- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

ST. LOUIS In his 23 consecutive seasons as a major league manager, Tony La Russa has been known to take chances. The St. Louis Cardinals skipper's decision to start Woody Williams last night in Game2 of the National League Championship Series represented a clear roll of the dice.
With no less than his team's season on the line against the San Francisco Giants, La Russa put his faith in Williams, a 36-year-old right-hander who had not pitched in 20 days because of a lingering pulled muscle near his ribcage.
By the end of the night, it wasn't Williams' sore ribs that left La Russa in a foul mood. Rich Aurilia and Jason Schmidt were far bigger thorns in his side.
On a night that began with Barry Bonds and Kenny Lofton drawing the majority of attention from the Busch Stadium crowd of 52,195, Aurilia stole the show, clubbing two nearly identical home runs off Williams. Schmidt was brilliant as well, tossing 7-2/3 shutout innings before finally being scored upon in the Giants' 4-1 victory.
Having stolen the first two games of this series on the road, San Francisco now heads home with a chance to finish off the Cardinals at Pac Bell Park and give itself a few extra days' rest before the World Series commences next Saturday.
St. Louis, on the other hand, suddenly finds itself in dire straits, needing to win two of three on the West Coast to keep its season alive. La Russa may need to dig deep into his bag of tricks to pull this comeback off.
The Cardinals manager surprised some by naming Williams his Game2 starter ahead of Chuck Finley, even though the former had not appeared in a game since Sept.20 and has been hampered by the pulled muscle all season
But La Russa is one of the most successful managers of his generation, having taken the Cardinals, Oakland A's and Chicago White Sox to the playoffs. And more often than not, his unconventional methods have paid off.
"We just felt like our rotation was better balanced if we would split up [Game[ThSp]1 starter] Matt [Morris] and Chuck with Woody and [Game[ThSp]4 starter] Andy [Benes]," La Russa said before the game.
Williams didn't let his manager down he allowed three runs on six hits in six innings and struck out seven batters. The right-hander also managed to keep both pesky leadoff man Lofton and devastating cleanup hitter Bonds off the basepaths in the duo's first five combined trips to the plate.
But he could not contain the man hitting directly behind Lofton and two spots ahead of Bonds the often under-appreciated Aurilia.
San Francisco's shortstop will get plenty of recognition in the Bay Area today after twice homering off Williams to account for 75 percent of his team's entire offensive attack.
Aurilia made his presence known immediately last night, belting a first-inning breaking ball from Williams over the wall in left-center to give the Giants an early 1-0 lead.
Four innings later, he practically duplicated the feat, again taking Williams deep to the same spot in left-center. This time, David Bell was standing on second base at the time, making Aurilia's homer a two-run shot to put San Francisco ahead 3-0. The Giants added another run in the ninth on a squeeze bunt by Ramon Martinez.
Like his teammate at shortstop, Schmidt entered this game a forgotten man by media members who were fixated on Bonds' mammoth home runs and the circus surrounding Lofton's on-field antics in Game1.
What regular observers of the Giants will tell you, though, is that Schmidt is one of the most physically gifted players in uniform for this series on either side.
The 29-year-old right-hander has great stuff, including an explosive, upper-90's fastball. What he didn't have (at least not before the Giants picked him up last summer) was consistency.
In his first 6 major league seasons with the Braves and Pirates, Schmidt posted a 49-53 record. Since being traded to San Francisco, he's gone 20-9.
And in the first NLCS start of his career, Schmidt took it up yet another notch.
He allowed just four hits, two in the third, one in the seventh, one in the eighth. He walked only one batter, struck out eight and at one point retired 13 straight Cardinals.
And when St. Louis put together its only real scoring threat of the night runners on second and third with one out in the third Schmidt got a defensive gem from Lofton in center field to preserve his pitching gem.
Lofton came racing in to shallow center to catch Fernando Vina's fly ball, and when J.D. Drew surprisingly tagged up from third, the inciter of Wednesday's bench-clearing incident fired a perfect strike to the plate. Catcher Benito Santiago tagged a sliding Vina, and the Giants sprinted off the field without allowing a run.
St. Louis finally broke through against Schmidt when pinch hitter Eduardo Perez hit a solo homer with two outs in the eighth. San Francisco manager Dusty Baker called upon his bullpen to close out Schmidt's victory. Lefty Scott Eyre gave up a single to Vina, but Robb Nen responded by recording the game's final four outs to earn the save.
Note Lofton's on-field antics during Game1 brought baseball's top disciplinarian to Busch Stadium, and it cost the managers of both teams. Bob Watson, Major League Baseball's vice president for on-field operations, fined both La Russa and Baker $500 each for their behavior during Wednesday's bench-clearing incident.

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