In blink of eye, Bonds puts his unique gloss on a loss

October 13, 2002|By LAURA VECSEY

SAN FRANCISCO - The Giants dealt themselves a wasteful setback in their quest to play their first World Series since 1989 by losing to the Cardinals yesterday - but not Barry Bonds.

Whatever it is he's doing this October - and Bonds is constructing a private game within these playoff games - he was viper-like, efficient, dangerous beyond compare.

Not a bad way to attack the quest of dressing up a Hall of Fame career that begs for some gaudy October bunting, especially on a California afternoon that seemed dreamed up by the baseball gods.

Bonds, bad public persona and all, has already reserved a place among those immortals. That would be the season-record 73 homers, the record for walks and highest slugging percentage for which he has now bested Babe Ruth.

It is not exactly the House That Barry Built, but yesterday, Bonds showed why his indescribable numbers tell you only a piece of his baseball story.

The real truth about the danger he poses can only be discerned live, in person, in real time, when Bonds strikes with the quickness and power of no one else before him. Anyone at Pac Bell Park yesterday will attest to the fact that while the Giants lost, Bonds didn't - not completely, anyway.

It was as if Bonds told himself it was not going to happen again.

Not one more fastball was going to pass through the slightly expanded strike zone Bonds indulged himself with yesterday. If the Cardinals were going to give him anything resembling a strike, Bonds was going to crush it.

Lord, did he ever.

In the fifth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series yesterday, with two men on base, Bonds had a 1-0 count against Cardinals veteran lefty Chuck Finley. So what if Bonds had not faced Finley all year?

"He was kind of their secret weapon," Bonds said.

So what? It was time, especially after the Giants had squandered so many chances to manufacture runs early in the game.

In the first inning, with leadoff man Kenny Lofton on second base, Bonds was walked on four consecutive pitches. Not an intentional walk, but then again, yes, intentional.

In the second, Bonds faced Finley with the bases loaded and Finley decided to come after Bonds, with nowhere to put the slugger. Finley got lucky when Bonds mis-hit a fastball for a pop fly to shallow right, ending the inning.

So in the fifth, with the sun-drunk sellout crowd at Pac Bell Park chanting and shaking their orange pompoms, Bonds hammered a three-run shot into the chilly waters of McCovey Cove - a blast that tied the game at 4.

"I thought it was a pretty good pitch and he hits it into the bay. That shows you how incredible Bonds is," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

It was a postseason homer that froze another October moment that Bonds is adding to his career affirmations - as if he needs them, really.

That the Giants didn't take the monstrous surge of energy and emotion that Bonds generated and knock these Cardinals into an impossible 0-3 hole is something they will have to live with. They are up 2-1, with postseason whiz Livan Hernandez on the mound for them today. Hernandez is 6-0 in postseason starts and the Giants, at home, still feel like the team with the momentum in this series.

"They're a good team. We can't beat them every game," Bonds said, failing to amplify the fact that the Giants did as much to beat themselves.

In the seventh, with shortstop Rich Aurilia on second base after clocking a long double to the center-field wall, Jeff Kent struck out. Bonds was then intentionally walked. Kent's failure to be selective, to either work a walk or move the runner over, probably cost the Giants a run on Benito Santiago's single. After that, Reggie Sanders struck out and J.T. Snow grounded out, leaving the bases loaded.

When they take the bat out of Bonds' hands, the Giants understand that someone else has to make it happen - something they did well during their two victories in St. Louis, when Santiago and Aurilia got the fat pitches the Cardinals refused to throw to Bonds.

Yesterday, though, Bonds got a whiff of at least two pitches he wanted. One of them he nicked for the pop fly that frustrated and inspired him; the second one a 1-0 ball that he drilled over the outstretched hands of fans and the wall in right field. Splash.

"You never know," Bonds said about the homer that should have been the catalyst for a Giants win and a series lead as dangerous and decisive as what Bonds does.

"It just changes the mood in the dugout. It gets everyone fired up in the dugout, but then Jay [Witasick] just went out and gave up [the game-winning] homer to [Cardinals left fielder Eli] Marrero," Bonds said.

It's not easy to warm up to what the greatest living slugger is doing this October, not after the way he's grumped through so much of his Hall of Fame career. He gives so little reason to embrace him - except if you are sitting in the Giants spectacular, sun-drenched ballpark and your eyes are quick enough to follow the crack of the bat, the sound of the splash.

Gone, goodbye. Faster than light. Amazing.

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