Freewheeling Giants excel without Bonds

SAN FRANCISCO -- In some respects, the Giants' season opener was like most of their games the past five years or so. No one threw a strike to Barry Bonds.

With his right knee still bothering him and his return from the disabled list still unscheduled (maybe next month, maybe next year), Barry's Opening Day action was limited to being introduced before the game to a sellout crowd of adoring fans.

The fans reacted by standing, hollering wildly and chanting his name. The Dodgers, naturally, responded by intentionally walking Bonds.

No, that's just a joke. Bonds didn't get walked. He was too busy being overwhelmed by the ovation, doffing his cap, ducking his head in respect, covering his face and bowing a couple of times. He also thanked the fans for their support and promised, "I will be back."

Until then, the Giants will have to get by without the man who is to San Francisco baseball what heart-stopping mortgages are to San Francisco real estate. And they managed just fine Tuesday, beating the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 behind a solid start from ace Jason Schmidt.

"You can dwell on it all you want but you still have to go out and play," Schmidt said of Bonds' absence. "We all have careers, too. I've been on teams that didn't have Barry Bonds before. And none of the other teams have Barry. Sure, we'd rather have him in the lineup but life goes on. And we still have a lineup that can score runs."

"Maybe it will work in our favor," first baseman J.T. Snow said. "It might add to [other teams'] pitchers' counts because they won't be intentionally walking a guy all the time. It sometimes seems that when Barry -- and the pitcher -- are in the lineup, it's like there's only seven guys in the lineup. Now, it's like they'll have to face eight guys, plus the pitcher. They may have to work a little harder."

Well, that's putting a positive spin on being without the best player in baseball.

With Bonds, the Giants played station-to-station baseball, waiting for pitchers to finally throw Bonds a strike, or dig themselves into unavoidable trouble by walking him. Now, even with one of the oldest teams in history, the Giants say they will try to manufacture runs by being aggressive on the bases. "We have guys who have the green light this year," manager Felipe Alou said. "I want these guys more active than last year."

It will take some getting used to, these Go-Go Giants. When Omar Vizquel stole second base with nobody out and Ray Durham on third in the bottom of the fifth inning, Snow was so surprised at the plate that he needed a few seconds to refocus. Which is understandable. Leaving first base open when Bonds is in the lineup was simply an invitation to walk Barry.

"That will be part of the game we play this year," Vizquel said. "If you have a feeling you can get an extra base, go ahead."

Vizquel also provides something the Giants haven't enjoyed in years -- a Gold Glove shortstop. Vizquel's best seasons might be behind him -- he'll turn 38 later this month -- but he showed the sellout crowd he still has the moves. He turned an electrifying double play in the ninth inning, leaping high over Dodgers baserunner Jeff Kent at second base and threw to first to nail Milton Bradley. Vizquel shrugged off the play -- "I've been turning double plays for a while" -- but his teammates were impressed by the slick defense.

"I've been on the other end, too," Schmidt said. "I'll take the defense."

New closer Armando Benitez gave the Giants something else they hope to see more often this season -- a scoreless ninth inning. That's in stark contrast to the final series of last season, when the Giants bullpen blew a 3-0 lead in the second-to-last game of the year on three walks, an error and a grand slam in the ninth inning to end their title hopes.

"[Benitez] has been there before," Alou said. "The confidence level of the whole team goes up. They make defensive plays, too, when he's pumping strikes. No one is going to catch a base on balls."

So, Day 1 of Life Without Barry ended well. In fact, the team that missed an absent player the most was Los Angeles. The Dodgers lost All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre to free agency over the winter and his replacement, Jose Valentin, was 0-for-3 and bobbled a grounder in the seventh inning to let the eventual game-winning run score.

Of course, the question is how well the Giants fare until Bonds returns. As Schmidt said wryly with 161 games remaining, "It's still early in the year."

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is being published by Plume and went on sale March 2. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.