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No raindrops on Arroyo

The kid just went about his business, ready to pitch in

ST. LOUIS -- The steady rain was getting to Bronson Arroyo, and not because it presented the clear and present danger of frizzing his cornrows.

"It's pretty slick out there," he reported, 2 hours 10 minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3 last night. "It's very difficult to get your footing. I don't like it. It will be tough for the infielders to hang onto the ball. I'd rather wait until tomorrow to play. You never want to see someone slip or have something happen because of the weather."

Although Fox certainly likes to keep the players happy, the truth is, the network didn't care at all how Arroyo felt about the rain that pelted Busch Stadium for much of yesterday. It has a World Series schedule to follow, and last night, a game was to be played. And, after many conversations on contingency plans and cancellations, the rain stopped just in time for the first pitch.

With the forecast still murky, Arroyo flicked his mental switch behind those cornrows and went from preparing to be a helpful long relief man to jacking himself up as a possible starter, in case Pedro Martinez began the game on the mound but was forced to endure a lengthy rain delay.

"Of all the guys, Pedro would be the one they'd want to be very careful with," Arroyo said. "If he started pitching, then had an hour or an hour-and-a-half delay, they might not want to bring him back. I'm gearing up as though I'm a starter."

He has been both starter and reliever in this postseason. He has been what you'd expect a 27-year-old, free-spirited, guitar-strumming pitcher to be: occasionally brilliant and occasionally awful. Every postseason experience has been new and exciting and educational to him. He is surrounded by veteran pitchers who have been here before, and he has tried to learn something from each of them. They have embraced him because he is young and eager and interested in the way they go about their job.

Curt Schilling is his conscience, reviewing each little slip-up, and offering solutions for the next time. Pedro, alternately brilliant and brooding, studies his lanky teammate, says nothing for days, then drops a pearl of wisdom in his cap. Tim Wakefield, everybody's friend, encourages Arroyo regardless of the outcome. Derek Lowe, who has become Arroyo's closest friend on the team, is the one who vents and allows Arroyo to vent in return.

The young pitcher marvels at them all. He is respectful of their space -- he rarely approaches Martinez, for instance -- but is also delighted when they release some of their stress behind the closed doors of the clubhouse.

"Pedro does so many crazy things," Arroyo said. "Some days, you don't even know he's there, but then the next day he's running around the clubhouse naked, screaming at everyone.

"Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that guy is the same guy who goes out on the mound and has a look in his eyes like a killer."

Arroyo has worked hard to establish his own toughness on the mound. He is so slight (6 feet 5 inches, 190 pounds) that his durability was questioned even before he threw a pitch. Determined not to be pegged as another Casey Fossum, he signed on with Lowe for a conditioning program under the eye of assistant trainer Chris Correnti.

"We worked on improving his strength," Correnti said. "We worked on him being able to avoid fatigue later in the game. He was so great to work with. And you really saw results in the second half of the season."

"Derek and I did it together," said Arroyo. "It helped us both be more durable. Since then, we've hung out together. We have a little bit of a friendly rivalry going on. For a while, we both had a stretch of bad luck where some games didn't go our way, and we tried to get each other through it."

Lowe has suffered through a difficult year that included questions about his nightlife, a strained relationship with the front office, and a poor on-the-field performance that torpedoed his hopes of a big free agent payoff. Yet, in the postseason, Lowe has re-established his value -- and, perhaps, his relationship with his current bosses.

"Derek is Derek," Arroyo shrugged. "Things bother him that don't bother other guys on the team. He reads stuff about himself in the paper, and if it's not good, he can't stand it. I've tried to make him realize it's not important. We both have different temperaments, I guess."

Arroyo appears to be unaffected by anything that happens to him, good or bad. After starting the year 5-9, he went 5-1 down the stretch and did not lose a game after Aug. 15. He hopes to regain his job as a starter next season (or perhaps, even for Game 6), but in the meantime, he's comfortable with being a reliever.

Even though he's on baseball's biggest stage, Arroyo has yet to garner the same attention as Schilling, Martinez, or Lowe. His biggest claim to fame so far has been his role as the guy who tried to tag out Alex Rodriguez racing to first base. A-Rod slapped the ball out of his glove, and the play has become emblematic of the Yankees' collapse. "When things like that happen on the field, I've forgotten about it by the time I've gotten home," he said. "I mean, really.

"But I think it definitely hurt A-Rod. He's always had this squeaky-clean image and I think that play shed light on a different personality. I think people look at him a little more now as kind of making a dirty play.

"If he was on our team, and he did the same thing, I'd be fine with it. At this time of year, you do what you've got do to win the game." 

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