Finley perseveres

so do Cards

Early miscues overcome, St. Louis rallies to 5-4 win

October 13, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - Through the first two innings of a game that could have hastened their winter vacation, the St. Louis Cardinals played like a bunch of guys with non-refundable travel plans for later this month.

They stumbled and fumbled and basically begged the San Francisco Giants to put them into a three-game hole in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, but somehow emerged with a 5-4 victory at Pacific Bell Park that put them into position to even the series with another road victory tonight.

Left-hander Chuck Finley, forced to pitch with the bases loaded twice - through little fault of his own - somehow held the Giants to just one run in those first two innings of Game 3 and bought time for his teammates to collect themselves. They would return the favor after Finley allowed a game-tying, momentum-shifting three-run home run to Barry Bonds in the fifth inning, with Eli Marrero responding with a go-ahead home run in the sixth to help secure Finley's first victory of the postseason.

Apparently, it isn't how you start, it's how you finish.

The Cardinals made two misplays in the first inning, the strange start signaled immediately when shortstop Edgar Renteria bobbled a leadoff grounder by Kenny Lofton. The Giants loaded the bases without the benefit of a hit when second baseman Fernando Vina failed to cover second on a routine force play and nearly got another gift when Vina almost plowed through center fielder Jim Edmonds on a shallow fly ball by Reggie Sanders that ended the threat.

Obviously, that wasn't a big enough challenge for Finley, because the Cardinals infield failed to make a play on a sacrifice bunt by Giants pitcher Russ Ortiz that loaded the bases with no one out. Finley got away with only a sacrifice fly by Rich Aurilia and the Cardinals set about taking advantage of their good fortune.

There would be some big performances in the later innings - including home runs from Jim Edmonds, Mike Matheny and Marrero, and four scoreless innings from the bullpen - but none of it would have mattered if Finley had not kept his cool when it really counted.

"The biggest hero was Chuck Finley," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "I mean, we are a good defensive club, and those first couple of jams he got into, that's so different from the way we play. For there to just be one run after all that mess, he really was the reason we won the game."

The 39-year-old left-hander held the Giants down for four innings while the Cardinals built a 4-1 lead, but was forced to pitch to Bonds in the fifth after walking Aurilia and giving up a single to Jeff Kent.

By most accounts, the pitch to Bonds was a good one - up and in - but baseball's premier home run hitter showed a national television audience just why he is baseball's premier home run hitter. He launched a mammoth shot into McCovey Cove that tied the score in a heartbeat.

"That was a real tough three-spot," La Russa said. "Chuck had Aurilia 1-2, walks him and got behind and Kent gets a hit. From where I was, I thought it was a pretty good pitch, and he hits it into the bay. That shows you how incredible Bonds is. The way that inning played out, it just shows you the Giants' ability."

There was room to wonder if the series would be decided by that swing, but Marrero led off the top of the sixth with a shot to left that put the Cardinals right back on top.

"He's had big hits for us all season long," said Matheny, who stepped up when Marrero refused - for reasons unknown - to take part in the post-game news conference. "It's good to see him step up right there. We needed somebody. The momentum had shifted. A lot of air was let out of us with that pitch. You try not to let that happen, but when you lose a three-run lead on one swing, it's definitely a turn of the tide."

The Cardinals' bullpen did not let the tide change, though the Giants threatened in the seventh and eighth. Right-hander Dave Veres replaced Finley and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Steve Kline bailed him out of a jam in the seventh, and Rick White bailed out Kline with two outs in the eighth.

Closer Jason Isringhausen did the rest, overpowering the Giants in the ninth to record his third save of the postseason.

"We had a lot of opportunities today," said Giants manager Dusty Baker. "They got out of trouble numerous times, and early in the game we gave them a couple of runs, which got them on the board."

The Giants did have a brief letdown inning of their own in the third, when Finley reached base on a third-strike wild pitch and Vina followed with a double to set up two runs. But starter Ortiz could not curse the fates after allowing home runs to Matheny and Edmonds over the next two innings.

Bonds got Ortiz off the hook, but Jay Witasick served up the home run to Marrero, and now the Giants will have to look to pitcher Livan Hernandez to re-establish command of the series in what has become a very pivotal Game 4.

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