10/10/2002 11:25 am ET
Press Row: Brew-haha at Busch
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
The game is over, but the repercussions will ripple through the rest of this best-of-seven series. The Cardinals and Giants are now involved in a grudge match, thanks to a near-brawl in Game 1 of the NLCS. As if a trip to the World Series weren't enough motivation, both teams can add a personal offense to the ledger.
Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle provides some perspective.
"Once the haze of anger dissipated over Busch Stadium, once the roiling river of emotions was crossed, a picture of stunning clarity emerged, and the Giants had to like what they saw.
"They rolled into one of the most treacherous venues for any visiting team, turned their opponents' best pitcher into jelly, survived the white-jersey charge that invariably happens here and took another big step toward a pennant.
"The Giants jumped the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, winning 9-6 Wednesday night in a game that had enough action to overshadow the near-brawl that erupted in the fifth inning when reliever Mike Crudale threw inside to Kenny Lofton.
"If recent history is any guide, the Giants should be thrilled with this outcome. The Game 1 winner in the NLCS has advanced to the World Series the past nine years, although the Giants are not measuring themselves for rings based on that."
Kenny Lofton, who already had two hits when he stepped to the plate in the fifth inning, ignited a benches-clearing argument when he took issue with an inside pitch. That one incident stained the series, turned the prism inside-out of how these teams view each other.
Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the pitch wasn't close enough to warrant Lofton's reaction.
"It was not nearly as high and tight as Lofton made it seem as he spun out of the batter's box and began yelling, first at Crudale and then at catcher Mike Matheny. Matheny blocked Lofton's path toward the mound if Lofton, indeed, had any interest in following that path.
"But both benches and bullpens emptied and several minor conflagrations ensued. Cardinals starter Matt Morris, out of the game, belatedly stormed from the dugout after Lofton before being held back.
"It was the final act of his frustration, although Morris insisted he didn't see whether Lofton stared at the home run in a slow home-run trot or not. He said he was more irritated at Lofton thinking Crudale was throwing at him.
" ' The benches would have never cleared if he didn't make a big stink of it,' said Morris. 'Nobody's trying to hit him there.' "
"Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan was even stronger in his assessment of Lofton's act."
" ' It was hoopla about nothing because the pitch was barely inside,' Duncan said. ' The umpire can control that situation by (ejecting) Lofton. "Lofton is the one who created an ugly situation. He was a classless act in more ways than one.' "
Of course, that's one side of the story. The other side is that Lofton had been positively dominating the game; that he had a right to react, even if he may have taken it a little too far. In the aftermath, the Giants just wanted to make sure their catalyst didn't get hurt.
Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that Lofton's teammates tried to get him away from the carnage as quickly as possible.
"The Giants' first move was to grab the man himself. All hell was breaking loose at Busch Stadium, and they had to save Kenny Lofton from his instincts.
"Lofton wanted a piece of pitcher Mike Crudale or anyone else throwing words his way. A 'message' pitch had come down, pretty close to his head, and an all-out brawl was one punch from reality.
"Benito Santiago got to Lofton, quickly, and then Rich Aurilia and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, of all people. At that point, the Pac Bell ushers and mayor Willie Brown probably wanted to be there, too, for Lofton is no longer some nice midseason pickup for the Giants. He's got the keys to the engine.
"Lofton was positively relentless Wednesday night, in the grand leadoff tradition of Lou Brock, Bobby Bonds and Rickey Henderson. He singled, he stole, he homered, he pestered. Over time you come to realize something about truly great athletes: Never, ever doubt them. At the age of 35, Kenny Lofton has an October stage in front of him, and you'd swear he was 10 years younger."
There is one thing you can be sure of, after this incident: Nobody's going to forget it anytime soon. It will be on the minds of every fan who enters the building, and on the minds of the players between the lines. Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle watched it happen and couldn't help but feel oddly nostalgic.
"It was hard to know where to look first -- at Kenny Lofton and Mike Matheny exchanging revolting suggestions, at Barry Bonds looking for anyone in red who looked like he needed a beating, or at home-plate umpire Randy Marsh trying to interrupt Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa's screaming match.
"So in the aftermath of the Giants' 9-6 win over St. Louis in the first game of the National League Championship Series, there was nothing to do but sit back and watch the series turn into a blood feud.
"The Giants and Cardinals -- a proud American tradition of extra-fortified alpha males at each other's throats. Why, it's as though the '80s never ended.
" ' The thing was, we were the same kind of team back then, like these two teams are,' Giants broadcaster and former pitcher Mike Krukow said. ' They're both hard-nosed teams that don't back down. They won't forget this.' "
Spencer Fordin, a reporter for MLB.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.