- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

ST. LOUIS Though it's easy to look at it as a one-on-one sport pitcher vs. batter baseball really is the consummate team game. After all, no one player ever won a World Series by himself. Position players bat only three or four times a game. Pitchers appear only once every five days.

Which makes this year's National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants a distinct study in contrasts.

The Cardinals have one of the best all-around teams in baseball, one that was forced to cope with tragedy and emerged with an even stronger sense of unity. The Giants have perhaps the best and certainly most feared player in the game, one who commands more attention than anyone else in uniform and who is out to secure his personal legacy.

Thus, the 2002 NLCS can be summed up as such: Barry Bonds wants to win a World Series for himself. The Cardinals want to win for one another.

"What we try to remember is this the reason we are supposed to be in uniform is for our team to play against their team," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said yesterday at Busch Stadium on the eve of Game 1. "It's a competition between two teams. We're here to compete against Barry, recognize how good he is and how dangerous he is. But we are here to compete against the Giants."

It's not as if the Cardinals have an anonymous roster like the two participants in the American League Championship Series, Minnesota and Anaheim. Quite the contrary, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Tino Martinez and Matt Morris are familiar names to fans.

But given what they've gone through this year, from the deaths of pitcher Darryl Kile and beloved broadcaster Jack Buck to a seemingly endless string of injuries, the Cardinals have rarely (if ever) talked about themselves in individual terms.

"Everybody knows what we've been through this year," second baseman Fernando Vina said after St. Louis' division series sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. "This is special. We have one thing in mind, to go get a ring. And this is where it starts."

Bonds, too, has a goal to win a World Series ring, the one piece of baseball glory that has eluded him during an otherwise spectacular 17-year career.

And the Giants' slugger has made his desires absolutely clear.

"I'll be happy once I win the World Series," Bonds said following San Francisco's Division Series Game 5 victory over the Braves on Monday night. "Right now I'm just a little bit shocked because I've never been past the first round. And I don't know how to respond right now. I don't know whether to be happy or to just sit here."

Bonds' liberal use of the first person underscored the focus of this series and yesterday's most popular query directed at the Cardinals: Are you going to pitch to Barry?

"You know, in a playoff situation, you don't want to let him beat you," said Morris, who will get the call for Game 1 tonight against San Francisco left-hander Kirk Reuter. "Maybe during the year you feel bad about walking him so many times. But I tell you what: Tomorrow, if he gets up with runners on and I have an opportunity to pitch around him, that's what I'm going to do because he's earned that respect."

The Braves went after Bonds in the first round, and he made them pay for it by hitting three home runs in five games. Morris and his Cardinals pitching mates may not be as willing to give it a whirl.

Of course, Bonds is just one player and can only do so much damage by himself. The Cardinals' lineup may not feature anyone of such lofty stature, but top to bottom it may be the best in baseball.

It does not appear, however, that St. Louis will play this series with its lineup intact. Third baseman Rolen, who sprained his left shoulder during a collision with Arizona's Alex Cinton in Game 2 of the Division Series, emerged from another round of treatment yesterday feeling a little more optimistic, but La Russa said a decision on his status won't be made until he submits his final roster this morning.

"It's really a tough call," he said.

Of course, the Cardinals are capable of scoring runs without Rolen, one of the best players in the game but no more important to St. Louis' lineup than anyone else.

"I've faced them twice this year, and I think both times I walked away thinking that it was probably the best lineup I faced all year," said Giants right-hander Jason Schmidt, who will start Game 2 tomorrow. "They have power through the order, they can all hit for average, they have got some speed, defensively they're outstanding. They are a very well-balanced ballclub."

The emphasis, of course, is on the word "ballclub" when talking about the Cardinals.

Whether the same can be said of the Giants remains to be seen.

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