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World champions try to avoid first-round sweep
ST. LOUIS -- On top of the baseball world a year ago, the situation has become dire for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The defending World Champions face elimination in their first-round playoff series against the Cardinals, and with no Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling to bail them out in Game 3 tonight. Miguel Batista will get the call when Arizona tries to avoid a three-game sweep.
"We're not stupid -- we understand what we're up against," manager Bob Brenly said. "But we also understand there's nothing more you can do than give your best effort."
Brenly said he didn't consider using Johnson, who was shelled in Game 1, on three days' rest in Game 3 because this is a must-win game. He expressed confidence in Batista, 8-9 with a 4.26 ERA in the regular season.
"Our feeling over the last couple of years is that Randy is much more effective when he's able to maintain his regular routine," Brenly said. "We also feel Curt Schilling is the guy who is best-suited to handle short rest if we do need to bring somebody back to pitch a potential Game 5.
"That's been our policy and we stick with it."
Certainly, the Cardinals are anxious to end it and avoid seeing either Johnson or Schilling, the co-Cy Young favorites, again.
"I don't think there's any question we'd like to finish it off," Game 3 starter Andy Benes said. "They're a good team and you never want to give them any reason to think this thing could continue.
"It'll be up to me to put up some zeroes and give our offense a chance."
The Cardinals will be without Scott Rolen, who has a moderate shoulder sprain after a collision with Diamondbacks pinch runner Alex Cintron in Game 2. Rolen tied his career best with 110 RBIs and also has dazzled at third base since a late July trade from the Phillies.
"You don't want to try to fool anybody and say he's not an important player and he won't be missed," manager Tony La Russa said. "On the other side, the team has to really believe that it's part of the game, and it's an opportunity for somebody to step up."
Either Miguel Cairo or left fielder Albert Pujols will replace Rolen at third base, and if Pujols starts there La Russa could use an outfield of J.D. Drew in right, Jim Edmonds in center and Eli Marrero in left.
The Rolen injury evens things out in the bad-break department with the Diamondbacks, who lost Luis Gonzalez for the rest of the season due to a separated shoulder in a game against the Cardinals in the final week of the regular season.
Brenly said the rest of the team probably is pressing to fill the void left by Gonzalez' injury. The Diamondbacks have scored only three runs the first two games without Gonzalez, who had a team-leading 103 RBIs.
"I think it's just human nature for everybody to try to make up for the loss of such a key piece as Luis Gonzalez, and the staff has tried to impress upon these guys that they don't have to do anything more than they're capable of doing," Brenly said. "We're not going to ask Mark Grace to steal bases. We're not going to ask Tony Womack to hit home runs."
Players aren't sure that's the problem.
"That could be it," Junior Spivey said. "But we really haven't had opportunities with runners on base to put something together."
The Diamondbacks got next to nothing against Benes the last time they saw him in a 3-2 loss on Sept. 24. Benes allowed four hits in seven scoreless innings, allowing only one baserunner past first, in the latest in a string of dazzling outings along his comeback trail.
Benes nearly retired in April due to an arthritic right knee that saddled him with a 10.80 ERA after three starts, but had a stingy 1.86 ERA after the All-Star break. Now he'll be facing the team he played for in 1998 and '99, filling in for the injured Woody Williams.
Williams had been La Russa's choice to pitch Game 3, but still is bothered by a sore left side and isn't on the roster for the first round.
"I've been filling in for someone all year, so this is no different," Benes said. "I'm a gap-filler and I'm all right with that. I stay humble and don't worry about it."
The Diamondbacks don't know if it's an advantage to have faced Benes just a short time ago.
"We'd better make some adjustments," Brenly said. "Andy was a different pitcher when we saw him most recently than at times we've seen him in the past or even when he was with the Diamondbacks in the past."