Sanders needed to overcome Baker's Minor blunder

Reggie Sanders will have to continue playing well in the World Series to help overcome Dusty Baker's Minor blunder.

Originally Published: October 17, 2002
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

In the 21st century, when very few pitchers are allowed to start three games in nine days, it's rare we can accurately identify one "key player" in a postseason series.

If the Giants are going to win this World Series, Reggie Sanders has to do something.

Entering this World Series, of course, he had done nothing.

Well, almost nothing. In nine 2002 postseason games, Sanders batted 37 times, collected five hits (four singles, one double) and drew three walks. He scored one run and drove in one run. Sanders spent most of the season batting either fifth or sixth in the lineup, but this October he's swung the bat like a ninth-place hitter. A National League ninth-place hitter.

And then Saturday night in Game 1, Sanders did more than something. In the first inning, he drove one of Jarrod Washburn's fastballs over the right-field wall. In the fourth inning, he walked. And in the sixth, he started a two-out rally with a single to left field, scoring moments later when J.T. Snow homered. Sanders scored two of the Giants' four runs, and it could reasonably be argued that he was Game 1's MVP as the Giants won 4-3.

Sanders being invisible through the first 10 postseason games didn't hurt the Giants, though, because Rich Aurilia and Benito Santiago combined for 23 RBI in the club's 10 postseason games.

Can we reasonably expect Aurilia and Santiago, or even one of them, to continue playing so well? No, probably not. Which means the Giants will likely need another of their mid-level players -- David Bell, Kenny Lofton, J.T. Snow -- to come up big throughout the Series.

Or Reggie Sanders.

Sanders? If anybody's a choker in October -- not that such beasts exist -- it's Reggie Sanders. Entering this World Series, he'd played in 35 postseason games and batted .183 with a .262 slugging percentage. He's hit a home run every 21 at-bats during the regular season over the course of his long career, but he's managed to hit a home run just every 63 at-bats during the postseason -- almost exactly a third as often.

With Sanders in the lineup, the Giants have essentially been giving away a position. And they certainly can't afford that now, because heading into the World Series, they're already giving away a position -- designated hitter. They did that the moment they decided to leave Damon Minor off their World Series roster.

Now, Damon Minor's .778 OPS in 2002 isn't going to get him placed on anybody's short list for the Hall of Fame, but it was the fourth-best among Giants with at least 150 at-bats. Hell, it was the fourth-best among Giants with at least four at-bats, and just a hair behind Sanders (though well behind Jeff Kent and of course Barry Bonds).

But with Minor not eligible, here are Dusty Baker's "choices" for DH:

		OBP  Slug
Ramon Martinez   .335  .414
Tsuyoshi Shinjo  .294  .370
Tom Goodwin      .321  .338
Pedro Feliz      .281  .336
Shawon Dunston   .250  .286

Ramon Martinez is the only one among this group who's not a disaster at the plate, but he's the only backup middle infielder on the roster, so he's not likely to be used as the DH.

Baker actually had some decent choices in Game 1, with lefty Jarrod Washburn starting for the Angels. But Anaheim's other three starters are right-handed, as are most of their good relief pitchers. When you're facing the Halos, you really want a potent left-handed bat available, whether to DH or pinch-hit.

Left-handed bats? Well, the Giants have Tom Goodwin. Unfortunately, he's got zero power and his OBP against righties over the last few years isn't anything special, either. Facing the prospect of perhaps three more games with the DH, all of them against right-handed starters, Tom Goodwin is the only left-handed hitter the Giants can muster. And we use the term "hitter" quite loosely.

And friends, that ain't getting it done. The Giants need Damon Minor on this roster, and they don't have him.

They do, on the other hand, have Shawon Dunston, and keeping Dunston on the roster during a World Series with four potential DH games is, to put it bluntly, unconscionable. I'm sure Dusty Baker has his reasons, but I'm also fairly sure that his reasons are mostly sentimental. And when the stakes are this high and you have a choice between a good stick and a great story, you're usually better off with the stick.

So the Giants need Sanders to do something, and in Game 1 he certainly did.

Baker committed a huge strategic mistake when he ignored Damon Minor. But if Sanders continues to play well, there's a pretty good chance that none of us will remember Baker's blunder.

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