ADVERTISEMENT

Game Three of the World Series is tonight (8:33 p.m., Ch. 29) in Busch Stadium with Detroit's Nate Robertson pitching against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter and the series tied at a win apiece. But there was very little talk about that Monday as the scene shifted to baseball's newest park.

Both sides failed to, ahem, throw dirt over the issue of what was on Kenny Rogers' hand Sunday night in Game Two at Comerica Park. Rogers and Major League Baseball officials insist it was a clump of dirt that he removed after the first inning of Detroit's 3-1 victory. But the nation's most infamous hand-washing session of recent times has quickly mushroomed into the biggest Series firestorm since Roger Clemens chucked that jagged bat in Mike Piazza's direction six years ago in Yankee Stadium.

Rogers is 3-0 and has thrown 23 scoreless innings this postseason, the third-most in a single October. He threw eight innings of two-hit shutout ball Sunday but now there's clearly some taint on those numbers as he heads into a possible Game Six start Saturday night.

"I explained myself [Sunday night]. Anyone who wants to press the issue makes it their issue, not mine," Rogers said as he was swarmed by reporters and cameramen when he entered the Tigers' clubhouse. "People can say whatever they want. It didn't have any impact on my pitching. I wiped the mud off and the last seven innings were pretty good too but I'm sure that will be lost in the translation of everything."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wouldn't talk about Rogers after Sunday's game but apparently spent the flight home pondering the issue. Immediately asked about it Monday, La Russa launched into a rambling seven-minute soliloquy.

"I believe in the beauty of the competition," La Russa said. "I detest any kind of BS that gets in the way of competition. I've been around a long time and there have been controversies . . . and I would challenge anybody to search the times I've been around and find where our club instigated it. . . . I do believe part of the competition is some people will try to take advantage of you and intimidate you."

Asked directly what he thought was on Rogers' hand, La Russa smiled and laughed to himself, pausing a few seconds before answering.

"I don't believe it was dirt," La Russa said. "It didn't look like dirt."

La Russa said he got word from his players in the clubhouse that Fox cameras had shown Rogers' hand was discolored and appeared to have pine tar on the palm. He also revealed the Cardinals had noticed discoloration on the hand in clips from Rogers' earlier starts in the postseason.

But he did not demand plate umpire Alfonso Marquez inspect Rogers. A St. Louis columnist pointedly asked La Russa if he did not press the issue because of his close friendship with Detroit skipper Jim Leyland. La Russa said he understood the question but the theory was not true.

"I decided I was not going to be part of BS where I was going to ask the umpire to go to the mound and undress a pitcher," he said. "I told [Marquez], 'I hope it gets fixed. If it doesn't get fixed, I'll take the next step.' I'm sure fans, some people in the organization and maybe people in that clubhouse are saying I should have. I don't like this and it got fixed -- and we still didn't hit the guy."

La Russa said he addressed his players when they got to the park Monday, explaining why he didn't make a huge issue out of the situation. Especially since an ejection of Rogers for doctoring the baseball almost certainly would have gotten him suspended.

"I briefly explained where I was coming from," he said. "If anybody feels different, then I disappointed them. It's just not the way we want to win."

"That's what makes Tony great," said outfielder Preston Wilson. "That just shows the respect he has for us and the way he goes about things. He felt obligated to talk to us about this but to me it's not about Kenny Rogers anymore. It's about Nate Robertson and Game Three."

Detroit manager Jim Leyland wouldn't comment on the situation but first base coach Andy Van Slyke was upset the controversy overshadowed Rogers' performance.

"It had no bearing on how Kenny Rogers pitched. None," said Van Slyke, the former All-Star outfielder. "It's sad that people are talking about that and not about Game Two of the World Series."

"You know how I love the attention," said a pained Rogers, a reference to his dust-up with a Texas cameraman last year. "But I know you all have a job to do and I'll deal with that and we'll get the focus back on where it should be -- on the two teams that won their leagues and are trying to win a World Series.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com