Giants can begin to cash Bonds into wins

On Baseball

June 13, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Barry Bonds is back. Now, the San Francisco Giants appear to be in perfect position to reassert themselves at the top of the National League West standings, not that they were ever far away.

The Giants were a respectable 25-22 while Bonds was recovering from elbow surgery and lost only two games in the standings to the healthier Arizona Diamondbacks over that period. Now that Bonds is back -- three weeks ahead of schedule -- manager Dusty Baker has to feel good about their chances of upsetting the big spenders in the National League West.

"You've got to commend these guys for closing the circle and staying so close," Baker said. "Our pitchers have dropped their ERA by a point and a half. Our bullpen has tightened up and our defense has tightened up.

"The way I look at it, we were without Barry, Mark Gardner and Bill Mueller for a long time. Here we are two games back of a team [Arizona] that has three hitters in the top 10 in home runs and RBIs. If you look at the stat sheet, they're killing us, and we haven't hit our stride yet."

Of course, the Diamondbacks still look like the superior team on paper. They continue to mash the ball and have the pitching depth to hold their own with anybody, but the Giants could benefit from a huge emotional lift when Bonds hits his stride.

He still has some catching up to do at the plate -- he was clearly out of sync in his first game back Wednesday -- but it probably won't be long before he re-establishes himself as one of the dominant hitters in the game.

"We're fortunate to have him back as early as we do," Baker said. "How many games do we have left -- 102? I wouldn't want to go 102 without him. You don't get 30 games under your belt in one day. Barry just has to go out and play."

Of course, there have been instances in which the long-awaited return of an impact player has had the opposite effect on a team that held the fort in his absence, but the Giants have displayed the kind of well-rounded offensive chemistry that can only get better with Bonds back in the middle of the batting order.

More crooked numbers

In a year of inflated home run totals, the Chicago Cubs own one of the most dubious distinctions. Through 55 games, Cubs pitchers had given up 75 home runs, a pace that would add up to 221 over the full season -- or 23 more than the major-league record. And that's without the thin air that helped the 1996 Colorado Rockies earn that unenviable place in the record book.

It makes Sammy Sosa's league-leading total even more impressive, because he doesn't get to hit against his own pitching staff.

Professional discourtesy

No one ever accused Rickey Henderson of knowing when to shut up. He didn't play against Roger Clemens in the Subway Series last weekend, but he didn't pass up the opportunity to take a few verbal swings at The Rocket.

Henderson, drawing on memories of his glory days in Oakland, told reporters that the Athletics were happy to see Clemens in October, implying that the five-time Cy Young winner didn't handle the pressure of postseason play.

"We always got up on him," Henderson told reporters in New York. "When the pressure's on, we used to get him."

The ever-humble Henderson also went so far as dismiss the notion that Clemens is one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball.

"He ain't in my class, so how can anyone say he's intimidating?" Henderson said. "He isn't on that level yet. He hasn't been around as long as me. He hasn't done as much as me."

Since Henderson is baseball's all-time stolen base leader and Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the sport, there is little basis for a true comparison of the two. In fact, it's kind of like comparing apples and hot dogs.

Eight is enough

When the Diamondbacks scored eight or more runs in seven straight games recently, they became the first major-league team to do that in at least 48 years.

Stats Inc., researched the streak back to 1951 and found no other such streak. The longest was six games with eight or more runs, accomplished by the California Angels in June 1979 and the Rockies in May 1995.

The gambler

Apparently, Athletics pitcher Kenny Rogers has a little Kevin Brown in him. The veteran left-hander, who scuffed up his pitching hand in a celebrated scuffle with teammate Jason McDonald early this season, broke three telephones in a fit of rage after leaving a game against the Giants last weekend at 3Com Park.

The A's got a bill for $1,700 from the Giants to repair the damage, but Rogers viewed the incident as proof that he is making progress in his anger management.

"At least I was smart enough to use my right hand this time," Rogers said. "You learn from experience, I guess. I did it; I was upset."

Self-imposed pressure

Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling hasn't been the same since he blasted the club's ownership for lacking the commitment to put together a championship team.

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