Reserve Power

LA Times - 27 September 2000 - Mark McGwire is reluctant to talk about it anymore, considers it old news, says the spotlight should be on his team and insists that he isn't frustrated by the tender right knee that will restrict him to a pinch-hitting role in the postseason and will likely be operated on when the St. Louis Cardinals have completed their work in 2000.

"What am I going to do?" McGwire said in the Cardinal clubhouse here Tuesday. "I have to come to grips with it. The body can only do what it can do. Nobody is Superman. I didn't think I'd be able to participate even this much."

This much is 10 at-bats since his last start at first base on July 6. McGwire finds it difficult to run or move laterally, and the patellar tendinitis kicks up each time he tries. Doctors have told him it's the most severe case they have ever seen, beyond the scope of conventional treatment.

"We haven't checked into voodoo or faith healers, but we're close," Cardinal trainer Barry Weinberg said Tuesday. "It's frustrating when any player is incapacitated this long, whether the name is McGwire or not."

Only McGwire, however, hit 135 homers and drove in 294 runs in the last two seasons and was on pace to hit 70 more this year, having slugged 30 in 221 at-bats before the knee forced him out of the lineup and momentarily left the Cardinals wondering if they would need voodoo or a faith healer to maintain their National League Central lead.

"You always learn to kind of prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Manager Tony LaRussa said. "We thought we'd be getting Mark back after the (All-Star) break. When we didn't, we kind of hit the wall."

No one replaces McGwire, but Will Clark has provided an impressive imitation, helping the Cardinals over that wall. General Manager Walt Jocketty, who had aggressively rebuilt the pitching staff and reshaped the lineup during the winter, responded again at the trade deadline. He made a series of acquisitions that included the veteran Clark, happy to escape the Baltimore Oriole morass and intent on proving The Thrill is back.

Clark went to work Tuesday night with a .338 average, 10 home runs and 35 RBIs in 45 games with St. Louis.

"He's a professional hitter who's been great in the clubhouse," McGwire said. "He's been awesome. He's taken the pressure off everyone."

The Cardinals wrapped up the division title last week and could still emerge with the best record in the National League, enabling them to open the playoffs against the New York Mets, the likely wild card, instead of the East champion Atlanta Braves.

Asked what his response would have been if he had been told in the spring that the Cardinals would lose McGwire for half the season and still win more than 90 games, LaRussa said:

"I would have said we must have pitched well, caught the ball well and had enough depth to overcome it. All of this starts at the top with owners determined to win and willing to free up the money and a general manager who goes and gets the players, but at some point the players have to play. We've been in first place every day but three. The guys have pushed all season, and you have to like the feeling. They haven't let anything stop them."

The loss of McGwire, while the most severe, overshadowed the fact that the Cardinals also lost, among others, Fernando Tatis, Fernando Vina and J.D. Drew for extended periods. Jocketty's additions, including Vina at the top of the lineup, Jim Edmonds and Clark in the middle, and Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen, Andy Benes and Dave Veres on the mound, have been critical.

"I think it's gone unnoticed but we've probably faced more adversity than any team in the playoffs," McGwire said. "I also think we're probably deeper than any team in baseball. If we have a guy go down in the playoffs, we can feel just as secure about the guy we put in, and that doesn't happen often. Walt, Tony and the ownership should feel very good about what they've done."

McGwire's 10 at-bats have come at a pace of one a game since he returned to his limited role, collecting three hits and two home runs. It has been speculated that he may be able to serve as a designated hitter in the American League park if the Cardinals reach the World Series, but that's unlikely if he can't run. An AL manager could pitch around him in his first at-bat, forcing LaRussa to use a pinch-runner and, perhaps, another player off the bench as a new DH, eating up his manpower.

"The most he'll be doing is pinch-hitting," LaRussa said. "We're worried about him tearing that tendon if he does anything more. Not anybody in the other dugout is going to be happy about seeing him walk up there with the game on the line. Even the threat of it has to affect your thinking and the choice of your pitchers. I can't think of a more dangerous guy coming off the bench."

A cheerleader he isn't, but McGwire said he is happy to contribute in any way possible.

However, if it wasn't for the playoffs, he added, he wouldn't even be doing this much, he'd be having the knee taken care of in surgery--which is the likely course since conventional treatments haven't worked.

McGwire took about an hour of extra hitting in mid-afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium Tuesday, then got the early arrivals excited with a series of distant drives during regular BP in the twilight.

Everything seemed normal, but it was Clark who started at first base again and who will continue to start, and it was McGwire who pinch-hit in the eighth inning only to be hit by a pitch and replaced by a pinch-runner.

"I've gotten more comfortable as a pinch-hitter," McGwire said, "but it's still pretty hard putting everything on the table in one at-bat. My whole career I've had four or five at-bats to get something done.

"Oh well, it's one more thing for the resume."

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