Walker Doubles His Excitement

Times Staff Writer

Seven hundred ninety-seven feet.

Larry Walker has traveled a long way in the last two decades, from his first minor league stop in Utica, N.Y., in 1985 through Burlington, Canada, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville, Fla., and Indianapolis until he reached the majors with the Montreal Expos at the end of the 1989 season.

In 16 major league seasons, six with the Expos and parts of 10 with the Colorado Rockies, Walker reached goals most hitters can only dream of, a most-valuable-player award, three batting titles and a home run crown.

Yet, his ultimate goal was in the distance.

“You can take all the individual [stuff] and keep it,” he said. “Just give me the ring.”

Walker, 37, may finally get one. After making it clear to Rocky management that he had no interest in trade possibilities involving the Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins, Walker was dealt to St. Louis on Aug. 6 for three minor leaguers.


The distance to postseason glory had narrowed appreciably.

Seven hundred ninety-seven feet.

Walker’s only previous playoff experience was one he’d rather forget. It came in 1995 when the Rockies won the wild-card spot and faced the Atlanta Braves in the first year of the division series. The Braves won in four games and Walker batted just .214 (three for 14).

At times in Tuesday’s division series opener between the Cardinals and Dodgers, Walker struggled again. He struck out in the first against Odalis Perez, making him one for 16 in his career against the Dodger left-hander. In the fifth, Walker allowed a fly ball by Cesar Izturis to glance off his glove at the right-field wall, resulting in a double.

But all that was forgotten in the euphoria of an 8-3 Cardinal victory that included two home runs by Walker. The first, off Perez, disappeared into the right field seats 404 feet from home plate, sparking a five-run third inning that blew the game open.

The second, off Giovanni Carrara in the seventh, landed in the seats in right-center, 393 feet from home plate.

Seven hundred ninety-seven feet.

Each homer resulted in a curtain call from the fans. But that came as no surprise to Walker. In his first appearance in Busch Stadium after the trade, he received a standing ovation when he was introduced and another after his first plate appearance -- in which he struck out.

His new teammates are just as appreciative.

“With his credentials and personality, he would fit in anywhere,” Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny said. “We are just fortunate that we are the ones who got him.”


Said Cardinal third baseman Scott Rolen: “We were already a pretty formidable lineup. Now we’ve added a left-handed bat of MVP caliber.”

The Cardinal lineup is so formidable -- St. Louis having led the league in both batting average and runs scored -- that Walker bats second rather than in the middle of the lineup, where he did with other clubs.

No problem.

“I just try something to get on base two or three times,” he said. “I don’t have to go up there and hit home runs. Not with the big bombs we have behind me.”

Walker hit two of an NL division series-record five homers by the Cardinals. Just one game into the postseason, there’s still a long way to go before he can start thinking about being fitted for that ring. But he can take satisfaction from knowing that he’s seven hundred ninety-seven feet closer.