Mulder gets his turn in Game 2

Thursday, October 6, 2005

The first-year member of the Cardinals was acquired from Oakland to solidify the team's playoff rotation.

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Mark Mulder precisely for what he can provide at this time of the year.

The 16-game winner isn't the ace of the staff, getting the start Thursday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series behind Chris Carpenter. But he's not far off, having established an enviable run of consistency.

Together, they give the Cardinals dominance they lacked in the postseason last fall.

"I think every pitcher, if you don't go out there expecting to win, expecting to do well, then you shouldn't be going out there," Mulder said. "You've got to be ready for these situations and you've got to thrive on it. You want to go out there for the big game."

It's a very big game for the Padres, who'll try to avoid going down 2-0 in the best-of-five series before heading home for Game 3 Saturday in San Diego. The Padres will go with Pedro Astacio, who has revived his career after being released by the Rangers earlier this year.

For the Cardinals, Mulder gives them an opportunity to put a stronghold on a series that appeared to be the biggest mismatch in the first round of the postseason.

"We got him for the six months because you've got to qualify for postseason play," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It's a great opportunity for him to step up like he has all year long."

Mulder has 88 victories the last five seasons -- most of them with Oakland -- and that ties him with the Angels' Bartolo Colon for the most in that period. And now that Greg Maddux's run of 17 straight seasons with at least 15 wins has ended, Mulder has inherited that mantle as the active leader with five in a row.

"I'm not thinking about it as the season's going on, but when you get it and his is over now, sure I take pride in that," Mulder said. "Everyone wants to be consistent and he's the perfect example."

Just like Carpenter, who shrugged off four poor starts with six shutout innings in Game 1, Mulder enters the postseason with question marks. In his last two starts he allowed 10 runs, seven earned, in 5 2/3 innings.

Mulder also had a bit of a vampire complex, pitching much better at night than in day games. He was 14-3 in 21 night starts with a 2.26 ERA and 2-5 with a 6.86 ERA in 11 day games.

Mulder scoffs at those numbers. He pointed out his last day start Sept. 17 in Chicago was a success, seven innings and one run allowed, but that it got lost in the shuffle because that also was the day the Cardinals clinched the NL Central outright.

"I know in the past I've always pitched well in day games, I've always enjoyed day games, but for some reason this year some have been worse than others," he said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."

La Russa, perhaps hopefully, points out that game time is 3 p.m.

"Every year you can play around with stats, that's why they're fun to look at," La Russa said. "If it's kind of between day and night, we're in good shape."

The Padres, who likely lost ace Jake Peavy for the postseason with a broken rib on his right side in Game 1, counter with a 35-year-old right-hander who was out of baseball in June before signing a minor league contract.

Astacio was 2-8 with a 6.04 ERA in 12 starts with the Texas Rangers before getting released, and the Padres, who picked him up when Adam Eaton was out with a strained right middle finger, are his seventh team in 14 seasons.

He was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in the final month for the Padres.

"He's been consistent and it looks like he's gotten in the groove," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's helped solidify this rotation, and I can't say enough about the job he's done since we acquired him."

Bochy plans to stack his lineup with right-handed hitters to make it more difficult on Mulder, including outfielders Eric Young and Ben Johnson and Xavier Nady at first base. That's fine with Mulder.

"Obviously the more lefties, the better for me," Mulder said. "When they throw an all right-handed lineup out there like some teams do, you can kind of get in the groove with certain pitches. Sometimes it helps."

Peavy, who spent the better part of the day on the training table, remains optimistic he can pitch again with perhaps the help of a numbing injection. He had been the Padres' probable starter for Game 4 on Sunday, although Bochy said Wednesday now he'd likely go with Eaton.

"I think anything's a possibility now," Peavy said. "I feel a little bit better today than I did yesterday and there are some options we've talked about all day that may get this thing feeling better."

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