There was no ambiguity in Reggie Sanders's answer Friday. Asked whether he would play in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday, the St. Louis Cardinals' left fielder said, simply and emphatically, "Yes."
Whether the answer is actually that simple, though, might not be up to Sanders.
"He's got to get clearance from the doctors first," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. "Then we'll deal with it from the baseball side."
Sanders suffered a sprained lower back when he fell awkwardly on the warning track in the eighth inning of the Cardinals' 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Thursday night in St. Louis. Sanders said the back was feeling much better, but he still has issues with his neck, which snapped back, tossing his head violently to the ground.
Sanders, who leads all players with 12 RBI in the playoffs, took painkillers and received treatment Friday, but skipped the Cardinals' off-day workout.
"I feel better than I thought I would," Sanders said. "I'm a little sore, but it's not as bad as we thought."
There is a possibility, however slight, that the Cardinals could be without both their corner outfielders in a series that is tied at a game apiece. Right fielder Larry Walker is suffering from a variety of aches and pains, and, La Russa said, "What we're trying to do is figure out how sore" he is.
Walker has just one hit in 16 postseason at-bats, a broken-bat single in Game 1 of the NLCS. If either Sanders or Walker can't play Saturday, So Taguchi would be the first choice to take their place. Taguchi, who hit .288 with 53 RBI in 143 games this season, has four hits in eight career at-bats against Houston's Game 3 starter, Roger Clemens. John Mabry is the Cardinals' fifth outfielder.
The Cardinals' objective in the three games at noisy Minute Maid Park, where the retractable roof likely will be closed, is to take a lead into the late innings and avoid facing Houston closer Brad Lidge.
"We're hoping we don't get to Brad Lidge," said Matt Morris, the Cardinals' Game 3 starter. "That's our goal."
Lidge has been virtually unhittable against the Cardinals over the last two years. Since he took over the closer role for the Astros in 2004, including the playoffs, he has converted all 10 of his save opportunities, allowed just five hits -- all singles -- in 271/3 innings, and struck out 39 men. Opposing hitters managed just a .059 average against him. He pitched the final two innings of the Astros' win in Game 2 for the save.
"You have to bring your best against them," Lidge said of the Cardinals.
A nice thing to say, the Cardinals acknowledged, but it wouldn't be bad if he felt differently. "I wish he would think we were not as good, so he would back off a little bit," La Russa said. . . .
Cardinals right-hander Jason Marquis seems to have made an adjustment to the bullpen despite his original protests. Marquis pitched the ninth inning of Game 2 after voicing his displeasure about not starting against the Astros, against whom he went 4-0 this year. "I think we feel good about our bullpen," La Russa said, "and the reason we feel good is Marquis can be a force out there."