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Aching Pettitte blames himself for poor outing

ST. LOUIS -- Andy Pettitte didn't want to make excuses. But he would have had a legitimate reason for pitching poorly last night in the Astros' 5-3 loss to the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

After all, what are the odds of the game's starting pitcher getting hit with a line drive off the inside of the right knee during batting practice by scheduled Game 2 starter Roy Oswalt?

Pettitte needed treatment before he even stepped on to the mound.

''I had swelling. [The trainers] did what they could, but the bottom line is I was terrible," Pettitte said. ''I'm OK. I'm not going to use the knee as an excuse."

Manager Phil Garner said, ''I applaud him for getting through it, but I think it probably had a little effect on him."

It was Pettitte's 32d career postseason start, tying him with Tom Glavine for most starts among active pitchers. The five runs he gave up were the most he has allowed in his postseason career.

Oswalt gets his turn

Anywhere else in the baseball universe, superlatives would follow Oswalt day in and day out.

Garner describes Oswalt as a guy who ''doesn't need to be out front. He's not a self-promoter. He's a second-time 20-game winner and you don't hear that much about it. If it happened with someone else, it would be all over the place . . . He is very comfortable being in the back room. He doesn't have to have a lot of spotlights. He just likes to go out and pitch, doing his job and saying thank you very much and going on home."

On a staff that also includes Pettitte and Roger Clemens, you can see where Oswalt could get a little lost. But he's not lost on Garner or anyone in the National League.

''They have a couple of high-profile veterans [Pettitte and Clemens] who have had a ton of success. There's probably enough attention to go around," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. ''If he was the only guy there pitching he would get more attention, but he gets enough. People know how great he is."

Oswalt doesn't sweat the recognition theme. Records of 20-10 with a 3.49 ERA in '04 and 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA this season, speak for themselves. ''That doesn't matter to me," he said. ''The important thing is we prove to everyone what kind of a team we are."

Staff has been aces

The Cardinals' starting pitching staff has a 1.69 ERA over the first four games of postseason play . . . Houston's Chris Burke has homered in his last two postseason at-bats, the first one winning the Game 4 of the NLDS in the bottom of the 18th inning . . . St. Louis lefthander Mark Mulder, who will start tonight, said yesterday was the first day his bruised left biceps felt close to normal after being hit with a line drive in Game 2 of the Division Series. ''I have absolutely no discomfort, no tightness, no nothing," Mulder said. He doesn't expect to think about being hit with another line drive. ''That would be like pitching scared. I'm not going to do that. If another one comes back at me, then another one comes back at me." . . . Reliever Ray King, who attended his father's funeral Tuesday in Tennessee, made it back for player introductions last night . . . La Russa said right fielder Larry Walker had soreness in his right knee where he was hit with a Woody Williams pitch Saturday in San Diego. Walker was 1 for 4 with a single and two strikeouts . . . Umpire supervisor Jim McKean went through his preseries checklist with the Busch Stadium grounds crew yesterday. McKean had the crew measure the mound, the batter's box, and even the height of the mound in the visitors' bullpen. McKean said if there's any cheating that takes place, the visiting bullpen mound is usually the place. But McKean reported that ''everything was perfect. The measurements were right on target." . . . Garner added righthander Ezequiel Astacio to the postseason roster and removed outfielder Luke Scott. Garner said he preferred to go with an 11th pitcher for the seven-game series. Astacio pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out two.

Signs of the times

Couple of pretty funny signs in the stands: ''Hotel: $179. Tickets: $159. Red Sox and Yankees payroll: $331 million. Watching at home: Priceless." Another sign read: ''Sox and Yankees: How's Your TV Reception?"

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