Sunday, September 29, 2002

Giants wrap up wild-card

The Associated Press

        SAN FRANCISCO — While the rest of the San Francisco Giants drenched each other with bubbly, beer and water, Barry Bonds stood quietly in a corner with a towel wrapped around his neck.

        Though Bonds hit the splash homer that propelled the Giants into the playoffs with a 5-2 win over Houston on Saturday, the four-time MVP and home run king is reserving all his excitement for a later date.

        “I've been here, done it — seven times,” Bonds said. “I want to win the World Series.”

        But even Bonds, whose postseason struggles are the only baseball hurdle he has yet to conquer, cracked a broad smile during a champagne shower from Kenny Lofton as the Giants clinched the wild card with their seventh straight victory.

        They formed a joyous huddle on the infield after Robb Nen struck out Brian Hunter to end it — and the party really got going in the clubhouse, where they chased away a season's worth of tension with an extremely damp celebration.

        “We've got a lot of young kids in here, and a lot of guys that have grinded it out for a long time,” Jeff Kent said. “Guys are excited and relieved. This has been a good push for us. It sets the tempo for the playoffs, and we'll go in with some confidence.”

        Though San Francisco lost the NL West title to Arizona with the Diamondbacks' 17-8 win over Colorado, Bonds and his teammates are headed to the postseason for the second time in Pacific Bell Park's three seasons of existence. After an exciting monthlong playoff race, the Giants (94-66) eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers (92-69).

        “Los Angeles played great baseball, but we played better baseball,” Benito Santiago said.

        Nothing was easy for the Giants this season, right up through the clinching game: Houston and San Francisco set a major league record for a nine-inning game by using eight pitchers apiece, but Bonds' fifth-inning homer and pinch-hitter Tom Goodwin's two-run double in the seventh got it done.

        “I really believed we were going to win and make the playoffs,” said manager Dusty Baker, who overcame offseason surgery for prostate cancer. “I told friends, relatives and other people that I always thought we were going to be in the playoffs.”

        A sellout crowd cheered San Francisco into a first-round meeting with NL East champion Atlanta, starting Wednesday at Turner Field. Russ Ortiz will start Game 1 for the Giants, but Baker hasn't decided on the rest of his rotation.

        Bonds' tiebreaking 438-foot homer off rookie left-hander Jeriome Robertson (0-2) in the fifth — his 46th this season and the 613th of his career — easily cleared the arcade atop the right-field fence and landed among several kayakers and canoeists in McCovey Cove.

        Bonds, who also drove in a run with a first-inning grounder, hit 20 of the 26 homers that have landed in the water since the park opened. In five previous trips to the postseason and a one-game playoff with the Cubs for a wild-card berth, however, Bonds hasn't made the World Series.

        Seven relievers pitched four scoreless innings to finish the victory for Kirk Rueter (14-8). Nen got his 43rd save in 51 chances.

        Jeff Bagwell and rookie Jason Lane homered for the Astros, who had to watch an opponent celebrate a playoff berth for the second time this season, following St. Louis' clinching party last week. Struggling rookie starter Kirk Saarloos lasted just 2 1-3 innings, walking four.

        “They impress me. They find ways to win and don't beat themselves,” Bagwell said of the Giants. “They have one of the best closers in the game, and they definitely have the best player. The Giants have been through a lot of tough games down the stretch, so that will better prepare them to handle it.”

        The Giants went up 2-0 in the third when Kent led off with a triple. Bonds and J.T. Snow were walked by Saarloos, and reliever Brandon Puffer hit Reggie Sanders with his first pitch, sending Kent home.

        But San Francisco stranded six runners in the first three innings, and the Astros tied it in the fourth on homers by Bagwell — the 31st in his least productive season since 1995 — and Lane, a San Francisco Bay area native playing in front of his home fans for the first time.

        The Giants' relievers navigated the Astros' dangerous lineup, with Scott Eyre getting Orlando Merced to fly out with the bases loaded in the eighth.

        Goodwin doubled up the middle against Flash Gordon in the seventh, scoring Santiago and J.T. Snow with insurance runs.

        Notes: The previous mark for pitchers in a nine-inning game was 15, set by Detroit and Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2000... Bonds also walked in the third and eighth innings to extend his NL record of 18 straight games with a walk; he has 198 walks this season, already a major league record. ... Gordon struck out Bonds looking in the seventh. Bonds has struck out just 47 times all season. ... Rueter pitched more than 200 innings this season for the first time in his career.


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