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Baker Feels Heat for Loss

National League: His decision to go with Aybar in bases-loaded situation backfires and Braves beat Giants, 10-2.

October 06, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Manager Dusty Baker may not have much time left with the San Francisco Giants, who hear the clock ticking in the National League division series.

Baker's contract expires at the end of the Giants' season, which could come today after the Atlanta Braves capitalized on his questionable pitching move Saturday, breaking open Game 3 in a 10-2 victory at Pacific Bell Park.

With one out in the sixth, the score tied, 1-1, and starter Jason Schmidt having walked the bases loaded, Baker turned to journeyman Manny Aybar to face No. 6 batter Vinny Castilla, and things quickly turned ugly for the Giants.

Aybar broke Castilla's bat with his first pitch, but the ball landed in shallow left field for a two-run single and 3-1 lead for Atlanta, which became 6-1 when light-hitting Keith Lockhart connected on Aybar's second pitch for a three-run home run to right, silencing a sellout crowd of 43,043.

Baker summoned Aybar, once traded five times in a span of 20 months, instead of middle reliever Felix Rodriguez or setup man Tim Worrell to face Castilla. Baker then stuck with Aybar over a left-hander to challenge the left-handed batting Lockhart.

Castilla had been two for eight with a home run in his career against Aybar and Lockhart was one for three against the middle reliever.

"Jason had lost control of the strike zone and walked three guys in a row with Castilla coming up," said Baker, 2-8 in three playoff series. "Manny had had relative success against him, Vinny is prone to the double play, and Manny is probably my best guy down in the bullpen.

"He also has the ability to throw the sinker and slider to try to get double plays, so that's what led to the pitching change. I know I had a left-hander warming up [for] Lockhart, but Lockhart had not hurt us in the series."

Of course, that changed, and Greg Maddux benefited from the support.

The four-time Cy Young Award winner pitched well for six innings, giving up two runs and Barry Bonds' second homer in the series among five hits, after being moved back in the playoff rotation because of a lingering blister problem. Then Manager Bobby Cox relied on his league-best bullpen with the Braves en route to their second straight rout over the Giants.

Chris Hammond, Mike Remlinger and Kevin Gryboski each worked a perfect inning, and the Braves scored four more runs in the ninth to compound the Giants' frustration while moving within a victory of winning the best-of-five series.

Despite a successful 10-year run at the Giants' helm, Baker has taken heat for the club's recent postseason flops, and the temperature rose Saturday in the sixth.

"After that big inning, it was kind of tough," first baseman J.T. Snow said. "You kind of felt the air go out of the stands, and our dugout was a little flat. It just all happened so fast."

Schmidt, a rookie on the Braves' 1995 World Series title team, matched his former teammate through five innings but labored in the sixth after Julio Franco struck out, walking Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones.

"They had their big heart of the lineup coming up there, so I just tried to be a little bit more careful to a couple of the guys," said Schmidt, who threw 104 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. "Looking back, I could have been a little more aggressive."

Lockhart was aggressive against Aybar, jumping on a first-pitch sinker after watching Castilla's first-pitch success.

Aybar declined to speak with reporters as he left the clubhouse.

"Mainly, he's a sinker/slider pitcher, and I was expecting sinkers," said Lockhart, two for five with four runs batted in. "I kept my hands back a little bit and kind of got it pretty good."

And now a loss today could be Baker's last with the Giants.

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