We're talkin' basebell here, although what Larry Christenson was saying sounded more appropriate for an Eagle than a Phillie.

"These are in the last three years," he began. "Broken collarbone and an elbow operation. Three groin pulls in the same area. And a bad back just about my entire life." He stopped, embarrassed by it all, failing to mention the broken nose and sprained thumb he suffered in the same bar scrap early in the first season this year.

The Phillies are not completely healthy because of him; they are alive in the National League East Division playoffs, and that is a bit more than much of baseball figured would happen when he took the mound against the Expos today. Truth be known, he was mentally groggy himself when he arrived there.

"Zilch," he said. "When I got out there, I thought I had nothing. I had no time to warm up 'cause both anthems took so long. And guys actually were runnin' between me and the catcher on the sideline during the introductions."

He could have warmed up in the bullpen, away from the chaos. Having been exiled there after his mot recent groin injury, in August, he regards the bullpen as a dungeon, to be avoided under nearly all conditions, even ones involving baseball life and death.

"The mound there is awful," he said.

So Christenson made some spectacular adjustments, but not until he thought the Expos might take his playoff earned run average even more exponential. He arrived with a 7.71 average in NL postseason work and a dazzling 108 for World Series work, and result of four runs by the Royals in one inning of Game 4 last year.

After a tame first today, including two strikeouts, he said, "I started hangin' things. A hanging change up to (catcher Gary) Carter (which he laced for a double) and a bad pitch to (Chris) Speier. I found a grove after that, adjusted to the wind, switched my release points."

And rode it to six exceptionally solid innings: four hits, one run, one walk and eight strikeouts. Had he done anything at all with a bat in his hand, Christenson might have gotten a complete game. A strikeout and bunting into a double play made a pinch hitter mandatory for him in the sixth, and George Vukovich's single helped give him a 4-1 lead.

This was Christenson's first start since Aug. 24, five days before he pulled that same groin muscle warming up in the Astrodome. It was not serious enough for what the Phillies did, place him on the 21-day disabled list. With a playoff spot already assured, they wanted to eliminate every possible risk.

But that got him exiled to the bullpen, where Manager Dallas Green apparently has wanted him for some time.

"Dallas really believes I'm a relief pitcher," he said.

Christenson realy believes he's a starter.

He also believes too much was expected of him too soon, though his lifetime won-lost record is 70-50. At 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, smooth and fast, he looks more heroic on the mound than he has been.

"I was here (in the majors with the Phils) when I was 19," he said. "A young, naive kid from the cow pastures (of the state of Washington)."

How naive?

"I didn't know what a hit and run was," he said. "Or a change. I had to learn how to put a uniform on."

The last three years Christenson has had to learn how to keep one on, having lost an exasperating amount of time with injuries.

Has he considered himself snakebit?

"Very much so."

Although he had pitched just a total of 12 innings in five relief appearances since his injury, Christenson was considered a stopper of sorts in the playoffs. Before Game 2, he was told if the Phillies lost, he would pitch today; had they won that game, he would have pitched Saturday.

During his postgame press conference, Christenson showed suprisingly little emotion. He admitted the effort had been as satisfying as any in his baseball life, given its significance.

But had it been fun?

"Warming up was absolutely no fun at all," he said. "At 2-1 (in the bottom of the second), it was a little fun. And 6-2 was even better."

If Christenson thought he might have misplaced many of his pitching tools upon arriving at his dirt office, he knew one always is available: control.

"I know I can always throw strikes," he said. That was emphasized after he sinned by going 3-0 to pitcher Ray Burris in the Expo fifth. Three pitches later, he was walking off the mound with a strikeout.

"I gave us time," he said, satisfied, but still not showing it.

The Phillies want Dickie Noles to give them more time on Saturday.

"He's a street fighter," Green said of the man who drilled a fast ball under George Brett's chin in the Series last year. "I know he wants to get into this fracas."

Now that Christenson has helped make it one.