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World Premiere
Tom Verducci
October 28, 2002
In their long-awaited debuts on the sport's biggest stage, both Barry Bonds and the Angels lived up to their billings—and made the Fall Classic a showstopper
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October 28, 2002

World Premiere

In their long-awaited debuts on the sport's biggest stage, both Barry Bonds and the Angels lived up to their billings—and made the Fall Classic a showstopper

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Heifetz was but 16 when he made his Carnegie Hall debut, Horowitz only 24. Barry Bonds was 38 last Saturday when at last he stood on the precipice of the ne plus ultra for a ballplayer, the World Series. With only a little more than one hour left to a lifelong wait, the San Francisco Giants left-fielder stood alone in a stairwell that descended from the visiting dugout at Anaheim's Edison Field, poking his head high enough to measure the rising tumult and tension of the filling ballpark. His manager, Dusty Baker, would later observe that Bonds "was really, really focused and kind of quiet" as the moment neared.

If from the top of his concrete burrow Bonds's posture resembled that of the proverbial groundhog, he surely could see his long shadow cast over this World Series. "My pitchers have been asking me all week, 'Are we going to pitch to Barry? Are we going to pitch to Barry?' " Angels pitching coach Bud Black said last Friday. "And they were kidding only half the time."

The most feared hitter ever, judging by the avoidance tactics of opposing teams, Bonds is so good that he changes baseball's standard rules of engagement. In the chess game of this year's World Series, he is the only queen on the board, influencing nearly every move with the unequaled breadth of his power, even when standing still. Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia sat in his dugout on the eve of Game 1 and predicted, "You're going to see some things that in other eras of the game would seem unconventional and way out there, but in these games make sense."

It took only two games to realize that there had never been a World Series like this, and not only because Bonds had not played in any of the previous 97 For just the seventh time in history the Series was tied after two one-run games, and never had such a deadlock created so many runs (28). "I'm exhausted," Angels rightfielder Tim Salmon said late Sunday night, after Anaheim had answered a 4-3 San Francisco win on Saturday with an 11-10 epic victory.

The Angels and Giants clubbed more home runs (11) than had been hit in the first two games of any World Series, prompting both sides to suspect that the specially marked baseballs were harder, smaller and livelier than the ones used in the regular season. Anaheim shortstop David Eckstein, for instance, said he felt a difference in the balls as soon as he took infield practice before Game 1. Several of his teammates even cut open a Series ball, searching for evidence of a compositional change. (Results were inconclusive.)

Put away your scalpels, boys, because here's the real cushioned cork center of the matter: The World Series proved again that it's the surest thrill ride in sports. Ten of the last 16 Series games through Sunday had been decided by one run, and seven of them had been won in the winning team's last at bat, including the entertaining 21-run salute in Anaheim. The World Series does not disappoint, whether you've waited 17 years, like Bonds, or just 31 days, like 20-year-old Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who has become known as K-Rod, is Heifetz with a killer slider, the prodigy who brought down the house on Sunday in his Series debut. He entered a riot of a baseball game—San Francisco led 9-8 after only five innings—and immediately established order by retiring all nine batters he faced (fanning four) with only 26 pitches, 22 of them strikes. His near-perfect form recalled Phil Simms in Super Bowl XXI (completing 22 out of 25 passes) or Bill Walton in the 1973 NCAA final (hitting 21 of 22 shots). In his first 13 postseason innings Rodriguez allowed just four hits and struck out 19.

"We were in good shape," said the Giants' Shawon Dunston, who fouled out against Rodriguez, "and then they brought in Superman."

"There's nobody in our league who throws a slider like that," said second baseman Jeff Kent, who was punched out on three pitches.

"He's right about that," agreed rightfielder Reggie Sanders, another three-pitch strikeout victim. "He hides the ball extremely well in his delivery, and the spin is so fast and tight that you can't recognize it. And then it has such a late break to it. We knew how well he was throwing, but we didn't know he was that good."

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