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Riled-Up Giants Defeat Cardinals

Baseball: San Francisco wins Game 1 of championship series, 9-6, after tempers flare and a near brawl erupts.

October 10, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — With 15 runs and 22 hits Wednesday night in the opener of the National League championship series, the sound of ball hitting wood was repeated over and over.

But the loudest noise of the night came from a pitch that hit nothing but St. Louis Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny's glove.

It ignited a near brawl, established an angry mood for this best-of-seven series, fired up the St. Louis Cardinals, infuriated the San Francisco Giants and left Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker, the respective managers and close friends, yelling in each other's faces until they were separated.

Ultimately, the uproar didn't change the outcome. The Giants, leading 7-1 when St. Louis right-hander Mike Crudale's inside pitch on Giant outfielder Kenny Lofton started the incident, went on to win, 9-6, in front of a Busch Stadium crowd of 52,175.

Will there be ramifications tonight when the teams play Game 2? Was Baker drawing a line in the sand to establish his turf in this series?

"I don't draw lines," he said. "I don't knock chips off anybody's shoulder. We just play. We don't start nothing, but we don't take nothing, either."

Each side hit three home runs, Lofton, David Bell and Benito Santiago connecting for the Giants, and Albert Pujols, Miguel Cairo and J.D. Drew for the Cardinals.

Lofton's homer came with the bases empty in the third inning.

Lofton appeared to relish the moment, which may have incensed the Cardinals, but he wasn't about to apologize when the game was over.

"This is the playoffs," Lofton said. "You have fun and enjoy it. No, I don't think I did anything wrong.

"When [St. Louis'] Jim Edmonds hit a home run against [Arizona's] Randy Johnson, he started pointing in the dugout. I didn't do none of that."

Cardinal starter and loser Matt Morris gave up the Lofton homer. But when the Giant center fielder came up in the fifth, Crudale was on the mound.

When the pitch came inside, eye level but not close to Lofton's head, he started yelling at Crudale. Matheny responded and Lofton turned his venom on the St. Louis catcher. Both benches emptied and soon Barry Bonds, spewing some well-chosen words of his own, had to be shoved away from the Cardinals.

"That was very unnecessary," said La Russa of Lofton's outburst. "It's a trick I've seen him pull before, causing a lot of stirring and people saying nasty things to each other. You throw the ball inside and he's always reacting like you're trying to hit him."

Baker, of course, didn't agree.

"I didn't think he overreacted," Baker said. "What are you going to do when a guy throws the ball up around your head?"

La Russa told Baker it had started in the first inning when Giant starter and winner Kirk Rueter hit St. Louis shortstop Edgar Renteria in the leg with two on and two out.

Baker denied that was deliberate and back and forth they went, charges and counter-charges.

Lost in all the heat were two other key factors in the game:

* La Russa surprisingly stuck with Morris long after he looked liked nothing more than a high-priced batting-practice pitcher, allowing Morris to go 4 1/3 innings even though he gave up seven runs and 10 hits, six hits in a row in the second inning when the Giants scored four times.

* With all the conjecture about whether the Cardinals would pitch to Bonds in this series, Santiago drew a line of his own in the sand.

The Cardinals pitched to Bonds twice and walked him three times. The result: A two-run triple and a groundout for the game's most dominating hitter.

But the Cardinal strategy of pitching around Bonds will only work if the hitter behind him, Santiago, doesn't make St. Louis pay for it.

The Cardinals paid dearly Wednesday. Santiago had three hits and four runs batted in.

"I don't like to see that guy go to first base," said Santiago of Bonds, "because this is the best hitter we have. I would like to see him swing the bat so we could put some more RBIs up there."

Wednesday night, Santiago emphasized that point by putting up some RBIs of his own.

Lofton made his point as well.

Lines have been drawn, challenges have been issued, angry words have been exchanged, friendships have been put on hold.

And this was only the opener.

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