The longest day
Sanders strands eight runners, now 0-for-13 in NLCSPosted: Saturday October 12, 2002 10:23 PM
Updated: Sunday October 13, 2002 4:17 AM
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
ST. LOUIS -- In demeanor, he is like a lake on the sunniest of spring days. Peaceful. Soothing. Placid. To speak with Reggie Sanders is to massage the soul, so easy is his approach to life and baseball.
"I like to take things in stride," says the rightfielder for the San Francisco Giants. "Never get too up or too down."
These days, it gets harder and harder for Sanders to maintain such holistic wisdom.
Through three games of his team's National League Championship Series battle with the St. Louis Cardinals, Sanders is 0-for-13. That's 13 plate appearances, zero hits. None. Nada. Zilch (Writer's note: In other words, Reggie Sanders and I have the same batting average this postseason).
When his team was winning, as it did in Games 1 and 2, such lapses could be tolerated, even overlooked (With a man named Barry Bonds in the lineup, most things are overlooked). But on Saturday afternoon, with Pacific Bell Park stuffed like Chow Yun Fat's wallet, things changed. Time after time, Sanders had the chance to blow open a tight game.
Time after time, he failed.
With no score in the bottom of the first, Sanders approached the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. On the mound was left-hander Chuck Finley, a serviceable starter, but hardly Pedro Martinez. After taking a massive swing through strike one, then looking at a ball outside, Sanders hit an innocent pop-up to centerfield. Pffffffft. Threat, muerte.
Again in the fifth, Sanders' chance arose to play King Reggie, Superstud. Immediately after Bonds launched a game-tying water bomb over the right-field wall, catcher Benito Santiago singled. The crowd was standing, screaming as if it were witnessing a Huey Lewis and the News reunion gig. This was the time. The place. The slump-breaking moment.
Up came Sanders.
Popup to third.
Down went Sanders.
There was one final shot. Sanders batted with the bases loaded again, this time in the seventh inning against righthander Dave Veres. He fouled off an inside fastball. He took a ball low. He swung at a fastball away. Then -- WOOSH! -- strike three. The Giants still trailed, 4-3.
This is not entirely new territory for Sanders, who entered this postseason with a career .194 division series average and a .121 mark in LCS play.
"When you know a guy’s struggling, you hope to see him up there," says Cards reliever Steve Kline. "Reggie is a dangerous hitter, and he’s destined to break out. But until he does ..."
If he does. Right now, Sanders is Colonel Mustard searching for a clue. He is Puck on The Real World: San Francisco -- a lost soul.
He's swinging through pitches he normally hits: meatball heat over the plate, hanging curves that don’t curve enough. During the regular season, he was an important power component (23 homers, 85 RBIs) on a club that needed the boost. But the playoffs are different. Pressure-packed. Ruthless. Humbling.
"I know I’m capable of breaking out of this," Sanders said after the game, speaking in the softest of tones. "I just have to stay calm and relaxed. There's a chance for me to still contribute the right way."
Sanders says this mellowly, as if everything were alright.
For the Giants, things suddenly are not.