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NLCS NOTEBOOK

Second chances in second round

ST. LOUIS -- No two pitchers wanted to be in last year's postseason more than Chris Carpenter and Andy Pettitte.

A biceps strain kept Carpenter from facing the team he rooted for as a kid, the Red Sox, in the World Series. Pettitte, who had fled the Yankees along with Roger Clemens after the 2003 season, wanted to lead his hometown team, the Astros, to the World Series, but an elbow injury kept him out.

While the drama of Carpenter facing the Red Sox or Pettitte facing the Yankees in the World Series is gone, tonight the two will open the National League Championship Series, which is a rematch of last year's, won by the Cardinals in seven games.

''I think we're all solid guys that are competitors that know how to prepare and we know what it takes to pitch at this level," Carpenter said. ''I think everybody has been here before -- besides me, but I was able to do it last series."

Carpenter, who was 21-5 in the regular season and is a main candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, was 3-0 against Houston, including a pair of complete-game wins against Clemens.

''It's a new game," Carpenter said. ''That's the way I looked at it all year. I think that's why I was successful all year, because no matter what I did the last start, this next start was a different one, and you can't take the results from the last start into your next one."

Pettitte likewise has made three very good starts against the Cardinals, though with little to show for it: 0-1, with a 1.35 ERA.

''I think I've pitched decent," said Pettitte. ''I don't even know if I've won a game against them, and that's really all that counts, to try to get some wins. They have got a great lineup, and you just try to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate."

A year ago, Pettitte had had elbow surgery and was facing a six-month rehabilitation. His dream of helping the Astros in the postseason was shattered.

''When I signed with the Astros, this is what I hoped," said Pettitte, ''that I would be able to help the organization get past that first round of the playoffs. Like I said a million times before, last year they did it without me, and hopefully this year I can help us get past this round."

A big issue for Carpenter is how he feels after cramping up in Game 1 of the Division Series against San Diego, a game he left after six shutout innings.

''I think people misunderstood," Carpenter said. ''It wasn't just my hand. I had cramps all over my body. I had it in my hamstring, my shoulder, both hands, my calves, so I'm not concerned about that.

''I think it was just a day that was hot. I was sweating and I cramped up. I'm not going to be concerned about that [tonight]."

On his good side

Mark Mulder had a successful side session yesterday and appears on track to pitch Game 2 for the Cardinals. Mulder had soreness in his left biceps after being struck by a line drive in Game 2 against San Diego. Manager Tony La Russa wasn't committing, however. ''I guess he had a positive throw today," said La Russa, ''and we're going to wait and see how he feels tomorrow. If he comes out of the throw in good shape, then he would be No. 2, and then Matt [Morris] would go 3." La Russa then would choose between Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan for Game 4 . . . Much has been made of this new rivalry between the Astros and Cardinals, but Houston manager Phil Garner said, ''It's not really a rivalry until we start beating the Cardinals a couple of times and they can really go home mad. Then it will become a really good rivalry. Right now, it's one-sided." . . . Both teams held full workouts at Busch Stadium yesterday afternoon on a dark, dreary day.

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