Bonds back for another postseason runPosted: Monday September 30, 2002 9:18 PM
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Barry Bonds realizes time is running out.
At 38, Bonds has no more than a handful of chances left to carry the San Francisco Giants to the World Series. His life could change in the next three weeks -- or he could remain one of the greatest players never to reach baseball's biggest showcase.
According to Bonds, one of the most remarkable offensive seasons in baseball history was merely a prologue to the most important part of the year. Bonds isn't staying up nights worrying about his legacy, however; he's spending time with his batboy son, Nikolai, and hoping this is the year he's been waiting for.
"I have no nerves," Bonds said. "I think the playoffs are just more thrilling. You're more nervous on Opening Day. That nervousness is from having 162 games to go to the postseason. You do get excited about this part of the year."
The Giants, winners of the wild card with a 25-8 surge to close the regular season, headed to Atlanta to begin the division series against the Braves on Wednesday. It's a best-of-five series, of course, which means Bonds will get just a few chances to impact it.
That's why many of the Giants take issue with those who criticize Bonds for his .196 postseason average, which includes just one homer and six RBIs in five previous trips to the playoffs -- three times with Pittsburgh, including two losses to Atlanta in the early 1990s.
"In the playoffs, you don't get a lot of chances," said Benito Santiago, who hits behind Bonds. "You might get a couple of good pitches a night. You can't judge a guy on that. Everybody knows he's the best hitter out there. He doesn't lose it in the playoffs."
Few hitters have ever been more intimidating than Bonds was in 2002. He hit .370, winning his first batting title by 32 points over Colorado's Larry Walker. He's the oldest first-time batting champion in baseball history, and he also won the franchise's first batting title since the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958.
Bonds finished second in the NL to Sammy Sosa with 46 homers, and he was seventh with 110 RBIs and third in runs (117). He set major league records, too: His on-base percentage was .582, easily surpassing Ted Williams' record .553 in 1941, largely thanks to 198 walks, 68 of them intentional -- and many more of them unintentional in name only.
"It doesn't get any better than that," manager Dusty Baker said. "Passing Ted Williams in anything -- wow! He's at the top of his game. We couldn't have done this without him."
But there's a big problem with all of his numbers: Bonds is so obviously on a higher level than anybody else that it becomes ludicrous to allow him to beat you in a short playoff series.
"Whoever sees him in the playoffs, they're crazy if they pitch to him," said Houston's Lance Berkman, who will probably finish second to Bonds in the NL Most Valuable Player voting. "He's on a different level. He's the best there is. Why would you let him swing away against you in any big situation?"
Jeff Kent, who spent the second half of the season hitting in front of Bonds after 2 1/2 seasons hitting behind him, thinks runs are precious enough in the postseason that Bonds won't get walked very much -- but he also won't see many pitches that can be driven long distances.
Bonds also realizes that in the playoffs, he won't get the chance to victimize young pitchers who aren't properly wary of his abilities. Many of Bonds' homers and big hits come against pitchers who are convinced they can get their good stuff past Bonds, who usually proves them terribly wrong.
"Very rarely does the big guy ever play a part in one of these games," Bonds said. "You can never assume what they're going to do in this short of a series. Everything is a big if. ... The thing that's so different is that you're not hitting against inexperienced pitchers any more. You're hitting against the best."
And that's the kind of challenge Bonds never dodges. He's neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the Giants' chances to get past the Braves, who finished with the NL's best record. After 16 seasons without winning a playoff series, Bonds is just glad to have another chance to get his ring.
"It's a great position to be in, but these are little series," he said. "We've seen it before. I can have a five-game slump, I can have a seven-game slump, I can have a two-week slump. Anything can happen."