Giants' Ballpark Given Credit

Friday, September 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Ellis Burks thinks some credit for the San Francisco Giants' stellar season must go to their splendid new home.

``It's great to play in a beautiful place like this,'' Burks said of Pacific Bell Park, where the Giants clinched the NL West title on Thursday night.

``This is the best ballpark in the game right now. Other teams come in here, and they wish they had a building this nice. That has an effect on a team.''

And what an effect. With essentially the same roster that missed the playoffs the previous two seasons, the Giants have baseball's best record with 10 games to play.

Their bats are hot, their pitching is frequently dominant and their frenzied fans are debunking the myth of mellow Bay area sports crowds. Some think there's a sense of destiny surrounding these Giants, who would like nothing better than to christen their new park with the franchise's first World Series title since 1954, four years before it moved from New York to San Francisco.

``We knew that this ballpark would give us an advantage,'' said Giants owner Peter Magowan, who led the charge to build Pac Bell with $319 million in private funds. ``There's a great fan-friendly atmosphere here. The players know that it's going to be sold out, and that's a boost.''

Even the Giants themselves were amazed at the ease with which they ran away with the West, one of baseball's strongest divisions. With their 8-7 victory over Arizona on Thursday night, the Giants have won 18 of 22 and are 54-22 the last three months.

No single player or group of players are carrying the Giants, either. San Francisco is second in the NL in hitting, second in pitching (with baseball's best ERA since the All-Star break) and solid in the field.

Everybody is making a contribution, whether it's Jeff Kent's stunning power numbers at second base (.335, 33 homers, 125 RBIs entering Friday) or Bill Mueller's sparkling defense at third. Starting pitchers Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz are both on second-half surges, and the bullpen has been versatile and dependable.

Even the late-season callups are getting into the action, with Baker joking that he'd like to see rookie pitcher Chad Zerbe record the division-clinching out. That honor fell to closer Robb Nen, who hasn't blown a save since July 2 and whose slider has been all but unhittable in recent weeks.

The Giants' success has even softened Barry Bonds, who will be competing with Kent for the NL's Most Valuable Player award after another standout season at 36.

Bonds, who has had prickly relationships with the media and fans throughout his career, now chats amiably with reporters while standing next to his easy chair in the Giants' locker room. On Thursday night, he shouted a three-word message for the fans celebrating the division title: ``I love you!''

``There's just an energy in this city these days, in this whole area,'' Bonds said. ``I drive to the supermarket nowadays, there's energy there about baseball — and not just for us. The A's are getting it, too. It's just great for the Bay area to have two good teams. It's a great atmosphere.''

The Giants' next order of business is keeping home-field advantage through to the World Series. Baker said the Giants don't care much about finishing with the best record in baseball, but they are keenly interested in having the NL's best record.

``There is a lot still at stake here,'' Baker said. ``There's a lot of potential travel for us that we can avoid. We don't want to go to Atlanta next week if we don't have to. That's a long trip to make.''

The Giants must play the Diamondbacks seven times in the season's final 10 games. As recently as a month ago, it appeared as though those games could decide both teams' postseason fates.

Now, with the Giants cruising toward the playoffs and Arizona slipping well behind the Mets in the wild-card race, they're all but meaningless. But don't tell that to the Giants.

``We've got a great opportunity here, and we don't want to blow it,'' Kent said. ``This season could be something special.''