- MLB Playoffs 2002 - Santiago makes Cards pay for walking Bonds

Wednesday, October 9
Santiago makes Cards pay for walking Bonds

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Benito Santiago didn't mind a bit when the St. Louis Cardinals pitched around Barry Bonds.

Benito Santiago

Santiago made them pay for it -- big time.

Following walks to Bonds, San Francisco's veteran catcher hit an RBI single and a two-run homer to help the Giants beat the Cardinals 9-6 Wednesday night in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

"I've been seeing this for 2{ months, hitting behind that man,'' Santiago said. "That didn't start tonight. I have a lot of opportunity to make some damage out there at the right time.''

After St. Louis starter Matt Morris walked Bonds with two outs in the first, Santiago hit a roller up the third-base line for a single that scored Kenny Lofton to make it 1-0.

In the sixth, with Bonds aboard after another walk, Santiago hit a drive over the left-center fence to the back wall of the bullpen for a 9-3 lead.

It was Santiago's first homer in the 2002 playoffs, and the second of his career in the postseason.

"He's a guy we should go after,'' Morris said. "We left the ball up and he had a great day.''

Santiago drove in four runs, just one fewer than he had during the entire five-game division series against Atlanta.

"I'm trying to go out there and have some fun,'' Santiago said. "I go out and try to make good swings and put the ball in play.''

In the seven playoff games Santiago appeared in before this season, he managed only three RBI and one home run.

Yet this is not surprising, really.

He expects such production from himself, and so do the Giants. It's been a resurgent season for the 37-year-old Santiago, who has spent 17 years in the majors. This has been one of his best.

Santiago was an All-Star for the first time in 10 years. He's in the best shape of his life and has repeatedly said he feels like he's in his 20s again. He caught all 44 innings in the five games against the Braves, and still looks plenty fresh.

"I'm 26. That's the way I feel,'' he said.

He drove in game-winning runs as the Giants surged in September to clinch the wild card on the season's second-to-last day. He stole bases and served as a mentor to the team's young pitching staff.

Santiago is a well-sculpted 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, and has bragged how he easily could catch for 18 innings if a game ever lasted that long.

And this is a man who joined the Giants as a non-roster invitee in March of 2001 after signing a minor league contract.

It's been a long time coming for Santiago to feel this good, too. Four years, in fact.

In 1998, he survived a life-threatening car accident back home in Florida that left him out of baseball for nearly a year. It took a couple of years for him to feel like himself again.

There are no signs he ever slowed down.

"He's definitely been on fire,'' teammate Reggie Sanders said. "And what he's doing in the position behind all the pressure, he's on top of it.''

San Francisco manager Dusty Baker has stressed that what Santiago does with his bat behind Bonds will play a key role in how far the Giants go.

Baker tried a few players in the No. 5 spot this season, and settled on Santiago for several reasons.

"No. 1, he's a right-handed hitter,'' Baker said. "No. 2, he puts the ball in play. And he knows how to hit in that position. He doesn't try to hit home runs. I hit behind Hank Aaron for years and the thing he told me was not to take it personal when they walked him. He doesn't take it personal when they walk Barry.''

Santiago even became a calming influence Wednesday night for the Giants, who are playing in their first NLCS since 1989.

When Lofton became upset in the fifth after a high-inside pitch by Mike Crudale and the benches cleared, Santiago restrained Lofton.

So Santiago was partly to thank that the umpires just issued warnings to both teams, instead of ejections.

Santiago would tell you it's just part of his job -- one he plans to keep doing for years as long as he feels like this.

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