Baseball-Almanac.com's Divisional Series section
2002 National League Divisional Series:
San Francisco Giants (3),
Atlanta Braves (2)
In retrospect, it is fair to say that most of the 2002 season belonged to Barry Bonds. Widely regarded as the greatest active player in all of baseball, the San Francisco slugger was showered with numerous accolades including awards for National League Player of the Year (his 6th) and ESPY's Outstanding Baseball Performer. Still riding high from his record-breaking season in 2001, in which he set the new single-season homerun record at 73, Bonds went on to become only the 4th player to reach 600 career homers. He also hit 46 homers, scored 117 runs and drove in 110, despite receiving 68 intentional walks and 198 walks overall. His .582 on-base percentage topped the previous record of .553 held by Ted Williams and along with his fellow Giants, the future Hall of Fame centerfielder steamrolled his way to the top of the National League with a .370 average contributing to a 95-66 record that was good enough for second place. Teammates Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, David Bell and Reggie Sanders all batted over .300 while Jason Schmidt, Russ Ortiz and Livan Hernandez took care of business on the mound. Most fans (especially in the "City by the Bay") were anxious to see if Bonds would finally be able to break out of the "playoff funk" that had plagued him his entire career. In the biggest games of his life, Bonds had endured the ultimate frustration as his .290 career batting average translated into a disappointing .196 in the postseason. All that would change however in 2002.
The Atlanta Braves returned for yet another NLDS, having appeared in every Divisional Round since its "official" inception in 1995. Chipper Jones once again led the team in batting average (.327), on-base-percentage (.435) and slugging percentage (.536). Andruw Jones followed close behind hitting a team-leading 36 homers to give him his fourth consecutive 30-plus homer season. On the mound, rookie southpaw Damian Moss and Kevin Millwood allowed the pitching staff to post the NL's best ERA (3.13) for the ninth time in the past 12 years. Greg Maddux had another great season (leading the team with a 2.56 ERA) while winning 16 games to join Cy Young as the only other pitcher ever win 15+ games for 15 straight seasons. John Smoltz, who set a National League single-season saves record with 55, anchored the game's best bullpen and the team's 101 wins made manager Bobby Cox the first National League manager to record at least 100 or more wins five different times. Cox, who also posted his 1800th career win during the regular season, guided his team to its 11th consecutive division title by a whopping 19 game margin.
Game 1 showcased Bonds' "supporting cast" as J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia and Benito Santiago combined to drive in six runs with three swings for the Giants, who used a patient approach against Tom Glavine and seized home-field advantage from the NL's top seed by winning their ninth straight game. Their offensive efforts were back by a solid performance by Russ Ortiz who emerged with an 8-5 opening victory over the heavily favored Braves. Kevin Millwood came through with a must-win for Atlanta in Game 2 after tossing 6 strong innings that were insured by Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla, who hit back-to-back homers to lead the Braves to a 7-3 win. Starting in place of Greg Maddux, who was pushed back to Game 3 (due to a blister) Millwood only allowed 2 runs and 3 hits to post his third career postseason victory. He also struck out 7 and allowed 0 walks. Maddux returned for the third outing allowing only 2 runs in 6-innings, while teammate Keith Lockhart came through at the plate with a 3-run homer to cap a 5-run sixth en route to a 10-2 massacre over the Giants. Bonds managed to post a homer of his own in the 6th, but it was too little too late against the 4-time Cy Young Award winner.
