Sanders settles in with Cardinals

Thursday, April 29, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Finally, Reggie Sanders appears to have found a home.

The well-traveled outfielder is playing for his seventh team in seven seasons, and he's quickly reached a comfort zone with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The team's new right fielder is wrapping up a big first month -- he was second on the team with seven homers and 19 RBIs to go with a .324 average entering Wednesday night's game against the Phillies.

"Whenever you go to a new team, you want to start off well," Sanders said. "Even when you don't start off well, you still have to believe everything is going to be OK.

"But I think this has probably been my best start in a while."

Already, Sanders has a pair of two-homer games, and entering Wednesday he had six multihit games in a span of nine games. He led the team with six stolen bases in six attempts and was batting .450 with runners in scoring position.

"He's been outstanding," manager Tony La Russa said. "He gets big hits, plays good defense and can run the base."

Sanders, 36, came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 1991 and stayed there through the 1998 season. Since then he's played for San Diego, Atlanta, Arizona, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and now the Cardinals.

There have been at least two constants: throughout it all he's been able to stay in the National League, and he's been a consistent source of offense.

The past three seasons, Sanders has averaged 87 RBIs. Though he's been on the move, he's always been marketable.

"I've got to believe it's the economy," La Russa said. "Because everybody loves him."

And now he has a two-year contract with the Cardinals, providing a sense of stability.

"I'm glad we've got him for two years," batting coach Mitchell Page said. "Nobody else can get him for two years."

For now, Sanders is adding value by helping the team stay on an even keel with a calm, long view. The Cardinals were 3-8 at home after Tuesday's loss, but he knows there's a long way to go.

"You try not to think about it," Sanders said. "You would love to have a better record at home than on the road.

"But sometimes, situations like that happen. It will turn around, it's just a matter of when."

The Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series when Sanders was there in 2001. But he's convinced that this Cardinals lineup, featuring four 100-RBI producers from last year, is the best he's been a part of.

The Cardinals entered the night with a major league-leading 38 homers, they're averaging nearly six runs per game and were the first team in the majors to score 100 runs.

"We've just got to continue to work," Sanders said. "It's a long season and nobody said it was going to be easy, so it's a matter of going out there and trying to create situations to win ballgames.

"We'll be fine, we'll be fine."

La Russa has used Sanders at the top of the lineup -- hitting him second for early pop -- and at the bottom, adding a little thunder from the seventh slot. The first time he tried him at the No. 2 spot in spring training, Sanders responded with home runs in his first two at-bats.

So whenever the usual No. 2 hitter, Ray Lankford, is out, that means Sanders usually is in.

"They're kind of playing me periodically there when Ray's not in the lineup," Sanders said. "It's fine, I like it. Wherever he wants me to be, that's where I'm going to be."

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