Bonds tends to magnify the sum of all those Giants parts

October 15, 2002|By Laura Vecsey

SAN FRANCISCO -- They are not Barry Bonds. There is only one of this species. Only one man on the planet could make opposing managers sweat through hours upon tedious hours of endless second-guessing:

What do you do with Barry Bonds?

The problem is, no matter what scheme a baseball manager could devise to attempt to thwart the greatest, most dangerous living offensive threat in baseball, the San Francisco Giants turned out to be a force not to be denied.

The St. Louis Cardinals found that out last night.

They found out the hard way, again, losing the National League Championship Series, 4-1, after a Game 5 that had they won, could have staved off elimination. It was a game the Cardinals seemed to have in control, until they had to pitch to Bonds, who tied the game on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.

And not too much later, in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals were bombarded by the loudest possible message: Barry's Chorus is as deep and dangerous and melodic as the great slugger himself.

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 St. Louis 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 puts the game's greatest living player in his first World Series.

It felt like love last night when 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, like when battling teammates Jeff Kent and Bonds clutch each other's throats in the dugout -- as 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 to understand that without each other they weren't going anywhere.

That seemed to intensify during this postseason. Bonds and his Boys found a party line they could all toe with ease.

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, who just by his presence in the lineup catapults everyone around him to another level. That is why Cardinals manager Tony La Russa knew he had no choice this entire NLCS but to do what every other manager has done. Either avoid Bonds as much as possible or risk having Bonds be the one to crush the Cards.

"What we try to do. We don't go out there every at-bat just to take Barry out of the game. When it's real obvious that this is not the time that we should even try to be nasty with him, then you play around him to get to somebody else. That's part of having an asset like Barry Bonds. We went through it with Mark [McGwire in Oakland]. We won a lot of games because of Ray Lankford, after they walked Mark, Ray would do something big," La Russa said.

"Bonds is the most dangerous hitter in the game right now, and it's tough to walk in that clubhouse with giving him a chance to get the hit to beat you."

So they named Benito Santiago the MVP of the NLCS. So J.T. Snow and Santiago and Kenny Lofton got more "key" hits, more RBIs. Everyone knows why. Barry knows. His teammates know. All together, Bonds and everyone around him are a force. Now everyone else will know, too.

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