When you think of John Smoltz, what comes to mind?
GARNER: Competition. Competitor. He's an extremely tough competitor. I recall seeing him, you know, in the closing games that he's pitched against my clubs, just fierce determination and great competitor.
Now I have to add pretty good public speaker to that after listening to him on this. He's pretty impressive all the way around.
John also talked about the mental aspect of playoff time. Everybody's got bumps and bruises at this point. You've played the game, managed in key situations. Give me your perspective on how important the mental side is in the playoffs.
GARNER: Well, I mean, for me, when you get to these things, one thing that they touched on is your heightened awareness of everything. You are so keyed up, when you get into situations, the things you have to learn to control your emotions that are hyped. I think that's why young players have difficult times sometimes, the bat feels a little bit lighter than normal, the ball feels a little bit lighter than normal. As pitchers, you have to learn to back off just a little bit, you feel like you can throw it past everybody and you really can't. Hitters, you think you're going to hit everything out of the ballpark and you're swinging a little bit too hard.
You have to learn how to channel all that new found energy that you have, which brings you to the point that you shouldn't be tired at this moment but you are to a certain degree less than a hundred percent; you're beat up a little bit. I can tell you right now Craig Biggio has got some bumps and bruises and so does Willy Taveras. You go from a 39 , 40 year old to a 24 year old and everybody's going to have something that they're dealing with, an issue they're dealing with at this time.
But I think the excitement of it all sort of puts that on the back burner, you know. You're excited to be in these ballgames, and whatever's hurting you gets put aside a little bit.
What level would you say Jeff Bagwell is at now, and what does it do for you guys to have him back?
GARNER: I think Jeff is obviously, he can't play. We wouldn't put him in the field. But he is Jeff Bagwell, and he's been swinging the bat very well. The last two weeks of the season here I saw improvement each time that he was able to go to the plate. I tried to use him every night to get an opportunity to get as many at bats as he possibly could. I saw his strength getting a little bit better. His eye at the plate has always been good. I think he can still go to the plate and give us a good at bat. That's one of the reasons he's on the roster.
The other reason is he is Jeff Bagwell. He has been one of the reasons that this club's had a great run for the past, over a decade, his 15 years in the organization.
So I think he's good for our ballclub, it's good to have him on the bench from his stature and also for what he can do still with the bat. He may not have quite the power that he had before, but he's still capable of delivering in the clutch.
So you've had Biggio leading off, Taveras hitting second the last ten days or so. What have you seen in that combination that has prompted you to go ahead and go with that in the playoffs?
GARNER: Well, we did have to win these last few ballgames and we did. Part of the setup is that we've had a great deal of success, historically speaking, with Biggio leading off. I think Biggio is comfortable with it. It wasn't that Willy was not comfortable in the leadoff spot because he appeared to be very comfortable to me also.
But I played a little different game the last few games, little more one run baseball than I've been looking for necessarily in the big games. I don't know that I'm going to do that but I liked the look of Biggio leading off, so I stayed with it today.
I know you've been asked about Roger's run support, that's been an issue. Do you feel hitters want to score so badly it's become almost a problem?
GARNER: I wish I knew a reason or an answer or a possible explanation for why that happened. We have a little history in this organization. I played with the Astros when we had Nolan Ryan. One year we couldn't score runs for Nolan Ryan. I could never figure it out from that side, I can't figure it out from this side either. That was the regular season, obviously. We managed to score some runs for him on Saturday and I'm hoping that's all passed, that we're into October now and that's all going to change in October.
But it's been mysterious. It's been I've used the word "stupid" because it's just hard to fathom that you can go eight times and not score a run in modern day baseball. A pitcher's going to make a mistake, guys are swinging for the fences, you have power on your teams and somebody's going to score a run by chance. It's a crazy number and I don't know how to explain it but I also feel it's behind us. I don't know that players now are particularly on edge about it, it's what it was. One of the things that our club has shown is we can have a game where we can shut out and we can come back and win the next ballgame and sometimes against improbable odds.
So I don't know that it's going to be a factor going into tomorrow's game.
You've touched on this before in the past, but can you again talk about what it was like for you when you managed against Roger and what you thought of him as opposed to having him on your side as your weapon.
GARNER: Well, if I would have known this, I would have had Roger Clemens years ago, there's no question about that.
But you don't manage Roger, you know. You enjoy putting him in the lineup every fifth day and you just go watch him pitch, watch him do his thing. He's phenomenal. He's been phenomenal. He's one of those rare individuals that, in my opinion, is sometimes just bigger than the game itself. He's a take charge guy. He's a determined guy. He's a competitor. He's the epitome of the Hall of Fame person that you want. He's talented. He works hard. He's a good person. All those things wrapped into one, that you're watching when you watch him pitch, and having him on my side is a blessing because I had to watch him for years and we never -- I don't think we ever beat him, or (Andy) Pettitte actually, and it got to be frustrating. When you look at those guys, every time you go out there, you're saying, "How in the world are we going to beat this guy tonight?" And you just can't figure out a way to do it. So having him on my side is a wonderful thing.
You mentioned playing with Nolan Ryan. Julio Franco played with Nolan Ryan for several years, too. Do you have any thoughts on the fact that here he is in the lineup against your team today?
GARNER: Well, actually he played for me in Milwaukee briefly and I thought his career was just about done, and that was about six or seven years ago. That's how smart I am.
But I've been amazed. I know that he works hard. Obviously, genetically, he's blessed. But no matter what God gave you, genetically, you still have to do a lot of things to stay in good shape and to play at the Major League level as long as he had and be productive. My hat's off to him because I know it's not easy when you get up into your 40s to continue to go out there and do what it takes.
He's been a phenomenal player and fun to watch. I appreciate players appreciate, and I'm a former player and now that I'm a manager and have been a former coach, you appreciate what guys like him do for our game.
Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.