10/08/2002 01:03 am ET
Giants-Braves: The big picture
By Chris Shuttlesworth / MLB.com
For the Giants, the entire 2002 season seemed to be an uphill battle. They had 37 comeback wins, 22 victories in their last at-bat, 50 one-run games. They needed to win seven games in a row just to win the Wild Card in the final week of the season.
So Monday's gut-wrenching 3-1 victory over the Braves was merely more of the same for a club that did nothing easily this year. Atlanta threatened all night, getting runners on base in six innings, but four times the Braves left a pair stranded and in the fifth, they left the bases loaded. And of course, they had a golden opportunity to tie or win the game in the ninth but failed.
This was unusual territory for the Braves, who cruised to their 11th straight division title and rarely faced adversity this season. The Giants now advance to the National League Championship Series starting Wednesday knowing they beat a very good club, one that's been the standard bearer for the league for years.
And they head to St. Louis also knowing they owe their victory in large part to Barry Bonds, who did his best to silence the incessant criticism of his postseason performance by scoring two runs, one with his third homer of the series. Having that key part of their arsenal in top form will be important in their quest for a World Series berth.
While the Giants lost four of six games to the Cardinals this season, they dropped three of those during a four-game July series at Pacific Bell Park when Bonds, Jeff Kent, Reggie Sanders and Benito Santiago all missed significant time with injuries. So San Francisco has to believe it can compete with the red-hot Cardinals, who swept the defending champion Diamondbacks in impressive fashion in the other Division Series.
Few would have envisioned a second-round picture that doesn't include the Braves, the Yankees, the Diamondbacks or the A's. The Giants haven't been this tantalizing close to the big prize since 1989, and wins like Monday's clincher only add to their confidence.
The series with Atlanta hinged on pitching, and the NLCS likely will as well. St. Louis has confidence in Matt Morris and Chuck Finley, and Andy Benes pitched well in the Division Series. Woody Williams could also return.
The Giants' series victory vindicated Dusty Baker's decision to go with a four-man rotation, and the only starter who got shelled, Kirk Rueter, has never lost in St. Louis, where he watched the Cardinals avidly as a boy.
The Braves, meanwhile, face a future as uncertain as any they've had in the last decade. Conventional wisdom says they can't keep both Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and they seem destined to have a very different face next season.
But like the Yankees, they could just as easily reload and continue to contend. Even though this was the first time they were forced into a Game 5 in a Division Series, they were inches away from taking the series.
Like 14 other National League teams, though, the Braves will wait until next year. The Giants, meanwhile are now four wins away from being the last NL team standing.
Chris Shuttlesworth is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.