- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO They came with their "thunder sticks," their "rally rags" and their lungs, ready to cheer their beloved home team and its superstar left fielder to its first National League pennant in 13 years.
The 42,673 who crammed themselves into Pac Bell Park last night were rewarded with a game for the ages, and thanks to Kenny Lofton's ninth-inning dramatics, Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants are going to the World Series. At long last.
Lofton singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, scoring David Bell from second and giving the Giants a thrilling 2-1 victory over the stunned St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series.
Lofton, who pestered St. Louis throughout this series with his ability to get on base and get under the Cardinals' skin, lined left-hander Steve Kline's one-and-only pitch of the game to right field, and Bell came screaming around to score easily as J.D. Drew threw wide to the plate.
"I just knew in my heart that Kenny was going to get a hit right then," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "I just felt it, and our whole team was believing it. That's why we got Kenny over here. He's a big-game player and he's been great in the playoffs."
Lofton's pennant-clinching hit, which ruined a brilliant 8⅔-inning pitching performance by St. Louis' Matt Morris, sent the Pac Bell crowd into a frenzy and set up the first all-wild card matchup in World Series history. The Giants and Anaheim Angels open the 98th Fall Classic Saturday night at Edison International Field, putting Bonds under baseball's ultimate spotlight for the first time in his 17-year career.
Stymied for seven tense innings by Morris, who pitched the game of his life with his team's season hanging in the balance, the Giants finally broke through with a run in the eighth. And with Morris still on the mound to start the ninth, San Francisco rallied for three straight hits all coming with two outs.
Bell and Shawon Dunston each singled, prompting St. Louis manager Tony La Russa to finally pull Morris from the game. Kline came in to face Lofton and was immediately greeted with the game-winning hit.
Catcher Benito Santiago, who hit .300 with a homer and six RBI, was named NLCS MVP, though he gave the credit to Lofton.
"He became the hero tonight," Santiago said. "That's why I'm sitting here as the MVP. The guy got the hit, and I'm the MVP, so I've got to give it to him also."
Even in victory, Lofton couldn't help but get one more jab in at the opponent's expense. As his teammates were streaming onto the field in celebration, the combustible San Francisco center fielder, who set off a bench-clearing confrontation in Game 1 of the series, pointed at the Cardinals' dugout in a taunting fashion.
Watching this all unfold, Kline began yelling at Lofton and had to be restrained by catcher Mike Matheny amid the din of the screaming crowd.
In the Cardinals dugout, Morris could only watch in disbelief, his heroic performance gone to waste. The St. Louis ace, who was pounded for seven runs and 10 hits in 4⅓ innings last Wednesday at Busch Stadium, was in top form right from the start at Pac Bell Park, carrying a perfect game into the fourth inning and a no-hitter into the fifth.
He finally succumbed in the eighth, though it took the heart of the Giants lineup to push the tying run across the plate. With one out, Lofton and Rich Aurilia singled, bringing No.3 hitter Jeff Kent to the plate and La Russa to the mound.
La Russa left his ace in, but Morris compounded the tenuous situation tenfold when he plunked Kent in the back on a curveball that never broke. That brought Bonds to the plate, with the bases loaded and the game on the line, but La Russa still had no intention of yanking his best pitcher.
With Kline rapidly warming up in the St. Louis bullpen, Morris went right after the game's most dangerous hitter. And on the first pitch he saw, Bonds lofted a deep fly ball to left field, not nearly enough to leave the park but more than enough to score Lofton from third with the tying run.
San Francisco left-hander Kirk Rueter also turned in an improved performance from Game1 (when he labored through five innings but still earned the victory). Rueter kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard for six innings, but having thrown 95 pitches, he was pulled during a scoreless game.
Reliever Felix Rodriguez got into immediate trouble in the seventh, serving up a leadoff double to Matheny and then making a poor decision to throw to third on Morris' sacrifice bunt. Though replays appeared to show Matheny being tagged out just before touching the base with his trailing foot, Rodriguez's ill-conceived, late throw may have influenced the call.
Fernando Vina followed with a fly out to left field, and Matheny coasted home with the Cardinals' only run.
It looked like that was all the run support Morris would need. He retired the game's first nine batters and carried a no-hitter in the fifth. The Giants finally broke through on a cue-ball double down the right-field line by Bell that wound up sparking controversy on the basepaths.
Santiago, who had been on first base when Bell made contact, collided with the Cardinals' Miguel Cairo as he came bounding around third. Though the play clearly constituted obstruction on Cairo's part, third base umpire Jeff Nelson immediately ruled Santiago had to remain on third because he was being held up all along.
The judgment call proved costly for San Francisco when Rueter followed by grounding out to end the inning, but it appears Nelson made the correct call, adhering to Rule 7.06(b).
"In my judgment, the runner would not have scored," Nelson said. "And even looking at the replay again, I'm 1000 percent convinced of that."


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