Sunday, August 8, 2004

Playoff possibility lures Walker to Cards

By R.B. Fallstrom
The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - Usually, early October means it's time for Larry Walker's annual fishing trip.

No lures this October.

Walker gave his brother the bad news Saturday morning - not long before he suited up for the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the best record in the major leagues.

"We get to save that for some other time, which is fine by me," Walker said. "I get a great opportunity to go to the playoffs and hopefully go all the way."

The Cardinals are 71-38 and, with a 10 1/2-game lead in the National League Central, seem well on their way to their fourth postseason appearance in five years.

That's the biggest reason Walker agreed to the deal.

Walker has played in the postseason only once, in 1995 when the Colorado Rockies were a wild-card team. The closest he has come to that feeling since was earlier this year when he helped the Double-A Tulsa Drillers celebrate a first-half Texas League championship while on a rehabilitation assignment.

"There's no better feeling than when you get to be in there hugging your teammates, high-fiving them and saying you're the best," Walker said. "That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

There were other factors for Walker, who blocked deals to Texas and Arizona the last two years.

Staying in the NL was high on his list. And the Cardinals' fans were a plus; he received standing ovations before and after he struck out in a pinch-hit appearance in the seventh inning Saturday.

Another factor: One of his homes is in West Palm Beach, Fla. - about 20 minutes from the team's spring training site in Jupiter.

Walker, 37, was with the Rockies for 9 1/2 seasons and won three NL batting titles. But he said he might be remembered most as "probably the guy that got hurt too much."

He began this season on the disabled list with a groin strain, missing 68 games, and was on the DL six times in all for Colorado.

Walker is in the fifth season of a six-year, $76 million deal that pays him $12.5 million each in 2004 and 2005. The deal has a 2006 team option at $15 million with a $1 million buyout, and Colorado agreed to pay $7.5 million of his 2005 salary.

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