10/10/2002 02:37 am ET
Santiago knows when to strike
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- When San Francisco and St. Louis rushed from their respective benches to disagree during the top of the fifth inning of Wednesday night's National League Championship Series opener, Giants catcher Benito Santiago played peacekeeper.
Santiago knew the place (the batter's box) and the time (with two out) to hurt the Cardinals as the Giants took Game 1 with a 9-6 victory at Busch Stadium.
The veteran catcher delivered run-scoring singles with two out in the first and second innings to help the Giants build a 5-0 lead. After an Albert Pujols two-run homer sparked St. Louis in the bottom of the fifth, Santiago answered with a two-run shot of his own in the sixth -- with two down, of course.
Santiago might have conducted himself with maturity befitting his age, 37, but he played with a much more youthful enthusiasm.
When asked if he's felt like a 20-year-old this season, Santiago quipped: "You say 20; I'm 26. That's the way I feel. That's baseball and I understand that. I just try to go out and have some fun."
With a 3-for-5 performance, including four big RBIs, Santiago certainly helped make the night loads of fun for the Giants.
In the top of the fifth, Cardinals reliever Mike Crudale buzzed Giants leadoff man Kenny Lofton for showing up St. Louis starter Matt Morris on a third-inning homer. When the angry words and posturing broke out, Santiago made it a point of grabbing Lofton and telling him to calm down
and take care of things properly.
Santiago did just that in the top of the sixth.
Handling challenges has been Santiago's M.O. throughout the playoffs.
Being placed fifth in manager Dusty Baker's batting order, behind slugger Barry Bonds, basically invites teams to challenge Santiago. He has responded thus far.
Santiago batted .238 as San Francisco beat Atlanta in an NL Division Series that went the full five games. But Santiago was there when the Giants needed him in Game 1, when he knocked a key two-run double. With Santiago having established he wasn't an automatic out, Bonds got enough
good pitches to blast three home runs.
On Wednesday, it didn't pay for the Cards to challenge Bonds or Santiago. The first Santiago RBI single and the home run came after walks to Bonds. The second RBI single followed a Bonds triple.
"I've been seeing this for 2 1/2 months, I've been hitting behind this man," Santiago said. "That didn't start tonight."
Santiago used more than his bat Wednesday night.
After Miguel Cairo cut the Giants' lead to 9-5 with a two-run shot in the sixth, the Cardinals had the speedy Kerry Robinson on first base with two out. Robinson attempted to steal, but the ageless Santiago stylishly threw him out without rising from his knees.
Challenge Santiago and he finds the right method for fighting back.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.