Still buzzing in Cali
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: From his home on the Northern California coast, Page 2's Eric Neel is keeping a diary of the 2002 pennant races involving the Giants, Dodgers, A's and Angels. This is the seventh installment of Neel's journal.

Tuesday, Sept. 17
Monday's scoreboard: Los Angeles beat San Francisco 7-6; Oakland over Anaheim 4-3.

Status: NL wild-card and AL West division races are both tied with 12 games to go.

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds gets the better of Jesse Orosco for a two-run homer in the seventh inning.
Man, this is fun. Two more one-run games, two races tied up ... 2 in the morning and I'm still buzzing off the adrenaline rush.

I concentrated Monday night on the Dodgers-Giants game (Tuesday night I'll focus on the Angels-Athletics). Here are a few "snapshots" still bouncing around in my head:

Hideo Nomo jumping and landing in a crouch
It was the second inning, I think. He didn't get a call and he jumped off the mound, crouched and winced. Nomo is normally unflappable. Seeing him so animated told you all you needed to know about how anxious and into-it the teams were tonight.

Barry Bonds' record-breaking ball rolling on the grass
One of the stranger baseball history moments you'll ever see. Bonds took his second walk of the night in the second inning, and it broke his record for the most walks in a single season (178).

There is a case to be made for how important walks are and for how, like hits, they represent a certain high level of skill and analysis on the part of a hitter, especially one as good as Bonds. But a whole lot of Barry's walks these last couple of years have come as a result of folks not really pitching to him at all, which I suspect makes it hard for him to take much pride in the record on some level.

He didn't ask for the ball, someone else did, and Nomo just slowly rolled it across the infield grass toward some guy who looked like maybe he was a trainer.

Brian Jordan's stance
He's a lodgepole pine -- straight up and down. Not a wiggle or twitch anywhere. His grand-slam swing in the third seemed to come out of nowhere, as if it had burst into this world from another dimension.

Benito Santiago's glove
He rolls his wrist from side to side and taps his glove on his left knee two or three times. The glove is never still, until the instant before Jason Schmidt reaches his release point, when it becomes a fixed target. It's hard to tell whether he's trying to communicate a kind of casual confidence to Schmidt or whether he just can't sit still.

Barry Bonds flies to shallow center
Fifth inning. He was jammed and just fought it off. He'd looked worse, much worse, on the two pitches before, one down and away and one high and tight. Mike Krukow, the Giants' announcer, said they might have been the two worst swings he'd seen Bonds take in the last five years. It felt almost historic to have seen them, the way Bonds has been so ridiculously in control these last two years.

So Nomo made him look bad, which was remarkable enough, but what was really interesting about the moment was Bonds' reaction as he walked back to the dugout after the fly ball. He pointed at his helmet twice, as if to say to himself, you got out-thought out there just now. Then he nodded his head and looked ever so slightly up at the night sky, as if he were saying, and you won't be out-thought again, will you?

The fan's finger
In the fifth inning, Adrian Beltre hit a ball down the right field line that was bending foul and heading for the stands. Giants right fielder Tom Goodwin (who used to be a Dodger) ran toward the stands and tried to make a play at the wall. He didn't catch it -- ball bounced off the heel of his glove and a fan snagged it out of the air. The buddy of the guy who caught it started shouting and pointing his finger at Goodwin, mocking him for missing the ball, lording the missed chance over him, probably saying something less than complimentary about his skills as a ballplayer, and maybe even something nasty about his mother. Goodwin just kind of leaned there against the wall for a second. He was smiling at the guy, looking at him like he couldn't quite make sense of what he was saying, or wrap his mind around the fact he was saying it at all.

The standard story is that Los Angeles fans are too cool to care, but this crazy mug was busting that theory wide open, letting his angry-young-man flag fly. It was kind of funny -- kudos to Goodwin for thinking so, too, and for staying cool about it -- but he was so dead earnest that you had to admire it, too. And it seemed to change things in the stadium a little. Like a table full of pingpong balls on mousetraps (remember that high school science film demonstrating catalytic reactions?), hard-core fan gestures started popping up all over the place. By the time Eric Karros hit a home run in the seventh, whole families were literally jumping in place and waving their arms from side to side in the seats behind home plate.

Jesse Orosco vs. Bonds
Jesse throws that nasty, tail-away, dipsy-do stuff that comes in from the left like its sole purpose is to tease you and make you look bad. He gives Bonds trouble, that's why he was called in to face him in the seventh, with the Dodgers up 6-3. He's warming, Bonds is waiting on him.

I say to my wife, "See that guy, he's 45 years old." "Must be a left-hander," she says without looking up. (My wife, she's smart.) "He's a Bonds-killer," I tell her. Two pitches into the at-bat, I look like I know what I'm talking about; 1-1 count, Bonds looks out of synch. Four pitches in and I look like a fool, because he tatooooooos it over the right center field wall. "Bonds is real good, isn't he?" my wife says. 6-5 ballgame.

Marquis Grissom
Marquis Grissom robs Rich Aurilia of a home run in the ninth inning.
Eric Karros in the dugout
He hit a pitch up around the eyes; drilled it to left. He ran the bases quickly, with his head down, and when he got back to the dugout, he took his helmet off and stared out at the field, breathing hard. Things haven't been super easy for Karros these last couple of years, but he delivered a big hit tonight, and he had this look on his face, not blank exactly, but kind of distant, like he had gone back into his head for a bit, like he was wondering, "where the hell did that come from?"

Marquis Grissom and Rich Aurilia
You've no doubt seen the Grissom catch on SportsCenter by now. Beautiful effort at a key moment -- preserved a one-run lead in the ninth inning, made Eric Gagne feel a whole lot better about life. When it was over, after Grissom had thrown the ball back in to the infield, he paused for a second and let out a deep breath, the kind where you puff your cheeks out, like you're blowing out candles on a cake. He was relieved, he was tired. It was a great moment because you saw, just seconds after he'd made a superhuman catch in a pressure-packed moment, how human he was.

The same was true of Aurilia, who came just inches from being a hero. For three or four seconds, as the ball hurried toward the center field fence, he was the guy we've all dreamed of being, the one who delivers in the clutch. And then in an instant, as Grissom rose up and yanked the ball back over the wall, Aurilia was no different than any of us; just another poor bum suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He kept looking back over his shoulder as he walked off the field. The abrupt change from exhilaration to frustration seemed to have given him whiplash.

Previous entries: Sept. 16 | Sept. 15 | Sept. 14 | Sept. 13 | Sept. 12 | Sept. 11 | Sept. 9-10

Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column on Page 2. You can e-mail him at



Eric Neel Archive

Dodgers edge Giants, pull even in wild-card race

Tejada hits the game-winner as A's jump back in tie for first

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 16

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 15

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 14

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 13

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 12

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 11

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 9-10

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