Redbirds plan to pitch Bonds carefullyPosted: Tuesday October 08, 2002 8:27 PM
Updated: Wednesday October 09, 2002 1:22 AM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Barry Bonds did his best, clanging shots off empty seats all over Busch Stadium, and still it was no use.
Because in this playful game of home-run derby, when he challenged Benito Santiago and J.T. Snow at the same time Tuesday, he lost.
"No fair," Bonds hollered as he paid the price, picking up loose balls in the batting cage as his teammates watched and hooted. "Two against one."
Suffice to say, the St. Louis Cardinals won't find it so easy to beat Bonds once the NL Championship Series starts Wednesday night.
Bonds reversed his playoff misfortunes and sent San Francisco into the next round, hitting his third home run of the series as the Giants beat Atlanta 3-1 Monday night in the decisive Game 5.
So naturally, nearly all the questions before the Cardinals-Giants matchup began the same way: What about Barry?
"Our goal here is not to put on an exhibition of how many times can you throw the ball down the middle and how many home runs he can hit, or how many times we can walk him and not compete," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
"We're not going to fall in the trap of ignoring all the Giants' assets," he said. "I prefer to think the Giants beat the Braves. Barry didn't beat the Braves."
Matt Morris, who's done exceedingly well against Bonds, gets the first chance at the home run champ and newly crowned batting king. Morris will start against Kirk Rueter in the opener.
"I would like to go after him every time, every at-bat if the situation called for it. But obviously I'm not going to do something to jeopardize the win or the loss," he said.
"I'm going to be careful, but I would love to get him out every time up also. So being a competitor, you don't want to get booed in your home park by walking him all the time," Morris said. "But being a winner, you want to do the right thing to win the ballgame also, and not let your ego get in the way of what you're trying to accomplish."
La Russa understood that approach.
"We saw it with Mark [McGwire]. You see it with Barry. It's a unique difference nowadays, when you get into a game and there's some fans that are there to see the individual perform," he said.
"I've got a feeling that there are a whole lot more of our fans who will boo Matt if he throws a hanging curveball down the middle or a nothing fastball down the middle and he hits a couple of home runs," La Russa said.
Bonds is hitting just .154 (2-for-13) with two doubles against Morris. And the Giants slugger has struck out four times while walking only once.
Jason Isringhausen has done even better. Bonds is 0-for-11 with three strikeouts and three walks against the Cardinals closer.
Isringhausen, along with most every other baseball fan, was well aware that Bonds struggled in past playoffs before this year. He had hit a paltry .196 with one homer and six RBIs in 97 at-bats as Bonds' teams lost all five times.
"It didn't look like he had any problems in that series," said Isringhausen, who watched the Giants' clincher. "I think he's 10 times better as a hitter than he was with the Pirates back then."
More than anything, Bonds has become amazingly patient at the plate. He simply doesn't swing at bad pitches -- he's not tempted by balls a few inches off the plate, resulting in a record 198 walks this season.
And Giants manager Dusty Baker is fine with that approach. He doesn't want Bonds chasing anything bad, even if it meant a few more swings in key spots.
"I mean, it's hard to ask a man with that much discipline to expand his zone," Baker said. "The more you expand your zone, the better chance you have of making an out because most of the pitches they already are throwing him are probably low-percentage in the first place."
Morris noted that most of the pitches that Bonds hit out of the park were up in the strike zone.
"Those are mistakes you can't make to anybody in the playoffs, never mind Barry Bonds," he said. "I'm going to try to move the ball around to all sides of the plate, change his eye levels, changes his views, change the speeds on him, see what kind of adjustments he's making and then go from there."
"You don't want to throw him anything too close to the plate where he can do some damage. It seemed like every pitch he's getting that's around the plate he's putting it into the seats," he said.
Of course, not every Cardinals pitcher offered such a detailed analysis. "I've been asked 10 times about Barry Bonds," said Chuck Finley, who will start Game 3. "He's not my problem."