National television audiences (Fox and ESPN) will see the final two games of the series here with the Chicago Cubs, and one important national observer spoke briefly with La Russa Friday morning. La Russa met President George W. Bush at Lambert Airport after the latter had made a speech at World Wide Technology in Maryland Heights. Bush, former president of the Texas Rangers, "congratulated us on our (18-11) start," La Russa said.
La Russa, who received two packs of presidential playing cards as a gift, also got a brief tour of Air Force One before the president departed. La Russa had been asked to greet the president at the airport but, returning from a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, La Russa was delayed in arrival. So he said a hasty goodbye instead of hello to Bush.
"It's an honor. I'm very appreciative," La Russa said.
Happy that the president noticed, La Russa does enjoy the fact that his team is playing better than most expected.
"Not many guys picked us to have an offense to play winning baseball," he said. "Just like they didn't think we'd pitch. I just think people looked at our team and didn't think we'd have much of a chance.
"Anybody that marked us a fifth-place club, which I saw ... how can you dispute that? We didn't have players with track records. I don't think anybody took it personally."
MULDER REMAINS ENCOURAGED
Lefthander Mark Mulder, who gave up nine runs and three homers in 3 2/3 innings in a rehabilitation start for Class AAA Memphis on Wednesday, said those numbers aren't alarming him and that he felt good about his progress as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery of last year.
After four starts in the minors on a rehabilitation program that can last 30 days for pitchers, Mulder remains encouraged that he will be activated later this month.
"This is my spring training," he said Friday night. "If I had this outing in the middle of the spring, I wouldn't be freaking out about it. So I'm not. I came out of it feeling real good. I threw my side (Friday) and I felt fine. I'm happy with it.
"I'm not happy with (Wednesday's) results. I'd love for them to be good, but it's not what I'm looking for. I'm not trying to look too deep into this."
Mulder was disappointed that he didn't pitch ahead in the count any more than he did on Wednesday. "I was 1-0, 2-0, 3-1. I wasn't walking people. I was just throwing bad pitches," he said.
Mulder may have one more start after the one on Monday. As for being taken off the disabled list after that, Mulder said, "I don't foresee that it would be a problem, but we've got to wait and see how things go and see how I feel. That's obviously my goal. I don't want to go on longer than that."
In theory, Mulder could go back to the spring training site at Jupiter, Fla., if he isn't deemed ready.
SHOT FOR THOMPSON
Righthander Brad Thompson, who went on the disabled list instead of to Memphis when he was optioned there, had a cortisone shot for his sore right elbow on Thursday.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella, explaining his explosion at a question about why he didn't make a change in his defense in the ninth inning of what became a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, said, "I probably should have responded a little different, but I was a little hot under the collar. And if you can't be hot under the collar as a major-league manager losing a two-run lead against a division rival that you're competing with for a championship, well, then you shouldn't be managing."