With Bonds back in town, Pittsburgh goes on watch He scores 3, drives in 1, but Giants lose, 6-5

April 10, 1993|By Bill Modoono | Bill Modoono,Contributing Writer

PITTSBURGH -- It's a story as old as Andy Messersmith. Star meets town. Town loves star. Star leaves town. Star comes back to town, but in a different uniform.

Another version of that decades-old free-agent saga was played out at Three Rivers Stadium last night, with Barry Bonds playing the part of the prodigal star and the Steel City assuming the role of jilted lover.

Last night's dramatics were destined to take place as soon as Bonds signed a $43.75 million, six-year deal with the San Francisco Giants during the off-season and, in the process, left the Pirates behind.

What he did as a Pirate was impressive. Two Most Valuable Player awards and three National League East titles in his last three seasons. Near-universal acceptance as the best player in baseball. Even grudging appreciation and respect from a town that otherwise does not think much of athletes who wear earrings.

Not that any of that mattered when things got serious. Money talked, Bonds walked. Neither party even could feign surprise.

Nor was his effort last night surprising -- 2-for-4 with a double, triple, RBI and three runs scored. But it wasn't enough to stop the Pirates, who rallied for a 6-5 victory.

The winning runs came on a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth by Kevin Young, one of three Pirates rookies counted on to make up for the loss of Bonds.

Bonds didn't seem surprised that, when he got out of a taxi in front of the players' entrance to Three Rivers Stadium 2 1/2 hours before last night's game, a brigade of cameras was waiting to record his every move. Or non-move.

This being Pittsburgh, a full brigade means only four television camera crews, but TV cameras can be intrusive, regardless of number.

The cameras followed him into the Pirates clubhouse. Followed him as he hugged Randy Tomlin (last night's starting pitcher), joked with Andy Van Slyke and wrestled with Lloyd McClendon. The cameras even attempted to follow him into the office of Pirates manager Jim Leyland for what would have been a very public private conversation. But Leyland did not let the cameras enter.

And -- surprise! -- this was what bothered Bonds.

"That was bad," said Bonds. We couldn't even talk. That [the presence of cameras] takes all the fun out of it."

Bonds wanted to have fun last night, but it wasn't easy, and the cameras were only one reason. As many free agents before him, he felt certain he had done the right thing in leaving, but, still, not everything felt right. And coming back to Pittsburgh only made it seem less right.

"I miss it," he said in an impromptu news conference before batting practice. "It's hard to explain. When you leave home, you just miss it. I miss Pittsburgh. I had a lot of good times here. It's just hard."

In a sense, Bonds had conditioned Pirates fans for this day. His demands for more money and more recognition were annual events. As soon as he reached free agency, he was gone.

Which could explain the overall lack of venom last night from the crowd of 22,718. Last year, when former Pirate Bobby Bonilla arrived at Three Rivers in the uniform of the hated New York Mets, the reception was downright nasty. But Bonilla was a player Pirates fans thought might stay; Bonds was always a foregone conclusion.

When Bonds ran to his position in left field in the bottom of the first -- a spot where had won three consecutive Gold Gloves -- he was showered with confetti and given a standing ovation from a number of fans in the stands along the left-field line. Throughout the stands, the boos and cheers were about equal.

When he came to bat in the second, the boos increased, but cheers still could be heard clearly. The boos Bonds generated by reaching on an error by Tomlin were unrelated to free agency.

Nor was Bonds responsible for the boos that followed Tomlin's balk that sent him to second. Or for the negative reaction moments later when he scored the game's first run on a single by Robby Thompson.

Leyland got into a heated argument with umpire Harry Wendelstedt over the balk call, which was the only matter involving Bonds that he was willing to discuss last night.

By game's end, Bonds had evolved into just a guy in an enemy uniform capable of beating you with his bat, glove or legs. Or what he always has been to the rest of the National League.

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