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No shock: Marlins to avoid Bonds

MIAMI -- The Florida Marlins want to pitch to Barry Bonds.
They really do. Just give them a 10-run lead first.

"We're not going to let him beat us," Marlins manager Jack
McKeon says.

McKeon would rather walk Bonds than see his home-run trot, and
the Marlins plan to pitch around the San Francisco Giants' slugger
when the teams meet in a best-of-5 playoffs series beginning
Tuesday at Pac Bell Park.

The Giants have more tradition, more postseason experience and
the NL West title, while the Marlins won the wild-card to become
the most unlikely playoff entrant. But the teams were virtually
even this season in batting average, runs, slugging percentage and
fielding.

While San Francisco had the lower ERA by one-third of a run,
Florida pitchers had more strikeouts and fewer walks. And the
Marlins have baseball's best record since late May.

So the series may hinge on whether they can contain Bonds, who
went into the final game of the regular season Sunday with 45 home
runs, 148 walks and a .339 average.

"You're always going to be careful with the guy," says
right-hander Josh Beckett, one of at least seven Marlins expected
to make their postseason debut Tuesday. "You don't want to leave
anything right over."

McKeon sounds as though he doesn't want to leave anything close.

"We'll pitch to him if we're way ahead," McKeon says. "We
might even pitch to him the first time up in a 0-0 game. Might.

"It might be a situation where you get a guy on first and you
still walk him and take your chances on the next guy."

McKeon's caution failed to pay off during the regular season.
Bonds went 3-for-10 against the Marlins with a home run and seven
walks, two intentional, and they lost all four games in which he
played.

But then the Marlins often have trouble with the Giants,
especially in San Francisco, where their record is 14-34. They lost
two of three there in August during a 1-8 trip.

"We're going out to play the Giants tough," McKeon says.
"That's not saying we can't get the stuff kicked out of us. But I
sense this is a different team, a much more confident team than it
was going out there the last time. We know we're as good as anybody
in this league right now."

The young Marlins thrived under the pressure of a playoff race
and went 18-8 in September to earn their first postseason berth
since winning the 1997 World Series.

Now: October. And Bonds. In 20 games against Florida over the
past three seasons, he has a .388 average with 10 home runs, 22
RBI and an .896 slugging percentage.

"He's one of the few guys who, every swing, you think can hit a
home run," Florida outfielder Juan Pierre says.

So the Marlins will likely give Bonds a lot of free passes and
try to retire the hitter behind him, likely Edgardo Alfonso or
Benito Santiago.

"I'll take my chances with those guys," McKeon says.

McKeon has only one left-handed reliever, Michael Tejera, and
left-handed batters hit .397 against him. Lefty Dontrelle Willis,
scheduled to start Game 4 in Miami on Saturday, will be available
to pitch an inning of relief in Wednesday's game.

However, McKeon says situational matchups aren't the solution
against Bonds.

"It doesn't matter to him whether it's a right-hander or a
left-hander," McKeon says. "He hits them all."

But only if the pitches are within reach.