Baker still cautious despite Giants' 2-0 lead on Cardinals

San Francisco manager: `You're not in the driver's seat until you have four'

League Championship Series

October 12, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - Dusty Baker has been around. He has, during his many years as a major-league player and manager, seen the postseason from just about every conceivable angle.

Here is what he has figured out: It is possible to have a comfortable lead in a postseason series, but there is never a point where you actually feel comfortable until it's over.

"There's no guarantee," he said. "One game, one play can turn anything around."

The San Francisco Giants went to Busch Stadium and took the first two games of the National League Championship Series from the St. Louis Cardinals to assume a seemingly commanding lead in the best-of-seven playoff, but Baker has been on both sides of that situation.

He was on the Los Angeles Dodgers team that took the first two games of the 1978 World Series from the New York Yankees, only to lose the next four in a row. Baker also was on the 1981 Dodgers team that rebounded from an 0-2 deficit in the postseason twice - first in the strike-induced extra playoff round against the Houston Astros and again in a World Series rematch against the Yankees.

"You're not in the driver's seat until you have four," Baker said. "You have a lead in this race, but the race isn't over yet. There's potentially five more games left in this series. You have to go out and play."

Still, the excitement generated in the Bay area by the Giants' surprising postseason success prompted Baker to make an unusual request yesterday. He called on local fans not to get too excited, or too skeptical.

"I urge this town and everybody here not to think about us being in the driver's seat or thinking about us blowing it," Baker said.

"Just think about us playing and rooting for us each game at a time and thinking positive. You know, when everybody thinks positive in one cause and one dimension and one area, then positive things happen. When people start thinking negative, that's when negative things happen."

The Giants have reason to be confident. No home team has ever lost the first two games of a best-of-seven league championship series and come back to reach the World Series. In each of the cases that Baker was involved, the team that recovered from the two-game deficit lost those two games on the road.

The Cardinals can only hope that left-hander Chuck Finley will put together a big performance today like the one he delivered against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 2 of the NL Division Series. The Giants counter with Russ Ortiz, who is coming off two big outings against the Atlanta Braves in the first round.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is well aware that his team is at the wrong end of that historical trend, so he will have to focus on his team's ability to overcome unprecedented adversity during the course of this difficult season.

Considering what the Cardinals endured both on and off the field during the regular season, a two-game deficit can't seem all that daunting.

The Cardinals' organization was rocked repeatedly by tragedy, suffering through the sudden death of pitcher Darryl Kile, the loss of legendary broadcaster Jack Buck and the passing of Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter and 1982 postseason hero Darrell Porter.

The emotional challenge of dealing with those losses and getting through the season was complicated by a series of injuries that eliminated much of the team's vaunted pitching depth. And, of course, there was the recent shoulder sprain that knocked $90 million third baseman Scott Rolen out of the postseason lineup.

After the Game 2 defeat, La Russa grabbed hold of the notion that this is just one more hill to climb for a team that has overcome much greater obstacles, calling the two-game deficit "the perfect setup for us."

But he stopped short of saying that the Cardinals have the Giants right where they want them.

"It's always important to paint your situation in a way that there's a positive slant to it so you can think of something good happening," he said. "In this case, it isn't much of a stretch to explain to the guys that it's been hard all year, so this is hard."

NLCS schedule

St. Louis vs. San Francisco(Best of seven; *-if necessary)

TV:Chs. 45, 5

San Francisco leads series 2-0

Game 1: San Francisco, 9-6

Game 2:San Francisco, 4-1

Today: St. Louis (Finley 7-4) at San Francisco (Ru. Ortiz 14-10), 4:17 p.m.

Tomorrow:at S.F., 7:55 p.m.*Monday:at S.F., 8:19 p.m.*Wed.:at St. L., 4:19 p.m.*Thursday:at St. L., 8:19 p.m.

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