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Playoff Notebook

Tavarez Breaks His Hand in Outburst

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2004; Page D06

HOUSTON, Oct. 18 -- In what must now be considered an epidemic, yet another pitcher involved in this postseason has broken his non-throwing hand during a tantrum that followed a poor performance. However, in this case, the St. Louis Cardinals were hopeful reliever Julian Tavarez would not miss any action.

Tavarez, the Cardinals' top right-handed setup man, broke two bones in his left hand following the seventh inning of Sunday's Game 5 of the NLCS, during which he gave up the go-ahead homer to Houston's Carlos Beltran. Tavarez broke the bones when he slammed his hand into the dugout phone out of frustration.

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The Cardinals' medical staff fashioned a custom splint for Tavarez to wear in his glove, and he tested it during a pregame bullpen session before Monday night's Game 5. The splint was designed to immobilize his fourth and fifth fingers and the outside part of his hand, where the breaks occurred.

"Medically, it's safe for him to play," said George A. Paletta Jr., the Cardinals' head physician. "The only question is whether he can receive the ball from the catcher and field his position."

The loss of Tavarez would be a big loss for the Cardinals' formidable bullpen, which already is without top lefty Steve Kline, who has a torn tendon in the index finger of his throwing hand.

Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa was remarkably understanding about Tavarez's rampage, saying, "I'm not saying that I pat him on the back for going out of control, but I would pat him on the back for caring enough to get upset."

Also Monday, the Astros apologized to the Cardinals for showing a replay of Tavarez's tantrum on the stadium video screen Sunday.

New York Yankees starter Kevin Brown missed three weeks in September after a similar incident, in which he broke bones in his non-throwing hand after punching a wall following a disappointing outing. He returned to the Yankees in the last week of the regular season and is on their playoff roster.

Astros Mull Rotation

Publicly, the Astros' front office is being very coy about its rotation plans for the rest of the NLCS. Privately, however, it seems to have decided to base its Game 6 on what happens in Game 5.

If the Astros win Game 5 to go up 3-2 in the series, they likely would go with right-hander Pete Munro in Game 6 Wednesday night in St. Louis. That would leave Roger Clemens to start a potential Game 7 on full rest, backed up by Roy Oswalt on three days' rest.

However, if the Astros lose Game 5, they appear prepared to bring back Clemens on short rest in Game 6, with Oswalt getting the Game 7 assignment on short rest.

"If we lose, we're in a must-win situation" in Game 6, Astros General Manager Gerry Hunsicker said prior to Game 5. "I think that turns up the pressure when you look at bringing Roger back on short rest."

Since 1999, pitchers going on three days' rest are 7-21. In six career postseason starts on short rest, Clemens is 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA, and when both Clemens and Oswalt pitched on short rest against Atlanta in the Division Series, neither lasted beyond five innings. However, Clemens was still bothered by the stomach flu during his start.

"I think there were mitigating circumstances in that one," Astros Manager Phil Garner said of Clemens's no-decision in Game 4 against Atlanta, in which he left with a lead only to see Houston's bullpen lose the game. "So I'm not sure that's a good indication of how he might perform if we were to ask him to go on three days' [rest] again."

"Historically, the odds aren't real good," Hunsicker said. "There will be a lot of factors [in the decision], not the least of which is how the pitcher feels."

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