Down two-games-to-one, San Francisco entered Game 4 with a desperate sense of urgency. Pitcher Livan Hernandez somehow recalled his post season successes against the Braves of 5 years ago and turned back the hands of time. After throwing 8 1/3 quality innings, he remained unbeaten in the postseason thanks to the efforts of himself and Rich Aurilia who homered and drove in 4 runs for an 8-3 triumph forcing a Game 5. After holding the Braves hitless through four innings, Hernandez yielded 3 runs and 8 hits, walking 2 and striking out 6. Although it was not his best numbers, it was enough to get the job done and extended his postseason record to 6-0. Like most of the regular season, the NLDS finale belonged to Barry. Finally able to shake his postseason stigmata, Bonds came up huge in Game 5 hitting 1 homerun and scoring twice. Ortiz also earned his second win of the series, as San Francisco became the first team in National League Division Series history to wipe out a two-games-to-one deficit, defeating the Braves 3-1 to advance to the NL Championship Series. For Bonds, it was just the beginning; as he would later go on to post the best overall batting performance in 25 years, since Reggie Jackson's majestic play for the New York Yankees in 1977. After reaching the World Series, Barry would reach base in 21 of 30 plate appearances (a .700 on-base percentage) nearly matching Lou Gehrig's 1928 record (.706). His 1.294 slugging percentage would also set a mark for a Series of more than four games and he would eventually set the Major League record for most homers in a postseason with eight.
2002 was a bitter sweet year in St. Louis. No one demonstrated more resolve than the Cardinals, who experienced the untimely deaths of longtime announcer Jack Buck and pitcher Darryl Kile. The team, though mourning, went on to dominate the National League Central dedicating the season in the memory of their departed comrades. Despite the loss of retired slugger Mark McGwire, the Redbirds still boasted a solid line-up that featured Jim Edmonds, J.D. Drew, Albert Pujols, Edgar Renteria and the recently acquired Tino Martinez. Renteria completed the regular season with 82 RBIs, the highest for a Cardinal shortstop since Doc Lavan's 82 in 1921 while Pujols finished with 127 RBIs, one behind National League leader Lance Berkman. In doing so, Pujols became the first batter since Ted Williams in 1939-40 to drive in more than 250 runs in his first two seasons (257). On the mound, Matt Morris led an injury-plagued Cardinals rotation compiling another All-Star season with a 17-9 record and a 3.42 ERA in a team-leading 32 starts.
Their opponents, the defending World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks, had just completed another record-breaking season that was highlighted by league leading performances both on the mound and at the plate. Manager Bob Brenly led the National League in the All-Star game at Milwaukee's Miller Park where D'Backs ace Curt Schilling started for the NL and teammates Damian Miller, Junior Spivey, Luis Gonzalez, Kim and Johnson were also selected. Greg Colbrunn later became the second player in team history to hit for the cycle and "The Big Unit" continued to come up "big" as Randy Johnson picked up his fourth consecutive NL Cy Young award. On September 4th, Johnson tossed a three-hitter to move past Bert Blyleven and into fourth place on the all-time strikeout list. It was also Johnson's 20th win, making he and Schilling only the 6th pair of teammates (since 1950) to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons. Both aces also combined to set a Major League mark as the only teammates in MLB history to record 300-plus strikeouts in the same season.
"Shocking" would be the only word to describe Game 1 in which the underdog Cardinals tagged starter Randy Johnson en route to a 12-2 triumph. Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen both hit two-run homers off baseball's best pitcher as St. Louis scored six times in the 7th-inning. Johnson fell to 0-7 in his last seven Division Series starts and, despite winning his five prior playoff appearances, sported a disappointing 7-8 career postseason record. The Card's Matt Morris started off a bit shaky himself, but later managed to regain his composure allowing 2 runs (1 earned) and 6-hits (in 6 innings) while walking 2 and striking out 3. Unlike the "blow-out" in the Opener, Game 2 turned into a real "nail-biter" going into the final inning. Once again though, the baseball gods (and Jack Buck) were smiling down on the Cardinals as Miguel Cairo singled in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth after five pitchers had combined on a six-hitter en route to a 2-1 victory. The third (and final) game once again spotlighted the play of Cairo who, filling in for the injured Scott Rolen, went 3-for-3 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs. With Rolen sidelined with a shoulder injury, Cairo (despite hitting just .250 during the season) justified manager Tony La Russa's faith. After knocking an RBI single in the 2nd, he was hit by a pitch and scored in the 4th. Later, he beat out an infield hit in the 6th and drove in an insurance run in the 8th with a double - the Cardinals' lone extra-base hit. Winning 6-3, St. Louis completed their third sweep in its last four Divisional Series and claimed their second NL Championship Series appearance in three years.
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