Bonds in contact with elite

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

September 05, 2004|By JOE CHRISTENSEN

Of all the mind-boggling numbers Barry Bonds is generating these days, two that pretty much sum up his dominance are these: 39 and 30.

Bonds has smashed 39 home runs this season and struck out just 30 times. Usually the big sluggers whiff a lot, too. A player hasn't finished a season with more home runs than strikeouts (with a minimum of 20 home runs) since George Brett went 24-22 in 1980.

Bonds came close in 2002, when he finished with 46 home runs and 47 strikeouts. He finished that season with a major league-record 198 walks. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) was 1.3807 -- also a major league record, and that's why some consider that the greatest offensive season of all time.

But get this: Bonds, who turned 40 in July, may be even better this season.

He entered yesterday with an OPS of 1.431 and 191 walks, putting him on pace to shatter both records.

So with Bonds marching toward 700 career home runs -- he has 697 -- all-time home run leader Hank Aaron isn't holding back with his praise.

"You have to put it in context, that he's probably one of the greatest hitters that ever played the game," Aaron said. "I've heard some people say [it was] Ted Williams, and Ted was great. Of course, Ted was the last player to hit .400. But who knows? If they pitched to Barry he might hit .450.

"You have to say in this generation -- and I'm sure it's going to be argued and debated among sportswriters and others -- people would say Babe Ruth was the greatest, and I wish them all the luck in the world, but you have put Barry a little past Babe Ruth."

Ruth had 714 career home runs, a number Bonds likely will pass early next season at the rate he's going. If you consider OPS as the best measure of a hitter's performance, as many baseball analysts now do, then Ruth had seven of the top 14 seasons in baseball history, peaking at 1.3791 in 1920.

Aaron had 755 career home runs, but his best OPS was 1.079 in 1971.

"I'm amazed by all of this right now, regardless," Bonds said in a rare candid interview with ESPN. "I'm amazed by it all. ... [People] say, `You should smile, you're having the greatest time of your life.' But if I start smiling I feel I'm going to be happy with what I'm doing. I don't want to lose focus."

Cy Young cases

In four weeks, the votes will be cast for the Cy Young Awards, and it could be a pair of left-handers, with Minnesota's Johan Santana winning in the American League award and Arizona's Randy Johnson in the National League.

Johnson is 12-12, but he leads the NL in ERA (2.71), strikeouts (242) and opponents' average (.189).

Since the Baseball Writers' Association of America began handing out two Cy Young Awards in 1967, a pitcher has led his league in ERA and strikeouts 19 times, and 14 times that has resulted in a Cy Young. A notable recent exception was Pedro Martinez, who lost the 2002 Cy Young to Barry Zito.

The Diamondbacks have scored two or fewer runs in 16 of Johnson's 29 starts.

"It's amazing what this guy's done this year," Arizona manager Al Pedrique said. "That record, 12-12, it shouldn't be that way."

In his past 17 starts, Santana is 14-2 with a 1.57 ERA and 163 strikeouts, and if those numbers aren't convincing enough, consider this list of pitchers he faced and beat in a recent seven-start stretch: Freddy Garcia, Martinez, Tim Hudson, Mike Mussina, Kenny Rogers and Bartolo Colon.

Another Floyd blossoms

Former Mount St. Joseph pitcher Gavin Floyd, 21, made his much-anticipated debut with the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night, and he wasn't the only member of his family who had a strong finish to his season in the Phillies' organization.

His older brother, Mike Floyd, 24, hit .297 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs from June through August at Single-A Clearwater, putting him in line for a promotion to Double-A next season.

Both Floyds were drafted in 2001, with Gavin going in the first round (fourth overall) and Mike going in the 22nd round. Mike teamed with current Texas Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira at Mount St. Joseph and then played at the University of South Carolina before signing with the Phillies.

"Since the day Gavin and I were drafted, our goal was to play together for the Phillies," Mike Floyd said. "I'll be the test to see if it happens."

Jottings

How strong is the Oakland Athletics' farm system? Five of their six minor-league teams either won the first-half title, lead the division now or both. The six teams were a combined 103 games over .500 through last week.

Former Orioles reliever Kerry Ligtenberg has posted a 6.58 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays after signing a two-year, $4.5 million contract. But Ligtenberg has been dealing with a bothersome left hip for months, and there were times he took the ball in a great deal of pain.

Talk about changing speeds. When 20-year-old Kansas City pitcher Zack Greinke retired the first 15 Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night, he threw one pitch at 96 mph (a fastball) and another at 50 mph (a curveball).

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