Giants, Cardinals begin NLCS
ST. LOUIS, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Barry Bonds leads the San Francisco Giants into Busch Stadium Wednesday night for Game One of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the American League, the Minnesota Twins continue their unlikely postseason run when they host the Anaheim Angels in Game Two of the Championship Series, one night winning the opener of the seven-game set, 2-1.
Both games are scheduled to begin shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Bonds broke out of a career-long playoff slump in a five-game NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, going 5-for-17 with three home runs, including a key blast in the series-clinching 3-1 win at Turner Field Monday night.
In the Braves game, Bonds won a playoff series for the first time in six tries.
"Obviously, performing well in the postseason gives him more confidence," said Matt Morris, the Cardinals' starting pitcher in Game One. "We don't need him to have any more confidence than he has already."
Over the past two seasons, Bonds has become one of the most dominant figures in the history of the sport, setting single-season records for homers (73), walks (198), intentional walks (68), on-base percentage (.582) and slugging percentage (.863).
Even at age 38, Bonds, who shows no signs of slowing down, this past became the oldest first-time winner of a batting crown, hitting .370.
"Man, he's like a good wine," said Morris, who has held Bonds to a .154 batting average. "He seems to get better and better. It's phenomenal what he's doing now."
Even so, Bonds has help.
"I look at the Giants and I see a very well-balanced team," said Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa. "They have got a glittering superstar that's the most dangerous player playing, but they also have a very good team around him."
The Cardinals might have the best lineup of the four teams remaining in the postseason. It contains scrappy Fernando Vina, Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and playoff-tested Tino Martinez stacking the middle of the lineup.
"They have some speed, they have some scrappers, they have some guys that can hit you out of the park, they have some guys that can make contact," said Giants Manager Dusty Baker. "They have a well-balanced attack."
Illinois native Kirk Rueter will start Game One for San Francisco. Ironically, he grew up a Cardinals fan. The lefthander has had great success against his hometown team, going 9-3 with a 2.72 ERA against the Cards, with a 5-0 mark and 2.28 ERA at Busch.
"It's always good to be back home, just to sleep in my own bed and go see my 'Shed' and get to see all of the family and friends that I don't get to see for eight months out of the year," he said. "I always enjoy coming back."
Morris has had almost as much success against the Giants, going 4-2 with a 1.59 ERA. He also has outpitched NL Cy Young Award favorite Randy Johnson of Arizona in the NLDS, and has a 1.62 ERA in seven career postseason appearances.
"It's going to be a great challenge, but I look forward to it," said Morris, who won 22 games in 2001. "I faced them a couple of times during the year and had some success, so I have some confidence going into it."
The Metrodome also will be rocking Wednesday night, especially after the Twins took Game one of the ALCS. Minnesota improved to 13-2 all-time in the playoffs at the Metrodome, 2-1 this year.
In the postseason for the first time since they won the 1991 World Series, the Twins turn to veteran righty Rick Reed against Ramon Ortiz as they try to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Gillick stays with Seattle
SEATTLE, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Pat Gillick will remain vice president and general manager of the Seattle Mariners after signing a one-year contract Wednesday.
No financial terms of the deal were disclosed.
Gillick has spent the last three years in Seattle, helping build the Mariners into an imposing power in the American League West.
In his first two seasons, Seattle advanced to the AL Championship Series, with the Mariners matching a major league record in 2001 with 116 victories.
This past season, Seattle won 93 games, the second-highest total in franchise history, but finished third in the division.
"I'm really enjoying my time with the Mariners," said Gillick, whose previous contract expired at the end of the 2002 campaign. "Seattle has great fans, a committed ownership group, and a terrific ballpark. When I came here I said I wanted to take this team to the next level. That's still my goal."
Gillick, 65, has 28 years of experience as a baseball front office executive, beginning with Houston in 1963.
After working with the Astros and the New York Yankees, he became responsible for all baseball related activities for the expansion Toronto Blue Jays and helped guide them to Eastern Division titles in 1985, '89, 1991-93, and consecutive World Series crowns in 1992 and '93.
In 1996, he went to Baltimore. His first two years there were as general manager, coinciding with the Orioles reaching the American League Championship Series. They won the AL East in 1997.
"As I've said before, Pat is quite simply the finest general manager in baseball," said Mariners President Chuck Armstrong. "He has achieved success on the major league level the past three seasons, while building a strong minor league system for future success. We're very pleased to have him back for the 2003 season."
He has his hands full in the immediate future.
Decisions have to be made on four free agents, including designated hitter Edgar Martinez and first baseman John Olerud, and a reportedly disgruntled manager in Lou Piniella.
Rockets reach verbal accord with Ming
HOUSTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The Houston Rockets have reached a verbal contract agreement with 7-5 center Yao Ming, the top overall pick in this year's NBA draft.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that Ming will receive more than $3.8 million during his rookie season in an $18 million deal that includes a team option for a fourth year.
Under terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement, Ming, 22, will collect a minimum of $10.26 million over three years for being the top draft pick. All players taken in the first round have a club option for a fourth season.
