Ten Years Ago Today – The Greatest Baseball Game I Ever Attended

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                 I’ve bee

n an avid San Francisco Giants fan since 1971, I don’t know if everyone is aware of that, I may have mentioned it once or twice. Today the Giants square off in Game One of the National League playoffs that will decide who plays either the Detroit Tigers or New York Yankees in the World Series. Judging from last night’s game, that opponent will most likely be The Tigers. To get to the Series, The Giants must get past the same opponent they faced in 1987 (lost) and 2002 (won), the St. Louis Cardinals. 

                    I was fortunate to be among 45,000 or so fans to get to see what would turn out to be the most exciting single game out of the hundreds I’ve attended. The close second was an early 70’s match between the Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates where the Giants scored seven runs in the 9th inning to win 8-7, but the team sucked then, so maybe 5,000 were there to witness the dramatic comeback. This October 14, 2002 game had a lot more at stake.

                       For starters, The Giants were up three games to one, having won the opening two games in St. Louis. Had they lost this one, they’d have had to go back to St. Louis with a 3-2 game lead, and run the risk of repeating what happened in 1987, where they went to St. Louis for the final two, and scored exactly zero runs! In the pre-game cermonies for this game, former Giant Jeffrey Leonard, who was voted Most Valuable Player of that 87 series, despite playing for the losing team, was introduced to the crowd as sort of a good luck token. He stood from his seat and flashed a big smile to the throng, something he rarely did as a Giant, leading to one of his nicknames, “Penitentiary Face.” 

                       The game featured a pitching match-up between The Cardinals then-ace Matt Morris and The Giants consistent, if never great, pitcher Kirk Reuter. The two matched zeroes for zeroes over the first six innings. Then Giants manager Dusty Baker decided to replace Reuter with reliever Felix Rodriguez, an erratic picher who promptly gave up a run, but thankfully, only that one. The Giants managed to tie it in the 8th on a Barry Bonds sacrifice fly. The Cardinals mounted a threat in the top of the 9th, and in what I would imagine to be some of the worst baseball managing in the history of mankind, manager Tony LaRussa, otherwise a hall-of-fame calibre manager, opted not to pinch hit for Matt Morris, who made a quick out and snuffed that potential rally. The drama would go to the bottom of the 9th.

                         Morris was still pitching, and the Giants were at the bottom of their batting order to start the inning. After two quick outs, 8th-place hitter David Bell, acquired in the spring from Seattle, managed a single. In a pinch-hitting role, up stepped veteran Shawon Dunston, who had earlier announced this would be his last season. He was doing his third stint with the Giants, though most of his long career he’d been with the Chicago Cubs, and was also a former Cardinal. Dunston was old, to put it nicely, but managed to hit a 20-hop ground ball that found its way into center field, putting runners at first and second. Finally, LaRussa took Morris out for a big burly shaven-head pitcher named Rick Stein.

                          Stein was scary-looking, and he’d be facing Kenny Lofton, a well-traveled player whom the Giants had acquired for his speed in July. He’d done well for The Giants as a lead-off hitter, and now was being asked basically to put this game and series away. Stein threw one fastball, and for Lofton, fait accompli!  He stroked the ball into center field, and Bell hustled home with the winning run, and The Giants were going to their first world series in 13 years. As the throng of 45,000 made a collective shout that far surpassed anything I’d ever experienced at a rock concert, and as a rush of the crowd’s collective energy ran through my own body, the first thing I noticed on the video projection was a close-up of an ecstatic Barry Bonds, who was finally going to a World Series in his 17th year in the majors, and until this particular year, had stunk up the place in every post-season series he’d played. 

                         While the stadium crowd was having its universal orgasm, I couldn’t help but notice the dejection on the Cardinals players who chose to stay in the dugout and watch the celebration. The Cardinals would atone for that later, winning the whole thing in 2006 and 2011, and here they are again in 2012 against a familiar opponent. The Giants would lose the 2002 World Series against Los Angeles Angels in what is still that team’s only Series appearance, and would finally win it in 2010 against a Texas Rangers team that was also making its Series debut.

                          Some updates about the key characters: Neither Bell, Dunston, or Lofton was with the Giants the next year, and neither was Dusty Baker, whose contract wasn’t renewed after some questionable decisions that may have cost the Giants a series victory. Baker went on to manage the Chicago Cubs, and was managing the Cincinnati Reds team that the Giants knocked out of the race this past week. Matt Morris would sign with the Giants two years later, and be mostly mediocre before being pawned off to Pittsburgh. Tony LaRussa only retired last year, but his managerial successor, Mike Matheny, was catcher for those 2002 Cardinals and also was with the Giants before a serious concussion caused his early retirement. Shawon Dunston joins 50’s star Bob Nieman (in 1962) as the only two players whose final major league appearance was in a San Francisco Giant uniform playing in his first and thus only World Series. And upon such facts the fate of a nation is decided. Go Giants!



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