Bonds tends to magnify the sum of all those Giants parts

October 15, 2002|By LAURA VECSEY

SAN FRANCISCO - Members of the chorus sang again last night. It was Barry's Choir: David Bell, Shawon Dunston and Kenny Lofton. They sang loud and clear, just the way other chorus members like Benito Santiago, J.T. Snow and Rich Aurilia had sung before.

None of these baseball players is Barry Bonds. There is only one of this supernaturally special and offensive species.

Bonds is the only hitter on the planet who can make opposing managers sweat through hours of tedious worry and relentless second-guessing. Just ask St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: What to do about Barry Bonds?

Do something. Do nothing. Pitch to him. Pitch around him. Doesn't really matter.

Whatever Bonds can't do, his chorus will. And they did.

That's why, no matter what scheme a baseball manager uses to try to thwart the greatest, most dangerous living offensive threat in baseball, it turns out the San Francisco Giants are a greater force than what meets the eye. They will not be denied.

La Russa and the Cardinals found that out last night. And they found out the hard way, losing Game 5 by a score of 2-1 to lose the National League Championship Series, 4-1.

It was a game that the Cardinals seemed to have in control, until they had no choice but to pitch to Bonds, who tied the game on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.

Not too much later, in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals were bombarded by the resounding refrain that Barry's Choir has sung all of October. It is a song about how Barry and his choir are as deep and dangerous and melodic as any team in baseball, maybe the most dangerous, and that has everything to do with the way everyone in a lineup with Bonds tends to get elevated to a slightly higher, more dangerous plane.

David Bell? He was the man the Seattle Mariners did not want because he did not have enough pop in his bat. So the Mariners signed and traded Bell to the Giants last winter.

What does Bell do in the clutch? With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Bell singled.

Shawon Dunston? The veteran infielder was carried on the roster all season by Giants manager Dusty Baker, maybe because Bonds is friends with Dunston and maybe because Baker has a thing for pulling extra stuff out of grizzled veterans. Dunston, too, singled.

And finally, the pesky little leadoff man whom the Cardinals seemed to take certain delight in plunking - Kenny Lofton - drilled a first-pitch, line-drive single to right to do what Barry Bonds could not do all by himself. It was the game-winning, NLCS-winning RBI single that put the game's greatest living player in his first World Series.

By the time the screaming fans at Pac Bell Park were watching the Giants' celebratory huddle jump as one across the infield, it felt like love. It felt like one, big happy family as the Giants clinched their first World Series berth since 1989.

But this might have been the first ripple of anything like that. What it is exactly that the San Francisco Giants feel about each other has never been described as anything resembling affection.

Sometimes, as when battling teammates Jeff Kent and Bonds clutch each other's throats in the dugout - like the pair did during a late June scrum - it's clear that this is a team that does not take long romantic walks together.

The Kent/Bonds rift seemed to have all the earmarks of the kind of bad chemistry that is supposed to wreck a team. Bad chemistry is supposed to be the thing that prevents individual players from melding into a championship whole.

In 2001, the Bonds/Kent/Baker Giants legacy seemed to be etched when the bad blood between Kent and Bonds broiled under the bright lights.

"On the field, we're fine, but off the field, I don't care about Barry and Barry doesn't care about me. Or anybody else," Kent told Sports Illustrated in 2001, when Bonds was on his way to breaking Mark McGwire's single-season home-run record.

"Barry does a lot of questionable things. ... I was raised to be a team guy, and I am, but Barry's Barry."

But this is a team that, under Baker's loose influence, shrugged off conventional wisdom. They did not have to love each other, dine with each other, to understand that without each other, they were going nowhere.

That theme seemed to intensify during this postseason, as Bonds and his choir found a tune they could all carry.

Heck, Bonds even charged out of the dugout during Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, joining his teammates in a bench-clearing scrum after pitcher Mike Crudale's high and tight fastball to Lofton.

"I'm here to protect my teammates," Bonds said. And likewise, they are here to protect him, since it is the undeniable reality that the presence of Bonds guarantees opportunities of others to do some damage. That's exactly why, during the entire NLCS, La Russa knew he had no choice but to do what every other manager has done against the Giants this season: Either avoid Bonds, or risk having Bonds be the one to punish you.

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