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Game 5: Kent's walk set the tone

Special to

Oct. 24
SAN FRANCISCO -- In so many ways, Jeff Kent was the hero of Game 5. He changed everything for the Giants -- and not just with his double or his two home runs.

Kent set the tone for the game with his great at-bat in the first inning. After he was down 0-and-2, he worked the Angels' Jarrod Washburn for a walk, forcing him to pitch to Barry Bonds. And then Kent hit the tremendous double to right field and the two home runs.

Every postseason there is a great player who struggles. It seemed this year Kent was the one - but not anymore.

The opportunity to see Bonds get three hits was phenomenal. There comes a point when walking Bonds is the right thing to do, but the wrong thing for baseball because it kills the TV audience. Fans are prevented from seeing the greatest hitter in modern baseball swing the bat. But Kent enabled him to hit Thursday.

The 16-4 outcome made it a bad game, but a huge plus for the Giants was that their three middle hitters -- Kent, Bonds and Benito Santiago -- had RBI in the same game for the first time all postseason. Until now much of the American League may not have understood how deep the Giants' lineup is. It is every bit as deep as Anaheim's, and more powerful with Rich Aurilia and Kent hitting in front of Bonds.

Kent hit 37 homers this season, and Aurilia hit 37 a year ago. People may say Aurilia has finally gotten going, but the reason he is playing great now is that he is finally healthy. He was hurt all season until September.

Now, like the Angels, every Giants hitter seems to be hot. They have Kenny Lofton, Aurilia, Kent, Bonds, Santiago, J.T. Snow and David Bell going.

Although it took a long time for them to put it together this season, the Giants were the best team in the National League after they won five out of seven against Arizona in two series between Aug. 30 and Sept. 8. And now they have shown it.

They play defense better than people realize. Aurilia and Bell are solid at shortstop and third base, and Snow is the game's best defensive first baseman. Lofton has had some misadventures in center field, but he is in the lineup for his offensive production, which they weren't getting from center field before he arrived.

In the Giants' bullpen, Felix Rodriguez and Tim Worrell have been such unsung heroes. They now have combined for 23 postseason appearances, 12 for Rodriguez and 11 for Worrell. Other than Worrell surrendering four earned runs against Atlanta and Rodriguez giving up the Tim Salmon home run in Game 2, both have been brilliant.

I also give the Angels a lot of credit. Before the game, their hitters were saying they didn't see Jason Schmidt's high-riding fastball in Game 1. But Thursday he knocked down Troy Glaus with a ball that jumped in the strike zone and later knocked down Garret Anderson. Yet the Angels had 14 two-strike foul balls off him, which got his pitch count up to 104 in a hurry, chasing Schmidt with two outs in the fifth.

And the Angels kept running.

David Eckstein walked in the third inning and stole second base. Darin Erstad was running on a 2-2 pitch. Eckstein went from first to third on a base hit to center field and scored on a wild pitch. The Angels never lost their aggressiveness. Their pitching ran out, but they never stopped trying.

In Game 6, Angels starter Kevin Appier will have to crank it up and work at least six innings. Tim McClelland, the home-plate umpire for Saturday, has a tight, consistent strike zone. Giants starter Russ Ortiz will need to throw strikes better than he did the first outing. If the Angels beat Ortiz, they will throw everybody in Game 7. I wouldn't even be surprised if they started Scott Schoeneweis on Sunday. But the Giants are confident, and they should be, that they can hit both Appier and potential Game 7 starter Ramon Ortiz.

As the Giants draw closer to a world championship, Dusty Baker's situation is only beginning. It's a bit like Bill Parcells making his farewell at the Super Bowl with the Patriots in 1997. It could be the same for Baker -- and Kent, who becomes a free agent after the season.

If Kent has three more extraordinary years, he will be in the Hall of Fame. It would be a shame if he left the Giants, who as a franchise have more players in the Hall of Fame than any other. But it may happen -- even if Kent leaves with a World Series ring.

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