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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : NATIONAL: San Francisco vs. St. Louis : With an Assist From Craig, Giants Have a Leg Up on Faster Cardinals

October 13, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — The National League playoffs resume tonight with the San Francisco Giants leading the St. Louis Cardinals in games, 3-2, and home runs, 9-1.

The latter is no surprise, particularly since St. Louis first baseman Jack Clark remains sidelined with a sprained ankle. The Cardinals hit only 94 homers during the regular season, the fewest in the major leagues. Clark hit 35.

The more surprising playoff statistic is that the Giants have stolen five bases compared to only two for the Cardinals, who led the majors for a sixth straight season with 248.

The Giants won 7 of 12 regular- season games from St. Louis, largely because of their success in handling the Cardinals' speed. St. Louis' .583 stolen-base percentage against the Giants was its lowest. Vince Coleman, who stole 109 bases, was thrown out three times attempting to steal second, twice by Bob Brenly and once by Bob Melvin.

The pattern has held in the playoffs, where the Cardinals have converted only 2 of 5 steal attempts. Brenly and Melvin get part of the credit, as do the San Francisco pitchers, aware of the need to accelerate their deliveries.

But the key factor has been Manager Roger Craig's ability to win the game within a game. Craig has called for five pitchouts in five games. Twice the Cardinal runner didn't go. The three times that he did, he was thrown out.

"You're not going to intimidate the Cardinals," Brenly said. "They have to run to survive. They could still turn this into a track meet. But the pitchout sends a message, plants a seed. All you're trying to do is slow them down some.

"When Roger first got here, we were the worst in the league at dealing with opposing runners. Our pitchers couldn't keep them close, and we (the catchers) were made to look terrible. They'd get such a jump that we couldn't throw them out with a bazooka.

"It's a lot more fun now."

Said Don Zimmer, the former manager who coaches third base for Craig:

"All managers call pitchouts at different times, but Roger is the best I've ever seen. He's uncanny. We have the best percentage in the league when it comes to throwing out runners and it's because of the pitchouts. He bails the pitchers out with it."

How does Craig do it?

"By watching a lot of things," the manager said. "The manager, the third base coach, the first base coach. The manager gives the sign to the third base coach, who gives it to the runner. A lot of times the runner will look at the first base coach to make sure it's on.

"Sometimes the runner will even look guilty or nonchalant, but you can tell what they're up to. One of the best base stealers in the American League changes the way he takes his lead. There are a lot of little things that can give it away. With the Cardinals, I'm basically looking for mannerisms, little habits. Sometimes it's just playing a hunch. Zimmer said he's going to take me to Vegas when this is over."

Said Dave Dravecky, who pitched a shutout against the Cardinals in Game 2 and attempts to wrap up the playoff when he faces John Tudor tonight:

"Roger is so involved in the game that it helps me focus on what I have to do. I can give all my attention to the hitter."

Craig first employed his current system while serving as John McNamara's pitching coach with the San Diego Padres in 1976. Craig later managed the Padres and went on to work as the Detroit Tigers' pitching coach under Sparky Anderson, who also gave him free rein.

"Tony LaRussa once told me I took his running game completely away from him," Craig said, alluding to when LaRussa managed the Chicago White Sox.

Some Cardinals believe that Craig keeps stealing their signs, but Manager Whitey Herzog scoffs at that, saying that in most cases the Cardinals run on their own and that each player has his own set of signs that change frequently as a precaution against theft.

Craig said he will call for the pitchout as many times as he feels it is needed.

"A lot of times a manager will say, 'I ought to pitch out' and doesn't," Craig said. "I'd rather do it and be wrong."

The man stays with what he believes in. The Giants tried the squeeze play 21 times during the regular season and scored on only 11, but it didn't deter Craig. He called for it three times in a May 24 game against Philadelphia, saw it fail each time and went on calling for it. He was 18 for 30 with it in 1986.

"Roger won't back off," Zimmer said. "He'll keep coming at you. He's aggressive, he's willing to try things. I think he's more observant than most."

Craig observed a flaw in Greg Mathews delivery Sunday and had both Robby Thompson and Kevin Mitchell steal second in the first inning, contributing to a run. He had Jose Uribe steal third in the fourth inning, contributing to another.

"They looked like the Gashouse Gang, and we've looked like a bunch of leadfoots." Herzog said.

Said Will Clark, the Giants first baseman: "There's an awful lot of caution over there. Vince Coleman isn't taking the kind of leads he usually does against us. They're running late now--if at all."

The feeling seems to be that this Humm-Baby is Some Baby. Craig, however, shook his head and said: "I'm no genius. I use plays, pitches and strategy that everybody knows about. They expect it from me, but they don't know when."

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