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Astacio ready to take the stage

Astacio staring down biggest start of career

ST. LOUIS -- It may be a reflection of the Padres' 82-80 season that a pitcher who was released earlier this season by the Texas Rangers now stands between them and oblivion in their National League Division Series against the Cardinals.

But with Jake Peavy's cracked rib putting him in question for the remainder of the postseason and former Cardinals pitcher Woody Williams starting Game 3 on Saturday night in San Diego, the Padres are hoping that they catch lightning again in a Dominican bottle when Pedro Astacio faces Mark Mulder in Game 2 on Thursday at 1 p.m. PT in Busch Stadium.

The Padres trail the defending NL champions, 1-0, in the best-of-five series and can ill afford to head back to PETCO Park for Saturday's Game 3 facing a quick elimination.

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"You've got to try a few things and get lucky," said Sandy Alderson, the team's chief executive. "You run someone out there and see what they have left."

Lucky, indeed. Texas released the 35-year-old right-hander on June 21 with a 2-8 record and 6.04 ERA to show for his 12 starts. And wouldn't you know it, a little more than three months later, Astacio was on the mound last Wednesday night at PETCO with the opportunity of helping the Padres clinch only their fourth NL West title in the club's 37-year history.

He pitched into the seventh inning, allowing just one run on seven hits and earned the victory as the Padres vanquished the Giants, 9-1. Astacio finished 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA in his 12 appearances (10 starts).

"He pitched a lot of big games for us," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said.

None may be bigger in Astacio's career than the responsibility he has on Thursday, a responsibility he's happily accepting.

"Well, first of all, I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to go and pitch every five days and see what I was able to do," Astacio said. "And I did a good job for them. They're confident and they give me the chance, like [Thursday], to go ahead and pitch in an important game for San Diego."

Astacio has been to the postseason before. As a youngster with the Dodgers, he made four relief appearances in the first round of the 1995 and 1996 playoffs, allowing no runs and a hit, while striking out six.

His career has taken several turns since then, as well as the value of his stock. He's been to Colorado, Houston, the New York Mets, Boston and Texas before signing a Minor League contact with the Padres on June 30.

It was one appearance and up to the Major Leagues when Adam Eaton went back on the disabled list with a strained right middle finger.

Astacio has had his own injury problems, missing most of the 2003 and '04 seasons after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. But he showed no ill affects of the injury during his short stint in San Diego.

"He's been around," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's experienced. Pedro's the type of guy who competes well. He's not going to be affected by the fact that it's a postseason game. He's going to go about his business as usual, and that's where experience becomes a factor."

To punctuate that assessment, Astacio seemed relaxed and loose at his media conference on Wednesday. He's been through the ups and downs of a 124-119, 12-year Major League career. In recent years, he's played in Port St. Lucie, Pawtucket, and two Portlands -- in Maine and Oregon. Now he'll be on centerstage on the western banks of the Mississippi River, near the arch, in the dying days of the last multipurpose stadium.

No tension, no pressure.

"If you're feeling pressure, it's going to make it more difficult for you to do your job," Astacio said. "It's a game. You play the game all season long to try to make it to the playoffs, and now we're in the playoffs and we're going to continue to play the game and see what happens."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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