With Bonds, Angels walking a fine line

Baseball: The American League champs are trying to decide how to pitch to the game's most feared slugger.

World Series

October 17, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - And so it begins again. The Anaheim Angels go through their daily workouts in anticipation of their first World Series appearance, and all anybody wants to know about is Barry Bonds.

The St. Louis Cardinals chose not to pitch to the San Francisco Giants slugger in the National League Championship Series, which contributed mightily to their impending presence on the wrong side of the television screen this weekend. The Angels still are pondering what they will do when Bonds comes to the plate in the 98th Fall Classic, which opens Saturday night at Edison International Field.

They saw what happened in the Division Series, when the Atlanta Braves went after Bonds and his three home runs shook him out of a career postseason funk.

The Angels also are well aware of what happened when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa took a more conservative approach and handed veteran catcher and unlikely No. 5 hitter Benito Santiago the Most Valuable Player trophy in the NLCS.

Which leaves the questions still hanging like so many of the curveballs that Bonds deposited in McCovey Cove this year. If you're an Angels pitcher, do you walk tall or tread lightly when the big guy steps into the batter's box? If you're Angels manager Mike Scioscia, do you turn your staff loose and let the baseballs fall where they may? Scioscia was non-committal yesterday. The Angels still are crunching their advance scouting information on Bonds and the rest of the Giants' lineup.

"We're going to look at the matchups and see what worked," Scioscia said. "Every staff is going to be unique, so you have to look at the matchups. If the situation dictates, and you like the matchup, you lean toward going after Barry. Other times, you have to use discretion."

La Russa looked at the matchups and chose 10 out of 21 times to pitch around Bonds or walk him intentionally. When Bonds did get a chance to hit, he had just three hits in 11 at-bats, but he did deliver a game-tying three-run homer in Game 3 and drove in six runs in the series. When he walked, somebody else generally stepped up to make the strategy look ill-advised - most notably Santiago.

If Scioscia views the outcome of the NLCS as cautionary, he indicated that it won't determine what the Angels do with Bonds.

"It doesn't matter what another manager did," he said. "He's got a different set of tools."

Most National League managers like to sidestep Bonds when they can. He walked a major-league record 198 times during the regular season, and generally the outcome favored the conservative approach. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he scored only 34 times off those walks and - very interestingly - scored only three times off his 68 intentional passes.

Maybe the Cardinals did have it right and just got blindsided by the law of averages, but the difference between Bonds' .273 batting average in the NLCS and his .591 on-base percentage support the notion that there might be a better way.

Apparently, if most of the Angels' pitchers had their way, they'd take their chances in the strike zone.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," said Game 1 starter Jarrod Washburn. "I just hope we get everybody out ahead of him so he doesn't come up with men on base."

Washburn knows that there are situations when it makes sense to be very careful, but he's a young pitcher with a lot of confidence who wants to prove that Bonds is not Superman.

"I think every guy who makes it to the big leagues not only is talented, but very competitive," he said. "When you're growing up, you always dream of facing the big guys, and Barry Bonds is definitely one of them. For him to step up to the plate, and the situation calls for you to pitch around him, that's tough to do, but you have to check your ego at the door."

Look for the Angels to pitch around Bonds in obvious situations, but Scioscia probably will be less likely to go against the book and walk Bonds when he is representing the tying or go-ahead run.

"We haven't been scared of anyone all season," closer Troy Percival told The Los Angeles Times. "If I'm on the mound, we're going after him."

That would be consistent with the Angels' hard-charging style of play, but it would be a fool's errand to wade blindly into Bonds' wheelhouse. He is such a disciplined hitter that it's very difficult to throw a strike without giving him an opportunity to put the big part of the bat on the ball.

"He's not a guy you look forward to facing," said veteran starter Kevin Appier, the calming influence on the Angels' brash, young pitching staff. "He's going to put the ball in play and usually hard. There are going to be situations when you don't face him. If we do, we've got a chance to get him out ... just not as good a chance as some other hitters in the league."

NOTE: Giants manager Dusty Baker announced yesterday that right-hander Jason Schmidt will start Game 1 on Saturday night.

Schedule

Anaheim vs. San Francisco(Best of seven; *-if necessary)

TV:Chs. 45, 5

Saturday:at Anaheim, 8 p.m.

Sunday:at Anaheim, 8 p.m.

Tuesday:at San Fran., 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday:at San Fran., 8:30 p.m.*Oct. 24:at San Fran., 8:20 p.m.*Oct. 26:at Anaheim, 8 p.m.*Oct. 27:at Anaheim, 8 p.m.

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/baseball

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