals pitching in Game 4. They combined for five hits, including three home runs, and seven runs batted in.

At the same time, Albert Pujols appeared to have fallen into a rare power slump. He has a sore right hamstring and hasn't hit a home run or driven in a run in the series. Of his four hits, three are singles, despite generally good at-bats. That said, he has come up once with a runner in scoring position in the series. He walked on four pitches.

"We can win with him getting on base, whether it's a single or a walk or a double," Manager Tony La Russa said. "I mean, you probably noticed, he's laboring when he runs. His right hamstring is a real problem, his push-off, drive leg. He can hit some home runs if he catches it right, but he's not going to be generating as much power. He can still generate base hits. Just got to be careful running."

Despite the day of rest, Pujols dismissed the potential healing effect. "I wanted to play today," he said.

Beltran also was disappointed but largely because he has a hot bat to maintain. After starting the series two for 12, he had three hits and two walks in Game 4. He also scored four runs, two of them on Delgado extra-base hits.

"You want to play, of course," Beltran said. "When you're swinging good at the plate, every time you get an opportunity to get an at-bat, you want to hit."

He laughed and added, "It works the other way too. When you're going bad, you don't ever want to hit again."

While the extra day should be helpful to Glavine, who has pitched well on three days' rest in the regular season but poorly on the same rest in the postseason, and Weaver, who'd never pitched on three days' rest, the analyses of such hypothetical events were generally lost on the participants.

Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals and John Maine for the Mets will do the same the following night in New York, someone pitching to advance to the World Series, the other pitching to avoid elimination. There'd been some speculation the Cardinals would have Carpenter, their ace, pitch tonight on three days' rest, but La Russa dismissed it.

"He's looming out there somewhere," said Glavine, who threw seven shutout innings in Game 1. "We're going to have to face him again anyway."

The broader question is where the NLCS will leave the winner, given the Detroit Tigers will have had six days off by the World Series. The National League pennant won't be decided until Wednesday night at the earliest and could cost many more innings of bullpen work.

The debate over whether the advantage lies with the rested team or the competition-hardened team will become loud in the coming days. History, however, favors the easier route. According to STATS, five teams have opened the World Series after five or more days off. Each of them -- the 1995 Atlanta Braves, 1996 New York Yankees, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002 Angels and 2005 Chicago White Sox -- became champions.

"Once you get there," Glavine said. "From our standpoint, it doesn't really matter how you get there. It's getting there."

tim.brown@latimes.com

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