Mac provides instant power off bench

Associated Press

Tuesday, October 3 - ST. LOUIS -- For the St. Louis Cardinals, having Mark McGwire available to pinch hit is better than having him on the disabled list.

"You've maybe baseball's greatest home-run hitter sitting on the bench, that's an exciting possibility for your team," manager Tony La Russa said Monday, a day before the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves began their best-of-5 division series. "The other side knows that, so it's a big advantage for us."

McGwire has been taking it one at-bat at a time since coming off the disabled list for patella tendinitis in early September. He's 5-for-15 with two home runs and three RBI, and long ago got used to the idea that this would be his role.

La Russa suggested recently that McGwire could stand at first base for a few innings to get an extra at-bat, but McGwire responded that he didn't want to be an "ornament."

"There's nothing I can do about it," said McGwire, who's making his first postseason appearance since 1992. "It's well documented and I don't need to repeat."

La Russa said McGwire's role in this series is similar to that of Kirk Gibson in 1988, when he limped around the bases after his home run won Game 1 of the World Series for Los Angeles against La Russa's Oakland Athletics.

"I think he's available more than Gibson was," La Russa said. "He's just a dramatic example of your No. 1 pinch hitter."

McGwire's biggest liability is he can't run very fast or very far. La Russa will avoid using him in a situation where a ground ball would be an easy double play.

"He's the premier home-run hitter in all of baseball," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "You could use him any inning; you could use him in the first inning if you really wanted to. He's a guy that will be sitting there to break up a ballgame anytime."

McGwire said his knee is improving, but not nearly fast enough.

"Not any better to play every day," he said. "By spring training, it'll be good."

He's still undecided about surgery.

"We're going to sit down at the end of the season and explore all the options and see what is the best option to bring him back in spring training as healthy as we can," trainer Barry Weinberg said. "At the end, we'll have all the answers. Right now, you have to just focus on what he can do."

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