Bonds unable to strike as Padres throw balls

Slugger remains at 69 after San Diego pitches carefully around slugger

October 01, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - Barry Bonds didn't hit a home run yesterday. He didn't tie Mark McGwire's single-season home run record. He didn't do much of anything, because the San Diego Padres wouldn't let him.

Talk about an anticlimax. The San Francisco Giants superstar saw a total of 11 pitches in four trips to the plate, and only one of them was anywhere near the strike zone.

Bonds, who homered in each of the first two games of the weekend series at Pacific Bell Park, walked twice and was hit by a pitch. He swung the bat just once - in the third inning - and grounded out to the shortstop.

Obviously, the Padres had grown tired of watching his amazing home run chase from such close range. Padres pitchers had given up 11 of the 69 homers that have put Bonds at the threshold of one of baseball's most coveted records, and four of the past five. Enough was enough.

The strategy was questionable - the Padres even walked Bonds on four pitches with two on and none out in the fifth inning with a two-run lead, breaking the cardinal baseball rule against voluntarily putting the potential tying or winning run on base - but it worked.

The Padres held on to score a 5-4 victory and avert a three-game sweep that would have enabled the Giants to creep to within one game of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.

The sellout crowd of 41,669 came hoping to see a favorite son make history. The national media packed the press box. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig even flew in for yesterday's game, just in case Bonds hit a pair of home runs to tie and eclipse McGwire's 3-year-old record on the same day.

Talk about an anticlimax, indeed.

"Some clubs pitch around him more than others," said manager Dusty Baker. "This is a club that he has hurt quite a bit. We'll just see what happens in Houston."

The Giants travel to Enron Field to open a three-game series against the Houston Astros tomorrow night, and there will be a lot more at stake for both teams than just the Bonds home run pursuit. The Astros suddenly find themselves in a close battle with the surging St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central title. The Giants are running out of time in their attempt to close a two-game gap with the Diamondbacks.

In fact, the Astros may have even more reason to avoid the strike zone when Bonds comes to the plate.

"We'll see," Baker said. "They may be justified [in pitching around him], but Jeff Kent is swinging the bat well now and it will depend on the rest of our lineup."

Bonds had raised expectations with home runs in each of the first two games of the series - and five homers in his previous six games - but the dozens of boats that turned McCovey Cove into an aquatic parking would wait in vain for the ultimate splashdown.

The crowd got increasingly testy as the game progressed, erupting with a huge negative reaction when reliever Jose Nunez plunked Bonds on the elbow with a fastball in the seventh. Fortunately, Bonds was wearing an elbow protector and was not hurt.

The weekend also could have been historic for Padres outfielder Rickey Henderson, who arrived at Pac Bell Park needing two runs to break Ty Cobb's all-time record and five hits to reach 3,000. He got a couple of unimpressive hits but never came close to the record-tying run.

Retiring superstar Tony Gwynn, making his final appearance as a player in San Francisco, came up empty in three pinch-hit at-bats, but was honored in an affectionate ceremony before the game and treated to a series of warm ovations throughout the weekend.

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