Game 1: Woody Williams vs. Odalis Perez

ST. LOUIS -- Almost two months into the season, Woody Williams was so disgusted with his performance that retirement
seemed to make sense.

Flash forward, and find him as the deserving starter for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the NL playoffs Tuesday against Odalis Perez and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Williams (11-8) got the nod over 15-game winner Matt Morris,
having shaken off his early woes and become the team's most
consistent starter.

The Cardinals also will lean on Williams in Game 5 on Monday, if

"It's been a strange season, no doubt," Williams said. "It's
been a long road but it's been well worth it."

Williams won 18 games last year but was limited throughout
spring training by shoulder tendinitis, pitching only five innings.
He played a not-too-successful game of catchup for a while and on
May 22 was saddled with a 1-5 record and 5.26 ERA.

"Honestly, I was down to like two starts before I went home,"
Williams said. "I wasn't going to kid myself and I wasn't going to
make them pay me for me not doing my job.

"It wasn't a good time. But you know what, it makes you
appreciate the good times and not take things for granted."

Manager Tony La Russa wasn't aware how close Williams, 37, came
to quitting. But he wasn't all that surprised, either.

"When you're a serious and proud competitor and you don't feel
like you're taking your part of the responsibility, you have that
kind of response," La Russa said. "That's why these guys are so

"When they're not doing it, man, they don't just say 'What's
the big deal?"'

Williams gives his wife, Kimberli, credit for helping him work
through his troubles.

"Every time I pitched my wife would say 'How did it go?"'
Williams said. His response: "'It's not there, nothing's coming
out, I don't know what to do.'

"But she's a very patient woman and she can see things from the
outside. She told me to stick it out."

Williams has the fewest victories in the rotation, mostly
because of 12 no-decisions and three straight blown saves by the
bullpen in September.

But he's 45-22 since coming to the Cardinals in August 2001 in
what was supposed to be a low-impact trade with the Padres that
sent Ray Lankford to San Diego. Before arriving, he was a career
58-62 pitcher.

This year, the Cardinals are 15-4 in his last 19 starts and he
has a 3.70 ERA in that span. To him, those are the relevant

"I said in spring training that if all of these guys could get
the wins and I would be the one guy to not have the success, I
would gladly take that role," Williams said. "I believe in
myself, I believe in my teammates, and I know my job in the first
game is to out there and do the best I can and keep them in the

Perez had a similar year for the Dodgers, going 7-6 with a 3.25
ERA and a franchise-record 18 no decisions. Like Williams, he
didn't let his frustrations be known.

"I pitched a lot of good games, a lot of one- and two-run games
and I don't have the decision, " Perez said. "It's tough because
it's my free-agent year," Perez said. "But most of the teams will
know who I am, and know I can go out there and I can pitch."

Perez will be challenged by a lineup that led the NL in runs.
Albert Pujols is 6-for-10 against him with two homers, two doubles
and seven RBI, and Scott Rolen is 6-for-11 with two homers, a
double and five RBI.

"It's one of the toughest lineups in baseball," Perez said.
"Those guys, they put up big numbers."

The Dodgers clinched the West on Saturday, two weeks later than
the Cardinals. While St. Louis is making its fourth postseason
appearance in five years, this is Los Angeles' first trip to the
playoffs since 1996.

The Dodgers' 93-win total is their best since 1991, when they
also won 93.

Manager Jim Tracy doesn't know if it's an advantage that the
Dodgers had to drive toward the finish line while the Cardinals
were on cruise control.

"The realization is it's a 162-game marathon to get to this
point," Tracy said. "However many games we had to play in my
opinion all becomes immaterial."

Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley, suspended for the final five
games of the regular season after a bottle-throw tantrum during a
victory over Colorado, will be back in the lineup.

"He deserves to start," Tracy said. "He made a mistake and he
paid for it. He served his sentence and we're going to move

The Cardinals are going with a four-man rotation of Williams,
Jason Marquis (15-7), Matt Morris (15-10) and Jeff Suppan (16-9),
while the Dodgers will try to get it done with three pitchers.

After Perez comes Jeff Weaver (13-13) and Jose Lima (13-5), with
Perez the probable for Game 4 and Weaver going on three days' rest
if necessary in Game 5.

Kazuhisa Ishii (13-8, 4.71) was bumped from the mix.

"They're the three guys that have been the most consistent for
us," Tracy said.