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Archive for Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Sanders unlikely leader for Giants

Veteran outfielder had struggled in postseason before heating up in World Series

October 22, 2002

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— Fifteen dollars to fix a swing.

That's what Reggie Sanders figures he spent one long-distance call to Phoenix, another to Houston.

The hitting videos, well, they were already in his file.

The San Francisco right fielder was struggling so mightily at the plate, manager Dusty Baker sat him for the Giants' clinching win in the NL championship series just a week ago.

This week, Sanders has become an offensive force in his second straight World Series. He's hitting .571 (4-for-7) with two home runs and four RBIs as the Giants head into Game 3 tonight at Pacific Bell Park. The Series is tied at one game apiece.

Sanders had been desperate.

It took calls to two friends, both former players, on the eve of Saturday's World Series opener. It took some video study sessions, a good chat with his wife about his hitting, and tons of extra time in the batting cage to get out of the funk.

Everyone he talked to told him the same thing: his timing was just barely off, and he was getting jammed because he was swinging too late.

He had a hard time recognizing pitches, too.

"I wasn't ready to hit the baseball," said Sanders, who won a World Series ring last year with Arizona. "I was trying to catch up with it."

And now?

"Oh yeah, I feel better," he said. "At the right time, I feel much better. It was a huge relief."

Before this World Series, Sanders had been one of the worst postseason players ever, with a .151 career average. He struggled in the NLCS last year, too, hitting just .118, then he hit .304 for Arizona in six games against the Yankees in the World Series.

The fact he's playing on baseball's biggest stage again this year hasn't quite sunk in for Sanders. That, he said, will happen when it's all over.

"It's a blessing," the 34-year-old Sanders said. "That's the only way I can say it. Getting here is tough. I'm trying to enjoy the moment. One time is amazing, and the second time is just awesome."

Sanders, in his 12th season in the majors, signed with the Giants as a free agent in January. He is another power threat in the middle of the order, with 23 homers in the regular season.

"He's a good hitter, a good player," veteran outfielder Kenny Lofton said. "Just because he goes in a slump, everybody was dogging him. A good player will come out, and he did."

Sanders thought about each aspect of an at-bat, reviewing the fundamentals of what he should be doing.

He tried to block out whatever decisions Baker had to make.

"All these other forces are out of your control," he said.

"When you're doing well, it seems to continue, continue, continue. When things don't happen for you, it starts to wear on you. You put more pressure on yourself and you tend to be wound too tight. I needed to clear my mind."

His teammates weren't too worried. Many of them are playing in their first World Series and have appreciated the experience Sanders brings. He has been a positive presence in a sometimes-rocky clubhouse all year.

"He knows he's not going to be able to get a hit every time," pitcher Russ Ortiz said. "He knows he needs to continue to give his best effort, and he believes in his abilities and what kind of player he is. He comes in every day the same way, whether he went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4."

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