10/02/2002 7:58 pm ET
Santiago comes through in victory
Dropped pop aside, three-hit day spurred Giants to win
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Giants catcher Benito Santiago, a player of style and timing, turned his hands up and shrugged after he picked the wrong time to be stylish Wednesday afternoon.
Santiago's attempt at a too-fancy backup catch on a foul pop by Atlanta's Javy Lopez resulted in a needless error with two outs in the eighth
inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Lopez followed with a two-run homer to left-center field.
"The only thing I'm going to say to youngsters out there is don't try to do that in your game," said Santiago, who, fortunately for San Francisco,
spent most of the Giants' 8-5 victory at Turner Field setting a much better example.
Santiago knocked three hits, including a two-run double that was much bigger than anyone thought at the time.
The Giants are depending on Santiago to make the Braves pay for their strategy of pitching around Barry Bonds whenever possible. Santiago's two-bagger off Atlanta reliever Chris Hammond came after an intentional walk to Bonds.
"Benito Santiago is big in the equation," said San Francisco manager Dusty Baker, who added that he had never seen Santiago drop a popup before, but might want to have him subtract basket-catch attempts from the formula nonetheless.
"He got a big double for us," Baker said. "He got three hits, started another rally (with a one-out single in the Giants' three-run second inning), hit the ball well today. Not only Santiago, but the guys hitting behind Barry and in front of Barry."
Santiago's hit gave the Giants an 8-2 lead. No one knew how big it was until the eighth, when Gary Sheffield drilled a solo home run to
left-center and Lopez added his second-chance two-run homer, both off Tim Worrell, to cut the difference to 8-5.
"Everything comes up to my mind," said Santiago, who recalls missing a pop foul the same way a while back, then seeing the hitter, the Mets' Kevin McReynolds, hit a home run in the same at-bat. "It's not going to be a big feeling for Benito Santiago to go into the clubhouse with everybody looking at him (thinking), Hey, he dropped the ball. But that was a bad play. I'll make it better tomorrow."
He actually made it a little better later in the eighth inning. He ended the Braves' rally, finally, by reaching into the photographers' box to grab a Marcus Giles pop foul. Technically, that was a basket catch, too, but he had to stretch a long way to get the basket to the ball.
"If that was a ball in the stands, I was going to jump that fence and try to catch that ball," he said.
Santiago, who made a basket catch in the ninth inning of the Giants' NL Wild Card-clinching victory over Houston on Saturday, is doing more
than his share with the bat.
Including his 3-for-5 performance with two RBIs on Wednesday, Santiago has batted .312 with five home runs, 30 RBIs and nine extra-base hits since Aug. 2. That was the day Bonds returned from a hamstring injury and Baker decided to place Santiago just after Bonds, the cleanup hitter, on the lineup card.
When it comes to Bonds, Santiago considers himself in the same position as fans of the Giants.
"I don't want to see this guy walking," said Santiago, who at 37 is making just his second postseason appearance -- mainly because he spent his prime with mostly mediocre San Diego and Florida teams. "This is one of the best hitters we've got and I want the guy to put the ball in play so he can put better numbers up there."
Santiago just happens to be in position to make walking Bonds a little less fun. Of course, on Wednesday he also put himself in position for a little fun at his expense.
"It was only one (player)," Santiago said when asked if, in the glow of victory, he received some kidding from teammates about the dropped pop. "Guess who? My backup catcher (Yorvit Torrealba).
"The guy came to me and told me, 'I always get good advice from you, but this time I'm not going to talk to you.'"
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.