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Giants Reload For A World Series Chase with Bonds
By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
Barry Bonds' body seems to creak whenever he's not swinging a bat. He chases down fly balls and then gradually eases to a stop, as if slamming on the brakes would pain his knees. He ambles slowly to home plate, and to first base after drawing walks, and you can see how he might move when he is an old man. At 40, Bonds probably has only two or three good sprints in his body per day.
Bonds, 40, has only a few more shots at winning the World Series.
The end of his career is on the horizon, and when Bonds departs, the Giants will lose the greatest offensive force in baseball history. As Mike Schmidt said at the All-Star break: Nobody has impacted the rest of his team's lineup the way Bonds has. Nobody has created RBI opportunities for teammates as much as Bonds. Nobody has affected the way pitchers are thinking and working as much as Bonds.
He could play two more years, maybe more, but even if he stays on to chase 800 homers, his standing as a dominant player will soon end; Bonds sometimes talks about the close of his career with great longing in his voice. The Giants know all this, they know that the Era of Barry is coming to a close, so they are going for it, in 2005.
The Yankees might close the winter with the biggest names on the market, perhaps Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran, and Seattle might have won back the most credibility with the signings of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Oakland is undoubtedly attempting the greatest restructuring of any club, having dealt away All-Stars Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for young talent. But the Giants have gotten much better. "There's no doubt they're trying to set up for a championship run next season," said a rival general manager. "They've significantly improved their team."
The Giants' crushing weakness in 2004 was their bullpen, which blew 28 of 74 save chances; only the Cincinnati Reds had more, with 31. San Francisco GM Brian Sabean moved relatively quickly to fill this hole, signing the premier closer on the market, Armando Benitez, to a three-year, $21.5 million contract. They also gave a three-year deal to shortstop Omar Vizquel (at the time, other executives thought the Giants had greatly overpaid, but by the time Orlando Cabrera got four years and $32 million, the numbers made a lot more sense). They signed catcher Mike Matheny, widely regarded as an elite defensive player. Reportedly, the Giants have a tentative two-year agreement to sign outfielder Moises Alou.
Sabean and Alou have more weapons.
Benitez is 32. Vizquel will turn 38 in April, Matheny is 34 and Alou will be 39 next summer. These are not moves made with the big picture in mind, some larger plan of sustained success into the 2010s. The Giants are trying to win now, while they still have Bonds.
"Getting Benitez was huge, because that was probably their biggest problem last year," Padres GM Kevin Towers said. "Vizquel gives them some defense, and Alou will give them some protection behind Bonds."
Alou has been one of the more consistent RBI men of his generation, with seven seasons of 91 or more. He hit 39 home runs for the Cubs last season, with 106 RBI, and his batting average with runners on base was 47 points higher than when the bases were empty; he is still extraordinary at anticipating what the pitcher intends to throw in moments of high pressure.
Vizquel does not have the defensive range that he used to have, but he hit .291 for Cleveland last season with an on-base percentage of .353. With Vizquel hitting second, perhaps, and Alou perhaps batting fifth, the Giants should have more depth in their lineup than they did in '04, when they still managed to finish second in the NL in runs scored. "They always find a way to improve," said an NL scout.
The Giants had preferred to sign Steve Finley before making their deal with Alou, and Finley would've been a better fit in San Francisco's spacious home park. The projected outfield of Bonds and Alou at the corners, and Marquis Grissom again in center field, will probably leave the Giants with woeful defensive range, and three of their five projected starters are fly ball pitchers.
And the Giants need their starting pitching to come together. Jason Schmidt would have won the NL Cy Young Award if not for a late-season injury. Nick Lowry demonstrated great poise down the stretch, but he's still just 16 games and six victories into his major-league career. Brett Tomko thrived for a month after seeing a sports psychiatrist in August, and time will tell if the words he heard will continue to resonate in 2005. Jerome Williams went 10-7 despite missing about a dozen starts because of injury. Veteran Kirk Rueter is limited but competitive and predictable, at age 34. Jesse Foppert, the Giants' most renowned pitching prospect, was hurt in 2003 and limited to one inning in 2004; he will be a wild-card next season.
It's unlikely that anyone will run away with the NL West, anyway. The Padres probably have the best starting pitching but need Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko to hit in the middle of their order, just as they needed more from them in 2004. The Dodgers have built their franchise around J.D. Drew; his talent merits that kind of trust and the $55 million invested in him, but his track record and injury history doesn't. If Drew goes down and the Dodgers' thin starting pitching crumbles, it could get ugly in L.A.
