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Calming influence

Streaking Giants fend off pressure in Game 1 victory

Posted: Wednesday October 02, 2002 7:18 PM
  Giants catcher Benito Santiago g Benito Santiago made up for his dropped popup with this catch as well as three hits and two RBIs. AP

By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com

ATLANTA -- Benito Santiago knew what was coming, so he made a preemptive strike. Before the first question could be asked in the postgame interview, the Giants' ageless catcher gave his best "Who me?" grin and wondered aloud, "Missed popup? Anybody miss a popup around here?"

The disarming tactic worked. The resulting laughs lightened a clubhouse mood already relaxed by a season-ending eight-game winning streak and an 8-5 win against the Braves in Game 1 of the NL Division Series.

Indeed, it was Santiago who had committed an inexcusable error, trying to basket-catch a Javy Lopez foul popup in the eighth inning of an 8-3 game. Lopez stayed alive, hitting a two-run home run to bring the Braves back into the game.

After the at-bat, Santiago walked to the pitcher's mound to talk with his teammates. "You gotta pick me up," he begged. "I screwed up. But I've been picking you up all year and now you've got to pick me up right here."

On any other day, during any other season, his plea might not have been answered. But something has come over this Giants club that made Santiago's request possible for relievers Scott Eyre and Robb Nen, who finished off the Braves.

As is often the case for teams this hot -- the Giants won 17 of their last 22 regular-season games -- everybody is picking one another up. The glaring error notwithstanding, Santiago did his share to take the focus off the besieged Barry Bonds with three hits and two RBIs.

Rich Aurilia, who had a subpar year after hitting a career-high 37 home runs in 2001, and J.T. Snow, whose power stroke has been missing in action for two years running, each contributed two RBIs as well. On a day when Bonds and Jeff Kent combined for two hits and zero RBIs, the Giants pounded Tom Glavine and the Braves' vaunted crew of relievers for 12 hits, including four doubles.

"There are times when Barry and Jeff are going to carry us, but we showed today it's not just going to be a two-man show on offense," Aurilia said. "If I can get a big hit to help us win a game, it will make my whole season worthwhile."

The way the national press has been coming down on Bonds, deservedly so considering his past postseason failures, and the Giants for winning only one of their past seven postseason games, you would have thought Turner Field was going to be a giant pressure cooker for the Giants on Wednesday.

Aurilia said that assumption couldn't have been be further from the truth. Finishing the season on a white-hot tear will do that for a club.

"We were pretty loose coming in because we finished the season playing so well," Aurilia said. "We've learned to treat these games like any other games. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you are going to perform."


 
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