- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO It's no secret that the two most important players in the National League Championship Series (after Barry Bonds, of course) are Benito Santiago and Reggie Sanders the guys who usually hit behind Bonds in the San Francisco Giants' lineup.
When opposing managers choose to walk Bonds at every available opportunity, as the Cardinals' Tony La Russa did three times yesterday during Game 3, Santiago and Sanders are sure to find themselves at the plate in critical situations.
Thus the most important at-bats in St. Louis' 5-4 victory at Pac Bell Park weren't Bonds' game-tying, three-run homer in the fifth inning or Eli Marrero's game-winning homer in the sixth. Of more consequence were the plate appearances by Santiago and Sanders that did not result in any San Francisco runs.
There were several of them yesterday, a gorgeous afternoon by the bay. And Sanders is the first to admit that is why the Giants are clinging to a 2-1 series lead, instead of playing for a World Series berth today with a commanding 3-0 advantage.
"I wasn't able to come through in clutch situations," said Sanders, whose NLCS miseries continued with an 0-for-5 performance that included eight runners stranded on base. "We had opportunities, but I wasn't able to come through."
The blame certainly shouldn't be placed entirely on Sanders, who was just one of several San Francisco batters who failed to capitalize on countless scoring opportunities. But when your composite batting line for the series reads "0-for-13" and you are seemingly right in the middle of every quashed rally all afternoon, you're going to stick out like a Rally Monkey at the Metrodome.
"We were fighting back and fighting back, and they kept holding us off and holding us off," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "We just couldn't get that big hit today."
Baker and the sellout crowd of 42,177 thought they were seeing the biggest hit of the series in the fifth inning, when, with his team trailing 4-1, Bonds launched a titanic game-tying homer off Chuck Finley over the right-field wall and into McCovey Cove.
"It was an awesome home run in a huge situation," Sanders said. "It got us to where we needed to be. And then they come right back."
Minutes later, Marrero stepped to the plate against Giants right-hander Jay Witasick and greeted his former minor league teammate with a solo homer to left, putting the Cardinals back on top.
They stayed there for good. A quartet of relievers combined to shut out San Francisco over the final four innings to ensure victory and for all intents and purposes to keep St. Louis' season alive.
"We had to win this game today to make it a series," La Russa said. "You go down 3-0 we would be brave and all that stuff out here tomorrow, but it would have been really tough."
Instead, the Cardinals and Giants now know there will at least be a Game 5 tomorrow and, with one more St. Louis victory, a return to Busch Stadium for Game 6 on Wednesday.
Through yesterday's first few innings, one had to wonder whether some of the Cardinals had already given up and were conceding a San Francisco sweep.
Finley made it through the fourth having given up just one run, but it took a nearly superhuman effort from him to keep it that way. The Cardinals' defense did everything in its power to hand the game to the Giants.
Second baseman Fernando Vina was a one-man wrecking crew in the first inning, failing to cover the bag on Santiago's two-out grounder to shortstop, then almost crashing into center fielder Jim Edmonds on Sanders' shallow fly ball.
Finley couldn't overcome his teammates' mistakes in the second without surrendering one run, though. Russ Ortiz's sacrifice bunt on which third baseman Albert Pujols made no attempt to field the ball loaded the bases, and Rich Aurilia's sacrifice fly brought the game's first run home.
But even then, Finley managed to pitch out of it, somehow getting Bonds to fly out with the bases loaded and two out.
"The biggest hero was Chuck Finley," La Russa said. "I mean, we are a good defensive club, and some of those first couple of jams that he got into for there to just be one run after all that mess he really was the reason we won the game."
The Cardinals' bullpen played its part, too. Set-up men Dave Veres and Steve Kline pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh, with Veres striking out Sanders and Kline getting J.T. Snow to ground out. And closer Jason Isringhausen, after putting Bonds on first on a semi-intentional walk with one out in the ninth, ended the game in fitting fashion. He struck out Santiago, and he got a weak fly ball to right field from none other than Reggie Sanders, who cannot help but acknowledge his unseemly performance in this series.
"I look up at the scoreboard, and I see '0-for-13,'" Sanders said. "I'm probably putting too much pressure on myself."


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