St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said he expects to have both of his top setup men, left-hander Steve Kline and right-hander Julian Tavarez, available in the bullpen for Game 6 today against Houston.

Kline has not pitched since Game 1, after aggravating a torn tendon in his left index finger. Tavarez has not pitched since Game 3, when he broke two bones in his left (non-throwing) hand when he slammed it into a dugout phone in frustration after giving up the go-ahead home run to the Astros' Carlos Beltran.

Kline has shown improvement in recent days, but La Russa said his availability would be limited. "It wouldn't be fair to bring him into a tie game, bases loaded," he said. "But there might be a situation where he could get [out] a hitter or two."

Tavarez will be pitching with a makeshift splint in his glove, which will keep his outermost two fingers immobilized while allowing him to field his position.

In addition to his regular relievers, La Russa said right-hander Jason Marquis, who started Game 4, will be available out of the bullpen.

Thanks for Asking, but No

Though both catchers in the American League Championship Series entered last night's game having played 26 innings in a span of two games, neither wanted to sit for Game 6.

Boston's Jason Varitek and New York's Jorge Posada were approached by their managers about getting time off.

Yankees Manager Joe Torre "asked me how I was doing and I told him I'm all right," Posada said. "We've got to play every day and obviously after the season, after whatever happens, we've got a long time to rest."

Varitek's conversation with Red Sox Manager Terry Francona did not last long. "I asked Tek last night at the airport if he wanted the day off," Francona said. "He politely declined." . . .

The Yankees entered last night's game up 3-2 in the series but appeared to be the more battered team, with Posada (hand) and reliever Paul Quantrill (ankle) nursing bruises. An injury of more serious concern was to first baseman John Olerud, who suffered a bruised right instep on Saturday and has missed the past three games. He was expected to be ready by the start of the World Series, but his status remains uncertain.

"It may be something more," Torre said. "He is getting tested today. What the extent of those tests are, I'm not at liberty to tell you only because I don't know."

What Time Is It?

Players on both sides of the NLCS were grumbling over the fact they would not know the start time for Game 6 until after Game 6 of the ALCS. If the Yankees clinched the AL pennant, the NLCS game would be played in prime time. If the Red Sox forced a Game 7, the NLCS game would be played in the afternoon.

The indecision was a result of Fox wanting to maximize the prime-time exposure of its postseason broadcasts.

One Astros veteran called it "an absolute joke," and when Cardinals right fielder Larry Walker was asked his thoughts about whom the Astros would start in Game 6, he said, "We don't even know what time the game is, let alone who's pitching." . . .

With three straight dominant performances on three consecutive days -- resulting in two saves, one win, five innings pitched and 77 pitches -- Houston's Brad Lidge is drawing comparisons to some of the top closers in the game. In fact, he is having a better postseason than Mariano Rivera.

However, Lidge, who ascended into the closer's role when the team traded Octavio Dotel in June, said he is not ready to place himself in the same elite category as Rivera and Atlanta's John Smoltz.

"Those guys have been doing it for 10 years. I've been closing for half a year," he said. "Right now, I'm just trying to prove myself in this role and help this team get to the World Series. Those are guys I try to emulate, but I don't put myself in their category."

With his arm rejuvenated by the off day, Lidge said he expects to be available in Game 6.

Arangure reported from New York; Sheinin from St. Louis.