Much ado about nothing
So far Bonds' L.A. story is more tame than tempest
Posted: Wednesday August 1, 2007 12:10PM; Updated: Wednesday August 1, 2007 1:11PM
LOS ANGELES -- The people who thought they had tickets to see Ultimate Barry Challenge at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday must have been quite surprised to instead be presented with ... a baseball game.
As B-Day approached - the day San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds would take his cuts at Hank Aaron's cherished all-time home run record in the place that most reviles him, a buzz filled Los Angeles.
BoycottBarry.com got play on talk shows and in print. Fans debated whether to cheer, boo or give Bonds the silent treatment with an intensity usually reserved for stadium parking polemics. (A serious discussion, in case you didn't know.)
The media parking lot was full roughly three hours before gametime, spilling its detritus elsewhere in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, where a sellout crowd queued to see a) what Barry would do and b) what the crowd would do.
Yet once inside, the atmosphere was less pitchforks and torches than Happy Valley County Fair. It was almost giddy. There was a buzz, but it was anything but threatening.
Bonds batted cleanup, leaving doubt as to whether he would come up in the first inning. When he came out to the on-deck circle for the first time, with two outs in the top of the first, there was hardly a reaction. Forget No. 755 -- this crowd seemed more interested in whether Dodgers starting pitcher Brad Penny could get out Ray Durham.
Instead, Durham singled, meaning that Bonds would begin his slow stroll to home plate. Immediately, the boos emerged from their nurturing cocoon. But there was no extra nastiness, nothing to indicate that this was much more than the most hated player for the most hated team. The Dodger Stadium scoreboard even offered Bonds an implicit sign of respect, presenting a graphic listing the three most recent all-time home run kings (Roger Connor, Babe Ruth and Aaron) along with the dates they held the title.
In short, for all those (including me, I have to emphasize) who feared chaos, there was none. And after Bonds took two called strikes before going down on a check swing, it looked for all the world like it was going to be the most carefree night in California.
When Bonds caught a second-inning fly ball hit by the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, some more lighthearted boos came his way. That seemed to alert the Dodger Stadium crowd that they didn't have to wait until Bonds batted to give him the business, and a "Barry sucks" chant gained some momentum. But again, Barry has seen a lot worse in this town -- and a second-inning single by Dodgers reserve Ramon Martinez (starting in place of injured ex-Giant Jeff Kent) brought the focus back to pro-Dodgers instead of anti-Barry.
The L.A. fans just wanted their team to win. And two batters later, Rafael Furcal singled in Martinez to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
It's not as if Bonds disappeared from view entirely. But his presence was felt in unexpected ways. After a walk, a double and a sacrifice fly by San Francisco tied the game in the top of the third, the Dodgers walked Bonds intentionally with a runner at third base and one out. The fans booed -- and clearly, it wasn't all booing Bonds for the sake of booing Bonds. After all kinds of pregame talk about people preferring to hit Bonds with a pitch rather than let him have a chance to break the record on Dodger turf, and even though the move made some strategic sense -- setting up a potential double-play while neutralizing what, to say the least, is Bonds' sac-fly power, most people wanted to see Barry take his swings.
As the innings passed on, as the Dodgers offense fell silent, and, perhaps, as alcohol took its own swings through the crowd, things got a little edgier. In the fifth, Bonds heard his first significant boos while still in the on-deck circle (a Durham groundout ended the frame).
Leading off the top of the sixth, Bonds got a louder round of jeers. Going after Bonds this at-bat, Penny missed high on a 3-1 pitch -- and threw his arms up in the air in protest of the call. This presented a perfect storm for those in attendance -- Bonds didn't get to swing for a chance to tie Aaron, Bonds got to reach base and a Dodger felt cheated on a call.
That storm dissolved into a drizzle. Penny, with a 13-1 record and a 2.51 ERA entering the game, suddenly couldn't find the strike zone, walking Ryan Klesko on four pitches. Bengie Molina singled to load the bases. And then Pedro Feliz drove another single to center field, scoring Bonds and Klesko.
Bonds' night ended on a bizarre note, when Joe Beimel fooled him enough to induce a pop fly to short left field with two out in the seventh. Shortstop Furcal, who was on the right side of second base for the typical Bonds shift, ended up running across the field to try and flag the ball, but dropped it. Ensconced at first with a two-run lead, Bonds departed for pinch-runner Fred Lewis.
With no record to be tied, all that was left to see was whether the Dodgers could rally against the last-place Giants' bullpen. Thousands headed for the exits before the game was over, though that is nothing unique to Los Angeles -- San Francisco fans themselves have been leaving home games early if Bonds takes a powder. The Giants' 3-1 lead held up, marking the 10th game out of 10 this season between these two teams that the road club has won. Bitter stuff for the home crowd to take.
Outside in the parking lot, Dodgers and Giants fans traded insults. Like they often do. What otherwise might have seemed uncomfortable now seemed quaint. For all the bottled-up bitterness, for all the genuine fear that an ugly scene might unfold, it was just a game. We'll see what happens if Bonds actually breaks the record on the road, but on this night, baseball won.