Cardinals have utmost confidence in Suppan

NEW YORK -- The Cardinals had just lost an opportunity to go to the World Series, and the mood in the clubhouse immediately afterward was quiet, restrained. But the starting pitcher for Game 7 turned to his lockermate and cracked a joke.

"I've never lost with 10 runs or more," Jeff Suppan said to teammate Jason Isringhausen.

Suppan wasn't joking entirely, since his team has averaged three runs in the last two games. And the 31-year-old will likely need some offensive help, after St. Louis struggled in a 4-2 loss to the Mets on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals failed to take advantage of rookie pitcher John Maine, even behind a solid start from ace Chris Carpenter. And now the two teams will play for it all Thursday night.

"This is a do-or-die moment for us," said Scott Spiezio, who has played in a Game 7 before and is known for his October prowess. "It's so much fun; this is what it's all about."

If there were any Cardinals pitcher who would feel calm before his team's biggest game, it would be Suppan. Not only is he coming off eight superb scoreless innings in a Game 3 win over the Mets -- in which he also hit a home run -- but Suppan was one of the National League's best pitchers in the second half with a 2.39 ERA.

He's also pitched in a Game 7 before. Two years ago. Against Roger Clemens. And won.

"I just know a guy like that is great for the postseason because he's so calm and so under control," center fielder Jim Edmonds, who was on the '04 Cardinals team that went to the World Series, said.

Isringhausen said Suppan is a "mentally strong" pitcher; one who doesn't overpower but whose confidence guides him on the mound. Isringhausen also said that attitude seeps into the clubhouse and onto the field when Suppan's pitching, and it's likely why he's had so much success in the playoffs.

Soon to become a free agent, Suppan is 3-3 with a 3.07 ERA in seven career postseason starts. During the season, however, Suppan had an ERA more than two runs higher (5.36) on the road than at home (3.18).

"It's not like it's his first time and he'll be thinking about it," said teammate Jose Vizcaino, who played for the 2004 Astros, whom Suppan beat to send the Cardinals to their last World Series. "He's been in these situations before."

Added Edmonds: "We'll take our chances in Game 7. We're ready to play."

After Game 6, Suppan declined to answer any questions and deferred to his prearranged media session before the game, which revealed very little.

"I just know a guy like that is great for the postseason because he's so calm and so under control."
-- Jim Edmonds on teammate Jeff Suppan pitching in Game 7

But, according to Isringhausen, Suppan reveals plenty and talks often with his teammates, even on the days he starts. But before Game 7, is that bound to be different?

"No, not really," said Isringhausen, out for the year with a hip injury. ""He'll be fine. When he's getting ready and dressed, he talks and stuff. But when he leaves the clubhouse, then it's all business."

And when Suppan takes the mound, Isringhausen said, the right-hander will rely on his inner swagger. He'll try and stifle the Mets, just as he did in Game 3 in St. Louis, and just as he did when he beat the Roger Clemens-led Astros two years ago.

"I think Jeff's the perfect candidate," Isringhausen said.

And once he's done, we might get to find out why from Suppan himself.

Amy K. Nelson is a writer/reporter for ESPN The Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.