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Morris hoping to steal the show

Morris hoping to steal the show

HOUSTON -- Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris didn't seem in much of a headline-stealing mood Friday.

The off-day before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series with the Houston Astros, tied at a game apiece, was all about Roger Clemens. Morris will share the mound with Clemens on Saturday afternoon, but he certainly isn't sharing the spotlight with the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer. Morris didn't even feel bad about throwing a few flowers The Rocket's way when asked if he intended to be throwing at that age.

"No chance," Morris said. "That's unbelievable. He was born to do this -- 20 years, still throwing the ball as hard as he is and in as good of shape, endurance-wise, as he is, he's just phenomenal. We all look at him and marvel.

"You know, I get a good opportunity tomorrow to go out and compete with him, so I'm looking forward to it."

That will be when Morris, 31, will have his chance to steal the show. He'll need to do that for the Cardinals to end the Astros' momentum and assure that the series returns to St. Louis for at least a sixth game.

Morris is coming off possibly his best start, in terms of quality of his pitches, since midseason.

He held the San Diego Padres to two runs and five hits in six innings of a 7-4 victory that completed that Cards' three-game sweep of the NL Division Series. Morris didn't always put hitters away -- he struck out four but walked three and needed 106 pitches -- but he has matured from the power pitcher he was before arm injuries forced him to adjust.

Still, Morris displayed enough electricity to make manager Tony La Russa believe that he can revisit his top-shelf pitching Saturday.

"My thought is he's going out there with a lot of weapons, a lot of experience, and he's fired up to pitch," La Russa said. "So that's all there is. Now what you've got to do is go out there and harness it all and make pitches against a tough lineup in a difficult ballpark.

"But he's really fired up to pitch, and that's all you can ask."

If Morris wants, he can grab some of the emotion that will be floating around Minute Maid Park.

Clemens will be taking the mound for the first time since throwing the final three inspiring innings in Sunday's 18-inning thriller against Atlanta to put the Astros in the NLCS. Also, the Astros and their fans will be riding the momentum of Thursday night's Game 2 victory at Busch Stadium, when Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge pitched the Astros to a 4-1 victory.

Morris will have plenty of reason to have extra juice flowing. Morris has had his moments at Minute Maid Park, going 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA in 11 career games there, although he didn't pitch there this year. He has faced the Astros in two postseason games,

"As far as pitching against Roger, I've never faced him before," Morris said. "It seems exciting. It's intense. He's going to go out and try to dominate the game, and my job is to do the same and try to keep up with him.

"He's a heck of a competitor and it's an honor to be pitching against him for one, but, two, we've got a bunch of guys that want to win the game."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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