St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter, who has not pitched in the first two rounds of the postseason because of nerve irritation in his right biceps, has left open the possibility he could be activated for the World Series, should the Cardinals get there. But team officials say Carpenter's return is highly doubtful.

Carpenter, who emerged as the Cardinals' surprise ace this season after missing the previous year and a half following shoulder surgery, has not pitched since Sept. 18. At the time, he was 15-5 and almost certainly would have started Game 1 of the division series.

In recent days, Carpenter has reported improvement in his arm, and he had an examination Tuesday that left him encouraged. However, Manager Tony La Russa all but ended speculation about Carpenter's return, saying that even if Carpenter's arm is sound, there would not be time to get him back into pitching shape.

"He's feeling improved," La Russa said. "I just think it's unrealistic to [expect] him to feel good enough to get himself in shape to pitch. I think we just feel really good that he's healthy and he should be 100 percent, and we'll see him next year." . . .

Houston Astros Manager Phil Garner kept second baseman Jeff Kent in his lineup for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, even though Kent had to limit his pregame activities due to soreness in his left foot.

"He's bruised. There's no question he's bruised," Garner said.

Kent has fouled balls off his foot twice in the last two games. On Wednesday night, Garner removed him in the eighth inning of the Astros' 10-7 loss. After the game, Kent's foot was visibly swollen, although the swelling had subsided by yesterday.

'El Duque' Gets the Call

With an already firm clutch on the American League Championship Series, the New York Yankees decided yesterday to start Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in Game 4.

Hernandez, 8-2 with a 3.30 ERA, was the Yankees' most consistent starter in the final months of the season, but was bothered by a sore right shoulder that forced him out of the rotation in the division series.

"Duque himself wasn't really pleased with the way he felt and felt what he referred to as 'dead,' no life in his shoulder," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said.

But Hernandez, who missed the 2003 season after shoulder surgery, said he has recovered.

"I feel happy," Hernandez said. "I feel much better than last week." . . .

Count Yankees catcher Jorge Posada among baseball traditionalists. On Tuesday Posada stomped on two tiny cameras buried near home plate by Fox because he worried a ball could come in contact with one of the cameras, thereby interfering with a play.

"They didn't do a very good job of covering it," Posada said. "I just buried it in the dirt. I don't know if I broke it or not. I don't feel good about it [being there]."

According to Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'ermilio, who scoffs that the two tiny instruments could interfere with play, Posada did not break the cameras.

"We used them last night without any incident," D'ermilio said. "The camera has been cleared with baseball and the players' association. They are the size of a pencil eraser. There are pebbles on the field bigger."