10/14/2002 02:09 am ET
Giants survive ninth-inning scare
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The celebration started out sufficiently cool. Pitcher Robb Nen and catcher Benito Santiago met between the mound and the plate and slapped hands.
Then they bagged the macho stuff. They threw arms around one another and held tight.
It was a fitting picture after Nen somehow pulled the Giants through a white-knuckle ninth inning of a 4-3 victory over the on Sunday evening in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
When the crowd of 42,676 finally exhaled, the Giants were one game away from their first trip to the World Series since 1989. They can sew up that berth Monday at Pacific Bell Park in front of their fans, who no doubt will find a reserve of emotion to replace the one they spent during a frantic ninth inning.
"They're not going to roll over and give us that game, but we would definitely like to try to do it here," Nen said. "But we still have a long ways to go."
Speaking of long journeys in a short period of time, Nen entered in the ninth with a two-run lead. He needed both of those runs, as well as four outs, to secure his third save of the series and fifth of the postseason. Nen ended the game by fanning Albert Pujols and J.D. Drew with runners at first and third.
"It was not anything I want to do all the time," Nen said.
It might not have been the smoothest finish, but it was the finish the Giants needed from their bullpen. The way the series is going, the bullpens will loom large.
Saturday, it was the Cards' bullpen that held the Giants scoreless for four innings of a 5-4 victory. After Livan Hernandez, Sunday's pitcher, allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings, Felix Rodriguez, Scott Eyre, winning pitcher Tim Worrell and Nen allowed just one run on three hits.
"The way these games are going and the way managers like to play the matchups now, unless you get a game like Jason Schmidt threw in Game 2, it's going to come down to the 'pens," Worrell said.
It came down strangely on Sunday.
Since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1985, only three teams have rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to advance to the World Series:
The '85 Royals over the Blue Jays
The '86 Red Sox over the Angels
The '96 Braves over the Cardinals
Cards pinch-hitter Kerry Robinson whiffed at a third strike, but Nen's pitch bounced past Santiago -- whose two-run homer in the eighth gave the Giants the lead -- and the speedy Robinson took first on the wild pitch.
Santiago reassured Nen.
"I just go out there and try to pump the guy up and tell him, 'Hey, I screwed up on that one, but come back and give me some good pitches' and he did," said Santiago.
Fernando Viña singled, and the runners moved up a base when Edgar Renteria grounded to short. Then Nen was officially in trouble when Jim Edmonds singled to drive in Robinson and move Viña to third.
Needing to beat Pujols, St. Louis' best regular-season hitter at .314, and Drew, who drove in 12 game-winning runs in 135 regular-season appearances and one in the postseason, Nen regained his calm.
He ignored Viña's jitterbugging along the third-base line and threw several pitches that Santiago had to absorb with his equipment like a hockey goalie.
"He was going to do everything he could to stop the ball from then on," Nen said. "He's done it all year. He's blocked every ball I've thrown to him. He hasn't missed hardly any. He's a great catcher."
Nen felt lucky to beat Pujols on what he called a "hanging slider." He thought a little more of the pitch that dove under Drew's bat to end the game.
"I didn't think he'd look for a 3-2 slider and fortunately it was one of the better ones I've thrown all year," Nen said.
It was a pitch that deserved one big hug.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.