Baker is so effortlessly cool that he wore shades while watching the Philly- Atlanta game on the tiny Zenith in his office on Sunday. ("Ain't tryin' to be cool," he said, pointing out that they were prescription sunglasses. "I'm tryin' to see.") But when a Brave announcer fantasized out loud about how nice it would be to see the injured Gwynn return to the Padre lineup against San Francisco, Baker waved his hand at the screen in disgust. "See?" said Baker, apparently referring to the Braves. "They cry all the time."
All of which is to say that a one-game playoff between the Giants and the Braves would be especially intriguing. It would also be next Monday in San Francisco, which won a coin flip to decide the game site.
So the Giants still had six days to shake the world. But they would have to play this week without second baseman Robby Thompson (.314, 19 homers, 65 RBIs), a man at the emotional center of their lineup. Thompson's left cheek was fractured by a Trevor Hoffman pitch that hit him flush in the face on Friday night.
What's more, the final week's schedule is not quite as kind to San Francisco as it is to Atlanta. The Braves were to host a three-game series against the frosty-of-late Houston Astros, followed by a three-game set at home against the expansion Colorado Rockies. In the NFL this is known as a bye week.
True, the Giants would get those same Rockies for two games at the Stick. But they were to finish the schedule on the road, playing four games against the personification of evil, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Of course, the Dodgers feel pretty much the same way about the Giants. The Dodgers hope that sucking sound you hear is them, Dustbusting Baker's ball club. "If we win it down there," said Baker, a Bay Area native who played eight seasons for L.A., "it will be extra special—to me and to the fans of northern California."
Should the Giants somehow win the division, they will do so in large measure because of another native of northern California. On Sunday morning Bonds pulled into the players' lot at the Stick driving a spectacular, turbocharged, fuel-injected, low-slung stereo on wheels. "Look at Barry," the lot attendant said, somewhat unnecessarily, as Bonds rolled past him with the top down, the red machine gleaming in the sunlight and pulsating like a giant human heart. "Drives a different damn car every day."
Five hours, one homer, three RBIs and a Giant victory later, Bonds was shooing scribes and cameramen away from his locker. "We have two 20-game winners over there," he said, gesturing across the clubhouse to Swift and Burkett. "Go get their stories."
As the best and richest player in baseball slipped out of the stadium and into southbound traffic on Interstate 101, heading for home and the homestretch, with his son, Nikolai, riding shotgun, the sun still shining and the top still down and five lanes of traffic rubbernecking him, Bonds seemed a living paradox, at once craving recognition and loathing it.
Indeed, as Bonds puttered along contentedly in the far right lane, his hands at the reins of several hundred unused horses, life was a sweet paradox: He was in no hurry whatsoever, and at the same time he was very much in a race.