One thing about that Bobby Cox, he stays in character. Cox, the Atlanta Braves manager, hasn't given the first-place San Francisco Giants a shred of respect in this season's All-Star Game, and last night he ripped off a nation, as well.
Barry Bonds was a pure delight to the Camden Yards audience, doing all the things that got him here. Maybe it's greedy to say he should have played a little longer, but let's face it -- he should have. The National League needed him, to say nothing of the crowd, the television audience and the game of baseball itself.
Yesterday's Baltimore Sun typified the anticipation of Bonds' appearance, one column predicting, "You watch: Barry Bonds will define this All-Star Game. Hit the warehouse? Maybe. Drive in the winning run? More likely. This is his year -- no, his decade. He's going to do something special."
He did plenty. Bonds stepped up in the first inning against a murderous left-hander, Mark Langston, and hammered a double into the right-field corner. With Randy Johnson throwing in the third -- and Johnson would be positively unhittable -- Bonds hit a bullet to Cal Ripken.
In the bottom of that inning, Bonds came up with a new version of the "snatch" catch he's perfected, a play that irritates the purists but is perfect for All-Star theater.
Rolling now, Bonds came up in the sixth against yet another tough lefty, Jimmy Key, and doubled once again down the right-field line. But when he scored on Barry Larkin's sacrifice fly, the NL still trailed, 5-3. It seemed like a tough time to lose the best player in baseball.
"He was on fire," said Gregg Jefferies. "He's always on fire."
When Cox made a battery of changes for the bottom of the sixth, Bonds was one of the casualties. His old friend Bobby Bonilla was sent out to left. This wasn't exactly the crime of the century, but David Justice, Cox's right fielder in Atlanta, was still in the game, along with starting catcher Darren Daulton. Justice had been to the plate only twice to Bonds' three plate appearances, but the comparison was ludicrous. Justice, batting .242 on the season, shouldn't even have been here.
What did Cox have to say? Who even cares anymore?
Bonds' reaction was perfect. "We really wanted to win this for Bobby Cox," he said, referring to Cox's 0-4 record in the World Series and All-Star Game.
It was a calm, rational reaction, just like his own when he heard he'd be batting second; like Matt Williams' when Cox didn't invite him to the game; like John Burkett's when he learned he wouldn't start. The second-place Braves are a sleeping giant right now, and the Giants would like to keep it that way.
BONDS SEES DOUBLE
With two doubles last night, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record for most doubles in an All-Star Game. The players who share the record:
Player ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Year
Joe Medwick, Cardinals ... ... ... ... ... ... 1937
Al Simmons, White Sox ... ... ... ... .. .. .. 1934
Ted Kluszewski, Reds ... ... ... ... ... .. .. 1956
Ernie Banks, Cubs ... ... ... ... .. ... .. .. 1959
Barry Bonds, Giants ... ... ... ... ... ... .. 1993