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Giants Can't Gain the Mental Edge

September 12, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants could have delivered a psychological blow, putting the Dodgers on the ropes late in the National League wild-card race.

But the Giants swung and missed Wednesday and the Dodgers fought back, salvaging a 7-3 victory as part of a three-game series at Pacific Bell Park.

The Giants would have moved two games ahead of the Dodgers for the playoff berth they've both targeted with the Arizona Diamondbacks leading comfortably in the NL West, increasing the heat on their longtime rivals with 17 games left. Instead, the Dodgers have pulled even and are invigorated, believing they can achieve their goal.

"They had a chance to really send a message, winning the first two games, so the win was big for us just to leave here even," first baseman Eric Karros said. "If they win today, we're out of here two games out and probably not feeling really good.

"Now, even though we only won one out of the three, we feel like we've got some momentum. We can take that momentum and build on it."

Of course, things may have turned only briefly.

The clubs meet again in a four-game series beginning Monday at Dodger Stadium, and the Giants are no less confident despite a wasted opportunity before a sellout crowd of 41,310. They stranded 11 runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the second and third with Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo teetering.

"We got two, but you want three," Giant Manager Dusty Baker said. "We both wanted it and needed it, but just 'cause you need something doesn't mean you're going to get it.

"It was in the hands of Nomo and the people who hurt us today, but we had our chances. We had the bases loaded two or three times in the first [few] innings. We had a number of opportunities, but Nomo managed to get away."

Giant left-hander Kirk Rueter couldn't shake the Dodgers.

The Giants had their steadiest starter on the mound with a chance to sweep the Dodgers and create some space in the race, but the best-case scenario didn't materialize as they hoped. With the score tied, 2-2, in the fifth, Rueter gave up four consecutive hits without recording an out, getting yanked after Brian Jordan's three-run home run gave the Dodgers a 6-2 lead.

"Well, we had a good homestand," Rueter said. "We're down to the last couple of weeks and we're tied up. If you had told us a week ago, when we were three or four games out, that we would be tied up at this point, we would have taken it. We would have liked to have gotten the sweep, but we are all tied up."

That's Baker's view as well. The manager who has guided the Giants to two division titles since 1997 said, obviously, he would rather be two games ahead, but he has worked well from similar positions in the past.

"Sure, you'd love to pull ahead, but a week ago you could say we didn't have any chance," Baker said. "You can be disappointed on one hand, but you've got to be grateful and thankful on the other hand.

"How devastating would it have been if they had taken two of three from us or swept us? We're all professionals out here. We're both good teams."

But time is running out for one of them.

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