San Francisco Giants: Remembering that Series from 1997
By Jeff Young
It has been 21 years since the 1997 season. However, this season remains as one of the great seasons in San Francisco Giants history.
It sure does not feel like it has been 21 years since that memorable season for the San Francisco Giants, but it has. My memory of this season is now old enough to legally drink.
When this season began, the Giants did not have expectations of going to the playoffs. They struggled in 1996 and traded away a fan favorite in Matt Williams.
This trade forced San Francisco Giants General Manager Brian Sabean to remind us that he was not, in fact, an idiot — thanks, Brian.
Anyways, we are approaching the 21st anniversary of a pivotal series from that season. On September 17, 21 years ago, the Giants faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a critical two-game series.
Both the Giants and the Dodgers were competing for a playoff spot. This made for fun baseball in September. There were only two weeks left in the season. So, this series could be seen as a momentum-builder toward the end of the season.
On September 17, 1997, the Giants and Dodgers engaged in a pitcher’s duel. Both of the starting pitchers, Kirk Rueter and Chan Ho Park, were excellent.
Park was a good, young pitcher at the time. Though, he never really fully realized his potential. However, he did sign a huge contract with the Texas Rangers, but never really panned out for them.
Rueter, in Rueterian fashion, lived on the corners and prevented hard contact — that is what Reuter did.
Both Rueter and Park allowed one mistake as each one gave up a home run. However, the Park gave up a bigger mistake than Rueter that night.
Bonds hit a home run with a runner on base. Whereas, Raul Mondesi hit a solo shot. Mondesi was a talented player. However, from the Giants standpoint, he had the likability of pineapple on pizza.
This was actually a boring game despite both teams vying for a playoff spot. The Giants won 2-1 that night, and came within one game of the Dodgers for first place in the National League West. The theatrics took place the next day.
Now, the game on September 18 got off to a favorable start for the Giants. By the fifth inning, the Giants had a compelling 5-1 lead. However, blown saves and bullpen meltdowns are not anything new. The Giants welcomed the Dodgers back into the game.
Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, and Todd Zeile played a role in staging a late-game comeback. Sure enough, the Dodgers tied it up by the seventh inning. Piazza, annoyingly, hit a home run to even the score. This would be the last run scored before Brian Johnson stepped to the plate in the 12th inning.
Before Johnson’s heroics, Rod Beck had a huge moment. Well, it was a moment he set himself up for. In the 10th inning, Beck loaded the bases on three consecutive singles. The game felt like it had shifted back in the Dodgers favor.
However, Beck was no stranger to torture — he set himself up for this. And, he had the mentality to believe he was going to get out of it as well. Sure enough, he did.
Beck got Zeile to strikeout, and induced an inning-ending double play from future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray. It was wild that he could get out of that inning unscathed. Especially, considering how good that Dodgers lineup was.
That afternoon, Candlestick Park was playing much like AT&T Park plays today. The wind was harshly blowing in. And, the dimensions were never too friendly to hitters. These were brutal circumstances.
Jeff Kent came up to the plate in the 11th inning and scorched a ball to left field. It had the look of a walk-off home run. Kent read it as such too. Only, it fell several feet shy of the fence. The wind and spacious dimensions had kept that ball in the ballpark.
The game continued. Beck pitched a quiet 11th inning. The same Beck who felt the need to load the bases the inning prior, only to get out of that jam. Beck helped contain the Dodgers offense for three innings. Yes, relievers commonly threw multiple innings back then.
Then, the 12th inning came. It was a short inning, and it was a glorious inning. Johnson ripped the first pitch he saw, watched it leave the park, and raised his arms up in celebration as he rounded the bases for a walk off home run.
The San Francisco Giants did not win the division that afternoon as there were two more weeks of baseball left. However, it felt like the momentum from that season shifted in the Giants favor for good. They swept a pivotal two-game series against their division rivals.
Once they took hold of the division, they never looked back. The 1997 Giants were a fun team to watch. This team had a lot of turnover from the previous season, and expectations were modest at best.
However, that did not stop them. Their offense was potent, and their pitching was just good enough to keep them in games.
They surprised everyone by the end of the season. And, that surprise, especially from this 2-game series against the Dodgers, is why we continue to remember them 21 years later.