Bonds takes walk into history

70th HR still elusive, but 3 passes break Ruth's walk record

Baseball

October 04, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds made history last night, but it wasn't quite what he had in mind when he arrived at Enron Field this week with 69 home runs and a golden opportunity to challenge Mark McGwire's single-season record.

It would have been a perfect time to launch No. 70 and tie McGwire's three-year-old mark - the 50th anniversary of Bobby Thomson's dramatic "Shot Heard Round the World" that propelled the New York Giants to the 1951 National League pennant.

To Bonds, anytime now would be a pretty good time, since time is running short. He went homerless for the third straight game as the Giants beat the Houston Astros, 11-8. But Bonds did not go away emptyhanded in the history department.

Astros pitcher Tim Redding walked him in the fourth inning to tie Babe Ruth's all-time record for walks in a season at 170. Reliever Nelson Cruz walked him in the sixth to break a record that had stood since 1923, and Mike Jackson walked him intentionally in the seventh as the Astros' preoccupation with his home run potential led directly to their fifth straight defeat.

But if Bonds was frustrated by the lack of opportunity to swing for the ages, he tried hard not to show it.

"I'm not frustrated," he said. "We won. We played well."

What bothered him more was having to deal with the huge media contingent that now is shadowing his every move and insisting on his insights after every game, regardless of what he does or doesn't do.

"This is just not right," he said. "A lot of other guys did things tonight. This conversation is wrong. You need to give respect to my teammates."

The walk record seemed inevitable, since opposing pitchers have been trying to avoid Bonds all season.

Of course, the Astros had particular reasons for pitching around him, even if their plan to shut down baseball's most dangerous hitter backfired in each of the first two games of the three-game series.

They're locked in a first-place tie with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. Both the Astros and Cardinals are all but certain to end up in the playoffs - since both are three games ahead of the Giants in the wild-card race - but the importance of winning the division is amplified by the likelihood that the wild-card entrant will have to face Arizona Diamondbacks 20-game winners Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling back-to-back to open the playoffs.

Apparently, the plan going into the series was to keep Bonds in the ballpark at any cost, though Redding did pitch to him in the first inning and struck him out.

Twice during the first two games, the Astros have walked him to lead off innings and both times he has come around to score. They did it in the sixth inning last night with the game tied, a move that defied statistical logic.

Bonds already had started a two-run Giants rally in the fourth with a one-out walk, which was followed by a run-scoring double by hot-hitting Jeff Kent. The leadoff walk in the sixth also led to a pair of runs, with Kent providing a key hit.

The Astros couldn't help themselves. They walked Bonds to load the bases for Kent with one out in the seventh and Kent delivered for the third straight time - driving in two more critical runs as the Giants finally broke open a tight game.

"I felt that took the air out of the Astros," said Kent. "I felt that was the big hit for us, whoever hit it. It put us quite a few runs ahead and we needed a victory."

The Giants would go on to build an eight-run lead and then held on as the Astros tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Bonds finally got a pitch to hit in the eighth inning and lined an RBI single to center off reliever Mike Jackson, sending the record Enron Field crowd of 43,630 streaming toward the parking lots.

Kent's three-RBI performance gave him 100 for the season and served notice that the Astros may have to go after Bonds in the series finale tonight to avoid a sweep.

If they do, the home run record definitely will be back in play, since Bonds owns a career .478 batting average against scheduled Houston starting pitcher Dave Mlicki.

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