Cards get started against Rockies

Monday, April 1, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- The career home run leader board, a fixture on the center field scoreboard at Busch Stadium during the Mark McGwire era, is gone along with Big Mac himself as the St. Louis Cardinals prepare to open the season against the Colorado Rockies today.

The board, which got instant updates whenever McGwire connected during his 4 1/2 seasons with the team, has been replaced by a Budweiser ad and a sign beneath that reads "Welcome to Opening Day 2002, Baseball's Best Fans."

Before the co-NL Central champions began a workout and simulated game Sunday featuring starters Darryl Kile and Andy Benes, who'll start the third and fifth games of the season, manager Tony La Russa said he hadn't noticed the change.

But Albert Pujols, the NL rookie of the year last season after hitting a league-record 130 RBIs, noticed the home run leaders were missing.

"How about that?" Pujols said. "Why is that?"

The Cardinals have a more than capable replacement at first base in Tino Martinez, but La Russa apparently has not yet let go. He bristled a bit at a mention the team was turning the page, grouping McGwire with the team's Hall of Famers.

"I don't like that term," La Russa said. "We haven't turned the page on Red (Schoendienst) and Stan (Musial) and Ozzie (Smith) and Bob (Gibson). They're part of what we are every day and Mark's here like they are."

Matt Morris, a 22-game winner two seasons after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery, opposes Mike Hampton, an expensive disappointment in his first year with the Rockies, in the opener this afternoon. Hampton was 14-13 with a 5.41 ERA last year.

"That's in the past," Hampton said. "That doesn't mean anything now. It's a new year, so we're taking it that way."

Hampton has no second thoughts about signing an eight-year, $123.8 million free agent deal with the Rockies a year ago.

"I knew how tough it was going in," Hampton said. "It's the toughest place in the world to pitch, but the other team has to pitch there as well. You just go out and do the best you can."

Morris, who lost a pair of one-run decisions in the playoffs to Curt Schilling of the Diamondbacks, is coming off his best spring.

"I was able to build on last year and that playoff game, that fifth game," Morris said. "I pitched well but it left kind of a bad taste in my mouth the way it ended. Now it's starting 0-0 again."

Morris was 15-2 with a 1.62 ERA in 18 home starts last year, breaking John Tudor's Busch Stadium record set in 1985 by one.

La Russa tweaked the lineup a bit at the end of spring training, moving Pujols from third base to left field. La Russa said earlier in the spring that Pujols, who started more than 30 games at four different positions last year, would be his everyday third baseman. But he now believes the lineup is better offensively and defensively with Placido Polanco at third.

Polanco, who batted .307 last year, had been among the left field candidates in spring training, although he never started in the outfield. Pujols is borrowing Eli Marrero's outfield mitt for now because his isn't broken in, but he doesn't appear to mind.

"You don't want to have a great player like Placido Polanco sitting on the bench," Pujols said.

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