10/02/2003 5:09 PM ET
For Rueter, just another game
MIAMI -- With his natural, country-kid charm, and mannerisms that seem more akin to a soda jerk in Happy Days than a world-class athlete, one might feel that Giants pitcher Kirk Rueter could lull hitters to sleep with just his disarming smile.
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
As in "Here comes the pitch, ol' buddy, whack it the best you can." Then the ball takes a nosedive, and solid contact turns into a splintery grounder or soft infield liner.
That's Rueter's modus operandi -- keeping the ball on the outside corner, never looking the least bit perturbed at whatever happens, always challenging batters when there are no men on, then trying a more finesse game when things get tight.
He's gonna get hit -- probably often -- in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium, starting at 1 p.m. PT on Friday, but if the 32-year-old left-hander is sharp, it'll mean more at-'em balls than atomic blasts.
Woody has given up his share of homers, no doubt, but they're usually nonlethal solo shots rather than multiple-RBI blows.
While Rueter may seem like the most laid-back man in the world, here he is on the eve of his most important assignment of the year -- a victory meaning the Giants are one step closer to the World Series, and defeat meaning that another loss and their postseason dreams go up in smoke -- and darned if the 10-year veteran nonchalantly says that Game 3 is just, in a sense, another game.
For that's Rueter's secret to success, why he has won at least 10 games in seven consecutive seasons, why he is closing in on 100 victories in a San Francisco uniform since 1996.
"It's still 60 feet, six inches to home plate, and you just try to keep your emotions under wrap and do what you've done your whole life," said Rueter. "I'm a pretty competitive person when it comes to anything -- cards, checkers with my wife or whatever it may be. I want to win. If it's April I put as much pressure on myself as I do when it's October.
"I think that has helped me in the past in playoff games," he added. "I want to win no matter what's at stake or what's on the line. I go about every game the same way, and that has helped when we've had stretches in August in September, battling down to the wire."
The Giants pitcher is confident that his nearly two-month hiatus from action because of a left shoulder strain has not hurt him but helped him, giving him valuable rest, lowered his inning count, made him fresh for Friday's contest.
"It gave me a chance or enough time to get back in a nice rhythm pitching," said the hurler. "Now, hopefully, I'm back to where I was before I got hurt."
Rueter had a sensational finish to what appeared to be merely a so-so year for him, logging a 2-0 record and 0.82 ERA in his last two performances. Strange season. He was 7-1 by June 6, didn't win another game until Sept. 10 and never lost after that.
Perfect timing for the Giants.
Veteran catcher Benito Santiago says that Rueter is a tough cookie in clutch situations, always able to bear down at critical times without panic, without fear.
"He never gives up, never gives in to the hitters," said Santiago. "He moves the ball around like he always does, then comes in with a great fastball. But he knows how to pitch, and if we have the communication going like we've done in the past, we'll be OK."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.