10/11/2002 01:17 am ET
Shortstop packing a wallop
Aurilia has been a cornerstone to October success
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Call Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia "Mr. Substance" this October, since showy style just isn't his thing.
Aurilia had already rounded first base by the time his second home run cleared the fence. He didn't slow down for a little fist pump on the way to second. He ran as if the run wouldn't count if he didn't get around the bases fast enough.
He left the Cardinals with nothing to be upset about -- except for the small matter of a two-game deficit as the National League Championship Series heads to San Francisco. Aurilia's solo shot in the first inning and two-run homer in the fifth paced the Giants' 4-1 victory in Game 2.
This is where the book of baseball etiquitte takes a strange twist. The Cardinals got so mad at Kenny Lofton on Wednesday and their fans at Busch Stadium booed him on Thursday because of the lavish cool he showed while watching his solo shot in Game 1 clear the fence.
No one was terribly offended by Aurilia.
Yet Aurilia's actions, no matter how understated his reaction to them, have put the Cardinals' season in serious jeopardy. No team has ever rebounded to win an NLCS after dropping the first two games at home. So unless the Cards make history, they'll join the Atlanta Braves in not feeling offended by Aurilia -- from the comfort of their couches.
With two homers against St. Louis in Game 2 of the NLCS, Rich Aurilia became just the ninth player to hit two homers in an NLCS game and the first since Ron Gant of the Cardinals in 1996. The only other Giants player to hit two homers in an NLCS game was Will "The Thrill" Clark, who belted two vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Game 1 of the '89 NLCS.
1971: B. Robertson, PIT @ SF, G2
'73: Rusty Staub, NYM vs. CIN, G3
'74: Steve Garvey, LA vs. PIT, G4
'78: Steve Garvey, LA @ PHI, G1
'84: G. Matthews, CHI vs. SD, G1
'85: K. Landreaux, LA vs. STL, G2
'89: Will Clark, SF @ CHI, G1
'96: Ron Gant, STL vs. ATL, G3
2002: Rich Aurilia, SF @ STL, G2
Aurilia has driven in 11 runs in seven playoff games, including seven in five games against Atlanta. His three-run homer off the Braves' Tom Glavine in Game 4 helped the Giants force a deciding game that they won.
"We just know we're going home up 2-0, we're halfway to winning the series," Aurilia said. "Hopefully we come out and play the way we did here in the first two games when we go back home."
All the while Aurilia has acted as if he's been here before. But until this year, about all he could say regarding the postseason is he had been there.
Aurilia hit 79 homers from 1999 to 2001, including a career-high 37 in 2000, but until now had done little in October. He wasn't an established player when the Giants met Florida in the 1997 NL Division Series and didn't see action. Then he went 2-for-14 in four games of the 2000 NLDS loss to the New York Mets.
"I think in 2000, team-wise, a lot more was expected of us than what we did, and I think guys probably put a little added pressure on
themselves -- me included," said Aurilia, who went 2-for-3 with a walk on Thursday. "So this year coming into the postseason I just tried to relax and treat [the games] like they're any other game.
"Of course, the magnitude is a little bit more, but that's all I can do -- try and approach it just like I would the 162 games of the season."
On Thursday, his two big swings prevented Cardinals starter Woody Williams from being the comeback player of the day -- he had not pitched in 19 days because of a strained oblique muscle that had bothered him all season.
Instead, Aurilia clearly has become the comeback player of the most important part of this season.
Aurilia missed seven games in April with a left groin strain, but that was nothing. He underwent right elbow surgery in May and earned high marks for his pain threshold because he was back after a 15-day disabled list stint, instead of four to six weeks. The result was a subpar
regular season that saw him bottom out with a .208 August.
"Looking back, I should have waited (to return) another week or so," he said. "Just to get back out there and play every day, you build bad habits."
However, Aurilia batted .290 with four home runs and 16 RBIs over his final 27 regular-season games, and was ready to deliver in the postseason.
The injury had robbed him of the ability to drive the ball to the gaps. As a testament to his health, both homers were hit over the left-center field wall.
"The way I hit the ball out of the park tonight is the way I'm used to hitting the ball," Aurilia said. "I swung nice and easy and I just felt like I flicked the ball out of the park, instead of just taking a big swing. I'm just glad that it's coming around at this time of the season."
Now Aurilia, often overshadowed by the lightning-rod personalities of the players who hit behind him -- Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds -- is putting his name and production, if not his personality or antics, to the forefront.
Aurilia became the first Giant to hit two homers in a postseason game since Kent in Game 4 of the 1997 NLDS against Florida, and the first to hit two in the NLCS since Will Clark against the Cubs in Game 1 in 1989.
"You appreciate offensive success, especially in the playoffs, because it's hard to come by," Kent said.
Aurilia succeeded with nice, easy swings -- the first on a Williams pitch low in the strike zone and the second on a curveball that he was expecting.
Aurilia is not hard to like, listening to him talk humbly. But when he was introduced for his eighth-inning appearance, which ended with the walk, he received a small chorus of boos from St. Louis fans.
They know a player they shouldn't like when he beats them.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.