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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Giants' Schmidt Does the Honors

It's too late for a Cy Young push, but he holds the Marlins to three hits in a 2-0 victory.

October 01, 2003|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — It may prove fortunate for Eric Gagne that Cy Young Award voters were required to post their ballots in the brief window between the end of the regular season and start of the postseason.

In the opening game of this National League division series, Jason Schmidt, one of the Dodger closer's primary challengers for the award, underscored his impressive regular-season credentials by pitching the San Francisco Giants to a 2-0 victory over the Florida Marlins.

The 30-year-old right-hander simply dominated a team that had claimed the wild-card berth by winning six of its last seven games and 15 of its last 21.

The Marlins, however, had only three hits as Schmidt bested Josh Beckett with a complete-game performance that gave the Giants a vital leg up in the best-of-five series and otherwise might have swayed voters.

The Cy Young, of course, may be the last thing on Schmidt's mind as he tries to get the Giants back to the World Series, but he has made a point of saying he would like to win it and that the opportunity may not present itself every year.

As for the prospect of a relief pitcher winning it?

"I'm not going to stir that pot right now," Schmidt said after cooking the Marlins. "Eric Gagne probably had the best year any reliever has ever had.

"I can't take anything away from him and I don't have a vote."

If he did?

"All I'll say is that starters are starters for a reason," he said. "We're good enough to have four or five pitches and good enough to pitch nine innings on occasion.

"I don't think I need to spell out how I feel about it any more than that."

On a postcard afternoon, before a record and appreciative Pacific Bell Park crowd of 43,704, Schmidt was good enough to pitch nine innings on basically two pitches -- a fastball and changeup.

"The breaking ball was actually there today," he said of his third pitch, "but I just didn't feel like throwing it too often and didn't want to take any chances when I didn't have to. I went with my strengths and waited for them to adjust."

The Marlins never forced him to adjust.

"He was able to lead the National League in ERA with basically two pitches," San Francisco Manager Felipe Alou said, "and that's what he did today."

Given one run in the fourth inning and another in the eighth, Schmidt permitted a Giants' bullpen that may not be so fortunate when Sidney Ponson starts today and Kirk Rueter goes in Game 3 to sit back and enjoy the show.

Schmidt threw 111 pitches, a phenomenal 82 of which were strikes.

He walked no one and forced Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, who stole 86 bases at the top of the Marlin lineup, to go hitless in eight at-bats.

"When you're hitting spots with your fastball like he was, there's no reason to go to another pitch," Pierre said, "and we certainly didn't give him reason to go to another pitch.

"We seemed to foul off and swing through some fastballs we generally hit, but you have to tip your cap. The frustrating part is that when you get a pitching performance like we did on the road, you've got to find a way to win, and we didn't."

The 23-year-old Beckett gave up only two hits in seven innings, but two of his five walks came back-to-back to open the fourth and would prove decisive.

He had Rich Aurilia 0-and-2 leading off the inning before walking him on a full-count curveball that he called his "one stupid pitch" and was thus forced to pitch to Barry Bonds, whom he also walked on a full count.

Convinced it would be a one-run game, Alou asked Edgardo Alfonzo, his top run producer of the second half, to sacrifice. Alfonzo did it so successfully that he was credited with a single when third baseman Miguel Cabrera threw wildly to first and Aurilia scored the only run until the eighth.

Chad Fox had two outs in that inning when Florida Manager Jack McKeon ordered Bonds walked intentionally.

"Well," McKeon said of a day when Bonds drew two intentional walks and three in all, "you're damned if you [pitch to him] and damned if you don't.

"It's bad medicine either way."

The intentional walk in the eighth proved particularly tough to swallow when Bonds stole second as the Marlins fouled up a potentially successful pickoff and then scored on a booming double to center by Alfonzo.

It was a little more frosting for Schmidt, who overcame the death of his mother in April and two incidents of a sore elbow to go 17-5 during the regular season, win the NL ERA title at 2.34, hold opposing hitters to a major league-low .200 batting average and register a 12-2 record over his last 16 starts.

He failed to complete any of his last 13, but the Giants were protecting the elbow, and it's a new season now, and one he has been thinking about since his two starts in last year's World Series against the Angels.

The Giants won both, and a reflective Schmidt said, "I learned more in those two games than I did my whole career as far as preparation, controlling your emotions on the mound, facing hitters in certain situations.

"I was ready to roll this year and I couldn't wait to get back to the postseason."

His roll continued Tuesday -- too late for award voters but endorsed again by the Giants.

*

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HOW THEY SCORED

FOURTH INNING: Giants 1, Marlins 0--Aurilia walked on a full count. Bonds walked on a full count, Aurilia to second. Alfonzo bunt single to third, Aurilia to third, Bonds to second. On Cabrera's error, Aurilia scored, Bonds to third, Alfonzo to second. Santiago grounded out, third baseman Cabrera to first baseman Lee. Grissom walked on a full count. Cruz struck out. Schmidt struck out. One run, one hit, one error, three left on.

*

EIGHTH INNING: Giants 2, Marlins 0--C.Fox pitching. Snow flied out to left fielder Conine. Aurilia flied out to center fielder Pierre. Bonds was intentionally walked. Bonds stole second. Alfonzo doubled to center, Bonds scored. Santiago grounded out, third baseman Cabrera to first baseman Lee. One run, one hit, no errors, one left on.

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