Schmidt arms Giants with 2-0 lead, 4-1

Starter allows Cardinals 4 hits in 7 2/3 innings, sends Giants home in charge

Aurilia hits two home runs

Williams' gutty return fails to stop streaking S.F., which is on a 30-10 roll

Baseball Playoffs

October 11, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS - The San Francisco Giants had to claw and scratch their way out of third place in the National League West to earn the wild-card berth that allowed them to keep playing this October.

They had to go five games to outlast the 101-win Atlanta Braves in the first round of the playoffs to reach the National League Championship Series.

Now, they're making it look too easy.

Shortstop Rich Aurilia hit two home runs and right-hander Jason Schmidt dominated the potent St. Louis Cardinals' lineup for 7 2/3 innings as the Giants scored a 4-1 victory in Game 2 last night at Busch Stadium.

Schmidt allowed four hits and struck out eight to give the Giants a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Pacific Bell Park for the first of three games tomorrow afternoon.

There's still a long way to go, but the Giants clearly have knocked the NL Central champions back on their heels and challenged any notion the Cardinals were this year's "team of destiny." No one should be surprised. The Giants were in third place, 11 1/2 games out of the NL West lead when they started their comeback on Aug. 25.

Since then, they have won 30 out of 40 games including the five postseason victories that have brought them within two wins of their first World Series appearance since the "Earthquake Series" of 1989.

"It's great to go home 2-0," said Giants manager Dusty Baker, "but we're only halfway there. We haven't won anything yet. You look at it as a three-game series [at Pac Bell Park] and hope you can win two of three, but they have beaten us before in our ballpark and they're going to be charged up to take that first game."

The Cardinals came into this postseason as the sentimental favorite after enduring a season of tragedy and heartache, but the Giants bullied them in Game 1 and dispatched them in Game 2 with a balanced and businesslike performance that kept the sellout crowd of 52,195 quiet.

"In one sense, it's a perfect setup for us," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "It's been a really hard year and this has been a hard start. I know how ready we'll be when we go to San Francisco."

There would be no spillover from Wednesday's contentious opener, which featured six home runs and a bench-clearing confrontation.

Giants leadoff man Kenny Lofton, who touched off the Game 1 altercation with his reaction to an inside pitch from Cardinals reliever Mike Crudale, was booed heavily when the lineups were announced and each time he came to bat, but he apparently had used up his best shots the night before.

He did get some camera time in the fifth inning when he groused at home plate umpire Jeff Nelson after being called out on a checked-swing third strike, but he wasn't able to muster any revenge against the Cardinals in four fruitless at-bats.

Aurilia was another story. He launched his first home run of the evening in the first inning and padded the slim Giants lead with a two-run shot in the fifth, becoming the first Giants hitter to hit two homers in a postseason game since Jeff Kent in the 1997 Division Series.

Not bad for a guy who battled injuries all year.

"The way I hit the ball out of the park tonight is the way I usually hit the ball - with a nice, easy swing," Aurilia said. "I'm just glad it's coming around at this time."

If not for those two pitches, St. Louis starter Woody Williams might have provided the inspiring lift that the Cardinals needed.

La Russa took a big chance by giving him the ball, since Williams had not pitched in 20 days because of a muscle strain in his side, but he had come off the disabled list twice in the regular season with solid performances.

He came back strong again last night, but the Cardinals needed something more than a workmanlike performance from their starting pitcher with Schmidt throwing so well and with so much at stake in Game 2.

"I thought Woody was excellent," La Russa said. "It's incredible to me how a guy can pitch that well in the routine he has been on."

Williams worked a solid six innings and allowed just the three runs generated by Aurilia. He gave up six hits, struck out seven and held Barry Bonds to a walk. It just wasn't enough.

Still, it was impossible to second-guess the decision to insert him into the second slot in the rotation, though left-hander Chuck Finley was coming off a very impressive performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Division Series.

"We just felt like our rotation was better balanced if we would split up Matt [Morris] and Chuck with Woody and Andy [Benes]," La Russa said before the game. "Chuck has had a lot of experience in these situations and he's pitched well at home, pitched well on the road in Arizona and other places. We just thought it balanced us better."

Schmidt allowed just two hits through the first six innings, both of them coming in an abortive third-inning rally that ended with a poor base-running decision by J.D. Drew.

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