Bonds 2nd fiddle to Giants' pursuit

He stays at 69 HRs

4-1 win keeps alive NL West title hopes

Bonds plays 2nd fiddle as Giants beat Astros

October 03, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - For one night, at least, the Barry Bonds home run chase took a back seat to the National League pennant race.

The San Francisco Giants arrived at Enron Field last night desperately seeking to overtake the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West, but their 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros only allowed them to hold their place two games off the pace with five games to play.

The Astros' situation is not quite so urgent. They fell into a first-place tie with the surging St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, but need just one victory over the Giants to become the first NL team to clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth.

Of course, the baseball world was watching Bonds, who has 69 home runs and needs one more to tie Mark McGwire's single-season record, but the countdown remained at a standstill for the second straight game.

Houston starter Shane Reynolds didn't give him much of a chance, pitching around him in three of four plate appearances. Reliever Billy Wagner finally challenged Bonds in the ninth and got him on a sharp bouncer to first base.

Bonds, who had predicted before the game that the Astros would pitch him aggressively, stopped short of criticizing Reynolds, but did express surprise at the way he was handled.

"I was a little bit [surprised]," he said. "He didn't challenge me at all. In the past, he's maybe walked me once. But he's got to do what's best for his team.

"In a situation like this, we're both trying to accomplish the same thing. You've got to do what's best for your team, whether that means walking me or not walking me."

The San Diego Padres' pitching staff had proven the folly of throwing anything in the strike zone during the weekend series at Pacific Bell Park. Bonds homered on Friday and Saturday to power two Giants victories and move to the threshold of McGwire's record, so the Padres all but gave him the day off Sunday.

Bonds saw 11 pitches in four plate appearances and only one of them was a strike. The Padres won the game, a fact that apparently wasn't lost on the Astros.

Reynolds had handled Bonds pretty well during his career, holding him to a .235 batting average and two home runs in 34 at-bats, which led Bonds to forecast that the Astros would challenge him from the start.

"I don't know. Houston pitched to me last series," he said before the game. `They pitched to all of us last series and they still walked right through us. They have an outstanding ballclub and a very outstanding pitching staff. It would be a very difficult situation when they are that talented to really just overly pitch around a player."

So, what happened? Reynolds hit Bonds on the elbow with a pitch in the first inning and walked him on five pitches with a runner at second in the fourth. Bonds did see a couple of strikes in his first two at-bats, but Reynolds clearly was handling him with kid gloves.

Bonds finally took his first swing against Reynolds in the sixth inning and grounded a single through the middle of the infield. He was walked intentionally to load the bases in the seventh and then bounced out against Wagner in the ninth.

The strategy worked in the short run, but the Giants took advantage of a strong outing by starting pitcher Kirk Reuter and some timely hitting from elsewhere in the lineup to take a game they could not afford to lose. Even with the victory, time appears to be running short.

"We have to win," Bonds said. "Arizona and us have both played well, and - when we look back on it - both have lost opportunities. Unfortunately, they're two games ahead of us. We have what we have in front of us, and they [the Astros] have what they have in front of them."

If no historic home runs were to be had, the Giants did come up with a couple of less-anticipated historic moments unrelated to the home run chase.

Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia singled and doubled in his first two at-bats to become only the third player in San Francisco Giants history to get 200 hits in a season, and second baseman Jeff Kent set a franchise record with his 47th double of the year in the sixth inning.

The last Giants player to get at least 200 hits was Bobby Bonds, who had exactly 200 in 1970. Hall of Famer Willie Mays was the only other San Francisco Giant to do so, setting the San Francisco record with 208 hits in 1958 - during the club's inaugural season on the West Coast. The franchise record is held by Bill Terry, who had 254 hits for the New York Giants in 1930.

Kent broke Jack Clark's franchise record, set in 1978, but he probably was more pleased with himself for pounding the ball off the left-field wall and scoring Bonds from first base to give the Giants a two-run lead.

Giants starter Reuter turned in a strong pennant-race performance, holding the potent Astros lineup to one run on six hits through 6 1/3 innings to improve his record to 14-12.

Reynolds did not pitch poorly. He carried a shutout through the third inning, but allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in the next four innings, and three of them would come around to score.

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