ST. LOUIS -- Kirk Rueter, the Giants starter in Game 1, hails from nearby Hoyleton, Ill., and always has prospered at Busch Stadium; the Cardinals remain uncertain about Scott Rolen; Dusty Baker may be in his final days as Giants manager; the Cardinals carry uniform No. 57 into battle as if it were a flag, keeping alive the memory of Darryl Kile; Tino Martinez is at the threshold of the World Series, and the Yankees aren't; and the last time the Giants played in the World Series, Tony La Russa was in the opposing dugout.
The National League Championship Series, the Giants versus the Cardinals, is ripe with storylines, but each and all of them pale in comparison with all that swarms around Barry Bonds. The game's most dominant offensive player, buoyed by his first ever postseason success, is more than the primary figure in this two-team test. He and his quest for October grandeur are the most compelling elements of the NLCS and the only ones causing a buzz.
How will he be pitched? How will he react? What if he disappears as he did in the NLCS with the Pirates in 1990, '91 and '92? Will he shake the hand of even one teammate during introductions? "
"It's almost like it's Barry's series," Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina said. "And we're just here because you need two teams. We're not mad or ... jealous about it. But it is like he's more than one player." And in some ways, Bonds is. He asserted himself against the Braves in the NLDS as he never had in five previous postseason appearances. He hit three home runs, drove in the Giants' first run in Game 4 with a sac fly and made contact consistent with his stunning performance of the last two years. His own take on it is intriguing: "I'm just a ball player," Bonds said Monday night.
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