The reported deal is subject to approval by the China Basketball Association, which indicated it would address the issue after the Asian Games. Ming is playing for China in Korea at the tournament, which is set to end Oct. 14.
"We expect that he will be able to come to the United States shortly after the Asian Games have concluded on Oct. 14," said Rockets General Manager Carroll Dawson said in a statement.
In four years of the league's current labor deal, no first-round draft pick has ever remained unsigned in a financial holdout at the start of the season.
Houston opens the regular season Oct. 30 at Indiana.
Packers put Johnson on injured reserve
GREEN BAY, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The Green Bay Packers have signed free agent defensive back Bryant Westbrook, most recently with the Dallas Cowboys.
The signing was announced by General Manager and Coach Mike Sherman, who also said defensive end Joe Johnson has been placed on the injured reserve list. Westbrook takes Johnson's roster spot.
Johnson tore his left triceps Monday night against the Chicago Bears. On the defense, he joins end Vonnie Holliday, who is out until at least mid-November with a torn pectoral muscle.
"It's a loss for us," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell told the Green Bay News-Chronicle. "The way Joe was playing, each game it looked like he was progressing."
The 6-foot, 201-pound Westbrook spent his previous five seasons with the Detroit Lions, where he made a total of 12 interceptions and 208 tackles.
The Packers also have terminated the contracts of three practice squad players: wide receiver Corey Parchman, defensive end John Gilmore (injured) and offensive lineman Al Jackson.
In their places, the Packers re-signed defensive back Todd Franz, and added defensive back Brandon Jennings, a third-year free agent cut recently by the Oakland Raiders, and offensive lineman Mitch White, a rookie free agent out of Oregon State, who has been on the rosters of the New Orleans Saints and New York Jets.
Tampa Bay releases Jones
TAMPA, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dumped defensive end Marcus Jones from the injured reserve list. The move brought an end to Jones' seven-year tenure with the team.
Jones had been placed on IR Sept. 1, when the Bucs reduced their roster to the regular-season limit. The former University of North Carolina star suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the team's third preseason game Aug. 24 against Washington.
Before 2002, Jones had been a starter for the Bucs for the previous two seasons at both defensive end positions.
In 2000, a career year, he recorded 13 of his 24 career sacks while starting all 16 games.
At the conclusion of the 2001 season, during which he started the first 15 games before suffering a shoulder injury, Jones was placed on the team's five-man unprotected list for the Houston Texans expansion draft, but was not selected by the Texans. He also had been left unprotected for a similar draft for the Cleveland Browns in 1999, after struggling through his first three seasons as a Buccaneer, but was not selected then either.
"Marcus just didn't fit into our plans," a Bucs official, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Tampa Tribune.
His agent, Greg Williams, said the release was not a surprise.
"He was put on the expansion list twice, he was on IR with the understanding that he had to sign a new deal or be released," Williams said. "He's reconciled to the outcome. Marcus has been there for seven years and has worked very hard, but perhaps it's in his best interest to move on."
Jones' $1.5 million base salary this season was set to escalate to $2 million in 2003. His release will provide some salary cap room because the remainder of this year's salary won't count against the cap.
Jones originally joined the team as the second of two first-round picks in 1996, along with California defensive end Regan Upshaw out of California. He was the 22nd player selected overall that year.
Jones had been supplanted in the starting lineup by Greg Spires. Through five games this season, Spires has 14 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in helping Tampa Bay to a No. 2 overall ranking.
Jones is now a free agent who can try to latch on with another team.
Utah changes quarterbacks
SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- When Utah plays at San Diego State Saturday, sophomore Brett Elliott will get the first start of his college career.
The 6-3, 194-pounder, who has played briefly in two games, Indiana and Air Force, is 0-1 passing. He came to Utah in 2000 after a prep career at Lake Oswego High School in Lake Oswego, Ore, where he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior.
Elliott, 20, who redshirted his first year at Utah and directed the scout teams in 2001 before moving into the two-deep roster this fall, has led the Utes in practice this week.
"I feel so much more confident," said Elliott, after calling signals, passing to the top receivers, and handing off to the Utes' top running backs. "It makes all the difference in the world."
Elliott can hardly mask his excitement about starting.
"I hope it brings energy," Elliott said. "That's my goal, to get everyone excited about playing. It's been a long time. I haven't started since 1999 (in high school). I'm excited to have pre-game jitters. I've just got this good feeling in my stomach. It brought back memories of high school."
"We made up our minds to take a look at these two guys (last week), and Lance was in the equation," said McBride. "This is not set in stone, but it's what we're doing today. We wouldn't change unless we felt we could get something more."
Ironically, Smith, a 6-4, 185-pounder, hails from nearby LaMesa, Calif., played at Quaalcomm Stadium while in high school, and will see some playing time against the Aztecs.
Junior Lance Smith, who has started at quarterback the past 20 games, dating back to Nov. 13, 1999, has been demoted to third string.
Utah (2-3), which won its first two games but now has a three-game losing streak, will try to keep SDSU (0-5) winless.