Pickoff play that wasn't led to doom for CardinalsPosted: Thursday October 10, 2002 3:23 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
ST. LOUIS -- Every inning that Matt Morris throws ought to start out like the second inning did Wednesday night.
He can only hope none of them turns out that way again.
By the time Morris' horribly historic second inning ended in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, the San Francisco Giants had scored four runs off him and pounded out six straight hits -- all with two outs. The Giants had pushed their lead to 5-0 and set the tone in the 9-6 victory over Morris and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The worst thing about the whole ordeal for Morris and the Cards was it didn't have to go that way. The Cards could have been out of the inning -- maybe should have been out of it -- but for a fluke play that perfectly fit a fluky inning.
Morris had some trouble in the first inning, walking three (including a semi-intentional walk to Barry Bonds) and giving up a two-out, run-scoring infield dribbler to Giants catcher Benito Santiago during a 29-pitch marathon. Still, Morris got out of the inning trailing only 1-0.
When he opened the next inning with back-to-back strikeouts of David Bell and pitcher Kirk Rueter -- on seven pitches, no less -- it looked as if things were starting to turn Morris' way.
Even after he gave up a hard single to center field to San Francisco leadoff man Kenny Lofton, there looked to be no need to pull the fire alarm. Not yet.
But with Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia up next, the weird stuff started. Lofton stole second on a 2-1 pitch that went high. He then took a huge lead off second, clearly ready to steal third. Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina saw it and tried to sneak in behind Lofton to receive a pickoff throw from Morris.
"[Vina] is very good on it and Matt's very quick and accurate," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
The problem was Morris didn't see Lofton. He instead went home with a breaking ball that Aurilia reached out and pushed to the right side, sending a little one-hopper toward the second-base hole vacated by Vina.
"I could tell [Lofton] was going because he had a bigger lead than normal," Vina said. "I try to put my open hand out [to let the pitcher know he's covering second]. But Matty was already going home."
The little nubber took a hop in the dirt and rolled easily into the outfield for an RBI single.
"I think the key play was Kenny taking second base," Aurilia said. "By no means did I try to hit the ball where I did."
That made the score 2-0, and it was only the start. Giants second baseman Jeff Kent followed with a soft single to center, putting men at first and second for Bonds. Forced to pitch to the best hitter in the game, Morris hung a breaking ball on a 1-1 count and paid the price. Bonds smashed it to right field for a triple, driving in both runners. All the sudden, it was 4-0.
Catcher Benito Santiago knocked in Bonds with a single to right, making it 5-0, and first baseman J.T. Snow followed that with another single. It wasn't until Reggie Sanders, swinging at the first pitch, flew out to right that the inning mercifully ended.
By that time, Morris had thrown 29 pitches in the inning, allowed six straight hits (an NLCS record) and trailed 5-0.
La Russa, saddled with a short bench, stuck with Morris for another two-plus innings, but it really didn't matter. The second-inning damage -- that started with what looked to be a routine groundout and went on for six straight hits -- was done. And so were the Cards in Game 1.