Someday, no matter the outcome of Wednesday's Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, Pete Munro, journeyman pitcher, will be able to gather his grandchildren around him and tell the story about this day -- the day the Houston Astros, with a trip to the World Series on the line and the mighty St. Louis Cardinals standing in the way, chose to give the ball to him instead of Roger Clemens.
Yes, kids, that really happened to grandpa. Happened Tuesday morning, when Astros Manager Phil Garner, whose squad leads this series three games to two, sidled up to Munro on the team's charter flight and told him the news. Game 6 is all yours, hoss. Go get 'em.
"I guess I was kind of overwhelmed," Munro said prior to the Astros' optional workout Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. "That they went with me was amazing to me."
Clemens, who would have been pitching on short rest Wednesday, instead would start on full rest in a potential Game 7 Thursday night, with 20-game winner Roy Oswalt backing him up in relief if necessary. Matt Morris starts for the Cardinals in Game 6, with Jeff Suppan in Game 7.
"Just because I'm starting Pete doesn't mean we've giving this game away," Garner said. "It doesn't mean we're not taking this game as seriously as we've taken any game we've played the last two months. . . . [And] I think it's false to assume that just because you're going to bring Roger back that you're sure to win. I don't think you're ever sure to win in these."
Clemens, who took the word "optional" to mean he didn't need to bother showing up for Tuesday's workout, was unavailable to comment. He said Monday that he was prepared to do whatever the team asked of him.
Of course, if the Astros manage to wrap up the pennant behind Munro in Game 6 -- bucking the trend in a series in which the home team has won every game -- it sets up one of two delicious scenarios: Clemens starting Game 1 of the World Series for the Astros in either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, two stadiums where he is well-known and perhaps not as well-regarded as he is in his home town of Houston.
If the Astros win the pennant in Game 6, said first baseman Jeff Bagwell, "it sets [the World Series rotation] up for us pretty good. But let me tell you something: There's not one person in here looking past the St. Louis Cardinals."
Tuesday's news out of the Astros' camp was not much of a surprise to anyone except the Cardinals, who fully believed -- and possibly still do -- that the talk of Munro starting Wednesday was media bunk, and that when leadoff man Tony Womack steps into the batter's box in the bottom of the first inning, the man staring down at him from the mound will be none other than Clemens.
"I keep hearing they're going to send Munro out there," Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said earlier Tuesday afternoon, before the Astros' announcement. "But I don't believe it. I think it's going to be Clemens."
Said Munro: "I know they'd rather face me than Roger. I'd rather face me than Roger."
The decision to start Munro instead of Clemens was all but cemented when the Astros won Game 5 of the NLCS Monday night in Houston on Brandon Backe's eight innings of one-hit ball and Jeff Kent's dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth -- the Astros' first walk-off homer of the entire season. That gave them the series lead and the breathing room to avoid the desperation move that a loss might have forced: starting Clemens on short rest in Game 6, then coming back with Roy Oswalt, also on short rest, in Game 7, if they made it that far.
"I think it makes sense," said Bagwell. "Obviously, everyone knows those stats" -- since 1999, pitchers starting on short rest in the postseason are a combined 7-21. "Is it really worth it if Roger and Roy could only give you five innings each?"
As Bagwell knows, that is exactly what happened when Garner -- faced with the same exact situation against the Atlanta Braves in the best-of-five Division Series, needing only one win in the final two games of the series -- chose to bypass Munro and start Clemens on short rest in Game 4. When the Astros lost, they started Oswalt on short rest in Game 5, which they won. However, neither Clemens nor Oswalt lasted beyond the fifth inning.
In agreeing with Garner's decision Tuesday, Bagwell was implicitly criticizing the manager's reverse decision in the Division Series. "You could say, 'Well, stick [Clemens and Oswalt] out there and take your chances,' " Bagwell said. "But we did that [against Atlanta], and what did they do? So, I don't think that's the right thing to do in this situation."
This might be a good time to acquaint yourself with Peter Daniel Munro: 29 years old. In his fifth organization in six years. Released by the Minnesota Twins' Class AAA affiliate in June and signed immediately by the Astros. Called up to the majors two weeks later (with Backe sent down to make room). Went 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA for the Astros. Started Game 2 against the Cardinals, gave up three runs in 42/3 innings, got no decision. Owns 13 major league wins.
Not quite as impressive a resume as Clemens, you say?
Clearly, had they lost Game 5 to put themselves in a 3-2 hole, the Astros were prepared to pitch Clemens and Oswalt on short rest, with Munro available in relief for either game. If Munro had a problem with self-esteem, he might take that to mean they don't trust him in a must-win situation.
Asked Tuesday if he thinks his team has faith in him, Munro said: "I can't speak for everybody. But I have faith in me. I'm not Roger Clemens . . . but I'm going to give it all my heart."