Getting Bonds out means throwing a strike, sooner or laterPosted: Tuesday October 22, 2002 12:57 PM
Updated: Tuesday October 22, 2002 5:05 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The problem with getting Barry Bonds out is you have to throw strikes to him. You can't nibble. You can't paint the black. You can't fool him with junk.
Throw one past him? Yeah. Good luck with that.
If the game situation dictates that a pitcher has to pitch to the best hitter in the game -- that would be Bonds -- then that poor pitcher simply has to put the ball over the plate. Bonds is too good and too smart to swing at anything that's not a strike. He has too good of an eye. He simply won't swing at anything but strikes.
And in this World Series, when Bonds swings … well, it means that pitchers should be prepared for their best fastball to be planted 485 feet away in the right field seats.
"He can hit everything. He can hit anything," said Anaheim Angels closer Troy Percival, who challenged San Francisco's slugger with a 97 mph fastball Sunday night in Game 2 of the World Series, a pitch that went out of Edison Field in Anaheim at about four times that speed. "I haven't seen him fish for a pitch yet."
The '02 World Series will be remembered for a lot of things -- California, wild cards, two evenly matched teams with two wildly anonymous pitching staffs, noisemakers, a monkey -- but, right now, it's going down as the postseason that Bonds broke out.
Monday, on the off day after the Angels' wild 11-10 win over the Giants in Game 2 of the Series, folks were still talking about Bonds' shot on Sunday, one that many people said was the longest ball ever hit at Edison. Everything Bonds swings at this postseason, when he gets the chance to swing, seems to be hit hard.
That puts the Anaheim pitchers in a particularly precarious position. Some hitters -- most hitters -- can be toyed with a little. But because Bonds has the best eye in the business, when opponents are forced to pitch to him they have to actually -- gulp! -- challenge him.
"I like our approach," Percival said. "Other teams would just automatically walk him four times. He could score four times. We'll pitch around him when we have to, but if we can, we'll go after him."
Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't.
Jarrod Washburn, Anaheim's young lefty ace, challenged Bonds in the second inning of a scoreless Game 1 on Saturday. Bonds was the first batter of the inning, and the Angels didn't want to put the go-ahead run on base. So, with the count 2-0, Washburn snuck a fastball over on the inside of the plate for strike one. He tried another on the next pitch.
Gone. Home run.
The next time up, with San Francisco leading 2-1, Washburn worked the count to 3-2 on Bonds and struck him out swinging at a high fastball.
"It was out of the zone," Washburn said. "He doesn't much chase balls."
Sunday in Game 2, in his first at-bat, Bonds drew a walk off starter Kevin Appier (and scored), drew a walk on four straight balls in the third and was stranded, was intentionally walked in the fifth (and scored), grounded out to first with no one on and two out in the sixth and finished off his night with his solo homer off Percival.
"He's the best there is," Percival said. "His hands are so fast, and he clears his hips faster than any player in baseball."
In all, Bonds has walked four times in the two Series games (more than anyone else) and scored twice off those walks. He's scored four times overall in the two games (also more than anyone else) and hit the two homers (which ties him with teammate Reggie Sanders and Anaheim's Troy Glaus and Tim Salmon for most in the two games).
In 12 postseason games this year, he has been walked 18 times, has six homers (most ever for a postseason, tied with Glaus and others), scored 14 times (most in the postseason) and has struck out only four times. He has a staggering .909 slugging percentage.
"He doesn't have all those walks … they're not all intentional walks or people pitching around him," Washburn said. "He doesn't very often chase much out of the zone."
So what are the Angels' pitchers to do when they are forced to pitch to Bonds? They don't have any choice. They have to give him their best stuff. Over the plate.
And then ducking would be a good idea.