10/02/2002 8:49 pm ET
Those other Giants take the lead
It wasn't Bonds or Kent, but everybody else in Game 1
ATLANTA -- So much is made of the importance of protecting Barry Bonds, you'd think he were some frail puppy, not the thickly muscled slugger we've all come to know as the best baseball player of our time.
Protect him? Have you seen the arms on that guy?
Of course, in baseball terms it makes perfect sense. Someone needs to pose a threat batting behind Bonds so that he'll get something to hit every once in a while.
It's been an issue for years, but of particular interest as the Giants headed into their National League Division Series matchup with the Braves. Protecting Bonds would be a key, everybody agreed.
Protect him? These guys were more than just protection. They were a hit squad in Game 1.
With No. 5 hitter Benito Santiago leading the way with three hits, the men batting behind Bonds were much more than just a supporting cast Wednesday when the Giants dealt an 8-5 Game 1 blow to the Braves.
They were the stars of the show. Bonds was merely a bit player in this production.
So much for the myth that this is just Barry Bonds and -- well, we'll let Reggie Sanders finish the thought.
"Actually, it's Barry Bonds and the eight dwarves," said Sanders. "That's the way it's been sounding lately."
To be truthful, it's always been Bonds and Jeff Kent ... and whatever label you want to place on the rest of the team. Starting last year, Rich Aurilia's name might get mentioned here and there.
But that's more perception than reality.
"In baseball, unlike any other sport, one guy's not going to win you a game," said J.T. Snow, whose two-run double in the second inning started off the scoring. "Two guys aren't going to win you a game consistently. You need nine guys. I think we all feel that we're all one-ninth of the equation."
And on Wednesday, the guys who fill out the lineup beneath one of baseball's most feared 3-4 combos did more than just a small fraction of the heavy lifting needed to put the Giants on top.
For the Giants to make it through this series or any postseason series, the "other" hitters in the lineup are going to have to produce. That's a fact.
"Really, I think it's been the case all year for the most part, and it has to be that way for us to win," said David Bell, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI from the No. 8 spot. "Barry and Jeff and Richie are going to get on base, but if guys behind them aren't driving them in, it makes it tough. It's a big part of our game."
The bottom half of the Giants' lineup certainly held up its end on Wednesday. They built the lead that made starter Russ Ortiz so comfortable on the mound into the late innings. In fact, they built it big enough that an eighth-inning scare merely caused enough of a ripple that the
Giants had to bring in Robb Nen in to close it in the ninth.
By the time the Giants had scored their first six runs, everybody except Bonds and Kent had either scored a run or driven in one, including Ortiz.
"I did a good job of eliminating Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent," Braves starter Tom Glavine said. "Unfortunately, their other seven guys did a
better job of beating me at my game."
What Wednesday's game did as much as anything is debunk the myth that this Giants team is all about Bonds -- or even all about Bonds and Kent. Aside from the fact the Giants boast a pitching staff that ranked second only to the Braves this season with a 3.54 ERA, the Giants do have a hitter or two besides baseball's most famous Odd Couple.
Really, it'd be all too simplistic to look at this Giants team like the championship Bulls of a few years ago. Barry Bonds is Michael Jordan.
Jeff Kent is Scottie Pippen. The rest? Well, can they fill out a uniform?
But if you take a look at the bottom of the Giants' lineup, you know it's not just a bunch of role players.
Santiago, an All-Star again at age 37 looking ageless behind the plate and rejuvenated beside it. Sanders, who lent his power/speed combination to the Diamondbacks' run to the World Series last year and the Giants' run to the playoffs in 2002. Snow, the top glove artist at first base in the league, perhaps the game, who can deliver a clutch knock as well. Bell, as good a No. 8 hitter as you'll find, with pop and plate presence.
Go down the list, and you've got four professionals, four veterans who have been through it all before. You don't have four easy outs. You have four tough at-bats.
The way they did their jobs Wednesday, this was one game that certainly wasn't about what Barry Bonds did or did not do.
Protect him? In Game 1, they carried him -- and the Giants.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.