Sunday, October 20
Updated: October 22, 10:08 AM ET
Angels burned with free passes to Bonds
By Andy Latack
ESPN The Magazine
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The TV cameras caught every hysterical second of it. Tim Salmon, in the middle of having the game of his life, stood in the Angels dugout as Barry Bonds' ninth-inning homer sailed halfway to the JumboTron. It was the easiest lip-reading job ever. "That's the furthest ball I've ever seen hit here," Salmon said. None of his teammates disagreed. Bonds turned on a 97-mph fastball from Troy Percival and, in a flash of maple, reminded everyone exactly what a souvenir factory he is (like anyone had forgotten). As it had the night before, the crowd implored whoever caught the mangled ball to throw it back. Right. That ball landed 485 feet from home plate, so far into the stands that if anyone could chuck it back to the field, the Angels should sign that person on the spot.
The ninth-inning blast off made little difference in the game -- it pulled the Giants within one with two outs -- but it was pretty dang fun to watch. Even for Salmon. "As a player, on the other side, you become a fan," Salmon said. "He's awesome, man."
But if the Angels learned anything from their second go-round with Barry in one of the wildest World Series games in recent memory, it wasn't how awesome he is. Instead, it's that walking Barry -- as they did in three of Bonds' five plate appearances in Game 2 -- can be more dangerous than pitching to him. In fact, if they hadn't been hitting like their bats were corked, the Angels could have lost Game 2, and walking Bonds would hav had a lot to do with it. They issued Barry a free pass in his first three times up, and Bonds' teammates drove him in twice. In a normal game -- you know, one that doesn't feature 21 runs, six homers and 28 hits -- those two runs can make a big difference.
Of course, the Angels would never admit to ducking Bonds. But early on they treated him like Al Capone treated a W-2 form. "We weren't pitching around him," said Anaheim starter Kevin Appier, who walked Bonds both times he faced him until leaving in the third inning. "But I wasn't going to be overly aggressive, and I was definitely shooting for a specific part of the plate, rather than the whole thing." In Bonds' first time at-bat, Appier got ahead 1-2 before throwing Bonds three straight balls, the last of which was a breaking pitch that just missed the outside corner. In retrospect, Appier should have just grooved a pitch to Bonds. Because he did the same thing to Reggie Sanders three batters later, and Sanders jacked a three-run homer with Bonds and J.T. Snow on to get the Giants back in the game, following five first-inning runs from Anaheim. In retrospect, a solo homer by Bonds would seem pretty harmless, huh?
It's not surprising Bonds didn't get any pitches in his second and third trips either, because by that time things had gone completely haywire and balls were leaving the park like this was beer-league softball. When Sanders and David Bell are going deep, it's generally safe to avoid a guy who hit more homers than both of them combined during the regular season (46 to 43). So when Bonds came up with the Angels leading 7-5 in the third inning, Appier issued him four workmanlike balls and sent him on his way.
And when John Lackey faced Bonds in the top of the fifth, with Rich Aurilia on second and one out, it was the first time Bonds had been up with a runner even on base, let alone in scoring position, in the Series. In The Idiot's Guide To Pitching To Barry, putting him on in this situation is covered in the first chapter. "I was disappointed I didn't get to pitch to him," Lackey said. "But with first base open, that's by the book."
But if the Giants behind Bonds keep hitting like this, the book could get revised very soon. Lackey intentionally walked Bonds and Ben Weber came in to pitch to Benito Santiago -- who then singled, which brought up Snow, who singled in Aurilia and Bonds, and later Bell singled to bring in Santiago and then Shawon Dunston singled to bring in Snow and ... you see where we're going with this? By the time the inning was done, the Giants were leading 9-7. Even if the Angels had pitched to Bonds and he had homered and driven in Aurilia, it's hard to imagine that things would've turned out worse. By the end of the fifth inning, Bonds was the only Giant without a hit, and San Francisco had still scored nine runs. Bonds now has 18 walks this postseason, and seems certain to eclipse the playoff record -- Gary Sheffield had 20 with Florida in 1997.
When you get it down on paper, it seems simple. The Angels challenged Bonds in Game 1, only walking him once, and they lose. Then they walk him most of Game 2 and they win. Going by that cause-effect, it should be simple -- walk Barry until his feet fall off. But in reality, the Angels got lucky on Sunday -- Snow and Sanders have four RBI each already, and could add plenty more if Bonds continues to be on base when they come up.
Still, it seems that some of the Angels aren't going to pitch around Bonds unless Scioscia threatens to bench them. In the seventh, Angels wonder-reliever Francisco Rodriguez fired a first-pitch fastball that Bonds grounded sharply to first baseman Scott Spiezio, much like he did to a Jarrod Washburn offering in Game 1. And when Bonds came up in the ninth with two outs, nobody on, and the Angels up two runs, you can have one guess what Percival was coming with.
"I wanted Percy to challenge him," Salmon said. "Heck, you've got a two-run lead."
Correction: had a two-run lead. But don't worry. Judging by his postgame grin, Percival would do the same thing in Game 3 if he could.
"I've watched plenty of tape," Percival said. "I knew everything belt-high from middle on in, he'd crush it. It doesn't matter -- I figured I'd throw it anyway and see what happens."
And Percival's smart. He knew Barry getting on base was the worst thing that could have happened to the Angels in that situation, especially the way the bottom of the lineup is hitting.
"It was either gonna be a homer or an out," Percival said. "I wasn't walking him. If I had walked him, bad things could've happened."
And judging by Game 2, they usually do.
Andy Latack writes for ESPN The Magazine.