He's a Giant
Look who's back.
Barry Bonds is on fire, and it's no accident that his once-dormant team is
suddenly in the hunt
The Giants are in
the spotlight again, and for the first time all season it's not just because of
some new revelation or allegation about Barry Bonds. At long last they're
playing good baseball. Having taken two of three games from the
wild-card-leading Padres at home last weekend, San Francisco, which was nine
games below .500 less than a month ago, is squarely back in the postseason
picture. "I guess you can call us late bloomers," says infielder Mark
Sweeney. "Every team goes through hot streaks and cold streaks. We never
had a hot streak."
They have one
now. At week's end the Giants had gone a major-league-best 18--8 since Aug. 14
and were one of four teams within 2 1/2 games of the NL's last playoff spot.
Players cite a number of factors for the rebound, from the July acquisition of
39-year-old reliever Mike Stanton, who has been surprisingly effective as the
closer (3--1, seven saves), to the unexpectedly robust production of
oft-injured second baseman Ray Durham, a former leadoff hitter who is healthy
and thriving while batting fifth, with a career-best 23 homers and 86 RBIs.
Additionally, the Giants' rotation, which was second in the league with a 4.22
ERA, has been bolstered by the recent tear of 21-year-old rookie Matt Cain, who
had allowed just one earned run in 34 innings (0.26 ERA) in his last five
The most notable
element in the Giants' turnaround, however, has been the resurgence of Bonds.
He has struggled most of the season to regain his power after four knee
surgeries that caused him to miss all but 14 games last year, making his chase
of Hank Aaron's home run record more of a slog. But his two-run shot off the
Padres' David Wells in the first inning of the Giants' 5--4 win last Saturday
was his sixth in nine games and 23rd of the season. Since the start of the
Giants' hot streak in mid-August, Bonds has struck out out only four times and
increased his OPS more than 60 points, to .991, not Ryan Howard or Albert
Pujols territory, but comparable with those of such MVP candidates as Carlos
Beltran and Justin Morneau. "Things are getting better," the
42-year-old Bonds said afterward. "My legs are better."
And it's no
accident that the Giants' record is better as well. "We kind of live and
die with Barry," says ace Jason Schmidt. "When he is on, it really
lifts everybody up."
improvement, like that of the Giants, has happened without fanfare. Gone for
the most part are the distractions he brought with him at the beginning of the
season, when he was both the star of an ESPN reality TV show and the focus of a
grand jury investigation in the BALCO case that is still ongoing. "There
were a lot of reporters in the clubhouse then," says Sweeney. "This is
our area, where you joke around and have fun and where you really mold your
team. But we never really had that opportunity at the beginning because of
Barry's thing. There were people in here who wanted to write stories about
Barry, but we'd get odd questions because they wanted to find out some
different things. So we'd go off to other parts of the clubhouse. I think the
team has really come together now because there are fewer
ESPN pulled the
plug on the reality show after Bonds passed Babe Ruth with his 715th home run
on May 28. For the most part the rest of the national media tuned out, too. Now
the Giants hope they can continue to fly under the radar, right through
September and into the playoffs. "We don't care if other people pay
attention to us," says backup catcher Todd Greene. "We are just trying
to win games. Now we feel like we are playing the way we should have been
playing all along. And we still have a chance."
? Daily analysis
of the playoff chase at SI.com/baseball.