Eyes have been on Cardinals left-hander Mulder since he was struck on his throwing arm by a Joe Randa line drive during Game 2 of the National League Division Series against San Diego. The incident occurred in the second inning and Mulder lasted 6 2/3 innings and held the Padres to one run in the Cards' 6-2 victory.
But after bullpen sessions on Monday and Tuesday, with the latter session being 40 pitches, Mulder is fit to take a step where he has never been when he starts in Thursday night's Game 2 of the NL Championship Series against Houston. He had thrown four games in Division Series play with Oakland, but the Athletics never could find their way out of that round.
"Obviously, it's awesome," said Mulder, who improved to 3-2 with a 2.05 ERA in five postseason starts with his victory over the Padres. "I'm as excited as I can be here, and so is everyone else. None of us took it for granted. Nobody from last year took for granted that they would be here again."
For a few days after the injury, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa didn't take for granted that Mulder would be ready for Thursday night.
"I did not see him pitch yesterday," La Russa said. "All I know is I asked Dave [Duncan, the Cards' pitching coach]. Dave said, 'I wish we were playing yesterday.' That's how strong his stuff was and how well he was locating. So the only other question was, coming into today, make sure he doesn't have anything other than the normal soreness or stiffness, and he doesn't."
Mulder had spent the past few days discussing more hues than a Sherwin-Williams salesman as his arm went from black and blue, to more of one than the other, to a really unattractive yellow.
Ultimately, the injury wound up a non-issue because Mulder was able to stay on the schedule he would have been on had he not been hurt during the three-game sweep of the Padres.
Mulder finished 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA during the regular season, and was 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA in four starts against the Astros. He held the Astros to 23 hits in 29 innings, including an April 23 gem when he threw 10 shutout innings and outlasted Roger Clemens in a 1-0 victory.
But he experienced the opposite on June 5, when Houston touched him for six runs and eight hits in just three innings of a 6-4 Cardinals loss. Speedy Astros rookie Willy Taveras singled to open the bottom of the first -- he would go 4-for-4 in the game -- to touch off a five-run inning that included homers by Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane.
"They are a tough team, obviously, with [Craig] Biggio and Taveras one-two in the lineup," Mulder said. "I know they aren't always the same, but Taveras just getting on base, the swinging, the bunts, the bunting and stealing when he's on, you have to pay attention. You [must] keep those two guys off base. That could be a big key and a big part of the series."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.