ST. LOUIS — Roger Clemens can relax. For now, Pete Munro is the Houston Astros’ pick to pitch them into the World Series.
Ahead 3-2 in the NL championship series, manager Phil Garner studied it: the Rocket on three days’ rest vs. a journeyman who was hit hard last week. On the team flight to St. Louis, Munro was told he would start Game 6 today against the Cardinals.
“I guess I was kind of overwhelmed,” Munro said before Tuesday’s workout at Busch Stadium. “I’m sure that they’d rather face me than Roger. I mean, I’d rather face me than Roger.”
Instead, Clemens will be held back for a possible Game 7, or maybe a start in the World Series opener.
“There are going to be a lot of people saying do the opposite, start Roger,” Garner said. “But what I feel in my gut is what I have to do.”
Garner could have lined up Clemens and Roy Oswalt to face the Cardinals, bringing both back early in hopes of putting Houston into its first World Series.
But the stats aren’t good: Since five-man rotations became popular, pitchers on three days’ rest lose about three times more than they win in the postseason.
In the first round against Atlanta, Clemens pitched on three days’ rest for the first time since April 11, 2002. He hung in for five innings, allowing two runs.
“I think it’s false to assume that just because you’re going to bring Roger back that you’re sure to win,” Garner said. “Because I’m starting Pete doesn’t mean we’re giving this game away.”
After losing three straight games, the Cardinals assumed they’d be facing Clemens.
“I saw some controversy in the paper, but I kind of think he’ll pitch,” third baseman Scott Rolen said Tuesday. “I think we all think he’ll pitch and then we’ll have Oswalt in Game 7, hopefully.”
A day before, the 42-year-old Clemens said he was set. He won Game 3, going seven innings.
“I’ll be ready to go whenever he wants to hand me the ball,” he said.
Coming off one of the best and most unlikely pitching duels in playoff history, it was hard to know what to expect. The teams totaled just four hits — a postseason record — on Monday night, with Brandon Backe and the Astros beating Woody Williams and the Cardinals 3-0.
Jeff Kent’s three-run home run off Jason Isringhausen in the ninth inning won that matchup at Minute Maid Park. The clubs have combined for 20 home runs so far, three off the NLCS record set last year by Florida and the Cubs.
“We’re as likely to have a 10-8 game as a 2-1 game,” Garner said.
It was right in the middle — 6-4, St. Louis — when Matt Morris and Munro matched up in Game 2. Each gave up three runs and six hits, with Munro lasting 4 2/3 innings and Morris going five.
Munro started the season at Triple-A for Minnesota, was signed by Houston in June and demoted to the minors. He went 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA for the Astros, and has a 13-19 career mark in the majors.
“I’ve been underestimated my whole life, when it comes to baseball,” Munro said. “That they went with me is amazing to me.
“I think in any other circumstance, if Roger had four days off, he’d definitely be the guy to take the bump. This isn’t a must-win. I think they wanted to give Roger an extra day. If we’d lost last night, I guess they’d go with Roger.”
Garner said he weighed all sorts of factors for a while.
“I thought about it for quite a bit. The process was a day or two. And then you sit around and you think a little bit more,” he said. “I think you can overthink it, you can see all kinds of scenarios.
“Asking Roger to come back on short days two of three starts, I’m not sure if that’s the right move. All things considered, I think it’s best to let him pitch on his fifth day.”
The Cardinals aren’t looking forward to Game 7, not yet. After leading the majors with 105 victories, the NL Central champions will go a day at a time against the wild-card Astros.
“Well, we actually practiced this game over six months,” La Russa said. “A lot times when we are in a series, we would tell ourselves we’re in the seventh game of the World Series.
“A lot of times if you don’t win a bunch of series, you don’t get to October. So we put the must-win situation on ourselves a bunch of times.”