HOUSTON -- During the regular season, Reggie Sanders would take a day off to recuperate from the whiplash-like injuries he sustained in an awkward tumble on the warning track.
But it's not the regular season, and the St. Louis Cardinals' offensive star in the postseason said Friday that he'd play in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday against the Houston Astros and Roger Clemens. Sanders, who has two homers and 12 RBI in the playoffs, even had the good humor to characterize his spill as a "Hummer wreck" instead of the more generic "train wreck" description offered by the team trainer.
The injury was initially diagnosed as a lower back sprain, although Sanders said the biggest issue was pain "directly in the back of my neck" severe enough that he rated it a seven or eight on a scale of one to 10. He watched one replay of the injury once and doesn't want to see it again. That would be unproductive.
"It is what it is," Sanders said before the Cardinals worked out at Minute Maid Park. "We have to battle through. Nobody's 100 percent, but I think as long as you're functional you can go out and help the team."
That goes for fellow outfielder Larry Walker, too. Walker has had four cortisone shots this season for a herniated disc in his neck, the last one timed to give him the best opportunity to make it through the postseason. But it's already flaring up again after a spill over a rail while chasing a foul ball in Game 3 of the Cardinals' first-round series sweep of the Padres.
Neither Sanders nor Walker took batting practice Friday.
Walker was hit by a pitch in his right knee earlier in Game 3 but trainer Barry Weinberg said that was no longer an issue, and the three-time batting champion is determined to play.
"I feel fine, that covers everything," Walker said. "I got my treatment, elected not to hit; I'll come back tomorrow and do some treatment and maybe hit, maybe not, I'm not sure."
Manager Tony La Russa called Sanders' availability for Game 3 "50-50" immediately after Game 2. Now he, like Sanders, is more optimistic.
"I've had a couple of conversations with him and I know he's feeling better today than we thought he would and there's still 24 hours," La Russa said. "So we'll see."
Sanders was injured trying to run down Adam Everett's RBI triple to left-center in the eighth inning of Astros' 4-1 Game 2 victory on Thursday night. He landed awkwardly and hard on his back and neck on the warning track after the ball glanced off his glove. The team had initially feared a concussion because Sanders seemed fuzzy with answers to some questions from medical personnel.
A complete neurological exam Thursday night ruled that out. And on Friday, the team had a much more promising read on Sanders' condition.
"He's just kind of got the sore-all-overs," team physician Dr. Rick Wright said. "Everything was a little bit better than we expected, so hopefully he'll be ready to go."
Going without either one -- or both -- would leave a big hole in the lineup given they're primary protection for Albert Pujols in the fourth and fifth slots depending on whether a left-hander or right-hander is pitching. Sanders is having the best postseason of his career by far, after entering the playoffs a .188 hitter with 13 RBI in five seasons.
Walker had 15 homers and 52 RBI in 100 regular-season games but has been a non-factor in the playoffs with a single in 16 at-bats.
If either can't go, the Cardinals have experienced backups ready. So Taguchi has played all three outfield spots and filled in for both Sanders, who missed about two months with a broken leg earlier in the season, and Walker this season while batting .288 in a career-high 396 at-bats with eight homers and 53 RBI.
La Russa said he wouldn't hesitate to use Taguchi, a 36-year-old former Japanese league player, against Clemens.
La Russa notes with pride that the Cardinals were 50-31 both at home and on the road, including a 5-3 record in Houston, and he doesn't care if the Astros enclose the field to trap the sound and give them even more of a home-field advantage for the next three games.
"It's their home field and you get to choose whatever you want to," La Russa said. "It's going to be baseball, no matter what."