Arizona has improved but will likely trade Randy Johnson sometime soon, and the D-Backs have a long way to go after losing 111 games. Colorado will struggle to contend, as the Rockies have for almost a decade.
The Giants are set to make another run in 2005. They have to take another run, before Bonds slowly ambles away for the last time.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.
Bonds hits 500th Home Run with Giants; 676 for Career
June 13th, 2004 - BALTIMORE (Ticker) -- Barry Bonds is used to being in exclusive company. In the finale of a long road trip, he put the San Francisco Giants there.
Bonds hit his 500th home run with the Giants, who got 7 1/3 solid innings from Jerome Williams and completed a .500 trip with a 7-3 victory over the
Baltimore Orioles .
One day after he tied a career high with five walks, including four intentional passes, Bonds golfed the first pitch from Orioles starter Sidney Ponson over the scoreboard in right field in the third inning to break a 1-1 tie.
It was his 676th career home run, all but 176 of which have come with San Francisco. The Giants became the first team in major league history with three 500-home run hitters as Bonds joined his godfather, Willie Mays (646), and Met Ott (511).
"Yeah, it's nice," said Bonds, who praised Ponson for challenging him. "Sidney doesn't back down for anybody. He says he's going to come at you, that's what he's gonna do. Sidney is like that. It was like, 'Here it is, you hit it.'"
Oriole first basemen Rafael Palmeiro , who has 537 homers, praised Bonds' latest feat. "I love baseball history and we saw it today. You admire things like this," said Palmeiro, who homered twice Saturday to pass Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. "I'm only sorry we played with a lack of focus."
Bonds added an RBI single in the sixth for San Francisco, which took two of three games at Camden Yards to wrap up a 7-7 trip.
"I'm happy because with a trip like this, you can have a lot of injuries, sore arms, but all in all, we pulled it out," Giants manager Felipe Alou said.
Williams (6-4) improved to 4-0 lifetime in interleague play. The righthander struggled with his control, issuing a season-high four walks and hitting three batters, but he gave up three runs and six hits for his third win in four starts.
"I felt strong through the whole game," Williams said. "I just worked with the stuff I had."
Ponson (3-8) floundered against the team with which he ended last season. He surrendered six runs and 13 hits in 6 2/3 innings with three walks and three strikeouts as his losing streak reached five starts.
"I wasn't making the right pitches in the right spots," Ponson said. "I said I'd go after (Bonds) and I went after him, but the sinker went down the middle. He didn't hit 676 home runs in his career by mistake. At least he didn't hit three home runs today."
Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli had a postgame talk with his team.
"The defense was terrible," he said. "Things like the pickoffs should never happen."
Second baseman Brian Roberts agreed. "It was a bad day all-around for us," he said. "It wasn't one person, it was the whole team."
Week of June 18th 2004 - From ESPN.com
The Giants placed LHP Jason Christiansen on the 15-day disabled list June 21 (retroactive to June 19) with mild tendinitis in the front of his throwing shoulder. Christiansen's shoulder trouble is a major reason he has struggled lately, allowing five earned runs over his past 3 1/3 innings -- six appearances.
Injured 1B J.T. Snow (knee) will begin a rehab assignment June 22 at Triple-A Fresno, where he'll get three at-bats. He could be activated later this week.
RHP Jesse Foppert, recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery in September, could be sent out on a rehab assignment in the next few weeks. He isn't expected to be ready to pitch again in the majors until September.
Cody Ransom was called up earlier this month after dominating Triple-A pitchers with timely hits, even pounding four homers in four days during one May stretch. He produced the biggest hit of his career June 21. Ransom singled up the middle with two outs in the ninth to drive in the winning run, leading the Giants to a 3-2 win over the Dodgers. "My confidence is definitely a little bit higher. I'm just getting a chance to play," said the 28-year-old Ransom, who batted .309 (42-for-136) with 10 home runs and 21 RBI in 36 games at Triple-A. "It was a lot of fun. It's great to get a hit and help the team out."
LF Barry Bonds got a cramp in his right hamstring while running out a groundball in the sixth inning June 21, then spent the next inning in left field stretching his legs. He stayed in the game until being lifted for a pinch-runner after his eighth-inning intentional walk. Bonds finished 1-for-3 and is expected to be available June 22.
Closer Robb Nen, who is trying to come back from three operations on his right shoulder, is unlikely to play this season, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. An MRI on June 18 showed the inflammation in Nen's shoulder has subsided, but he experienced enough discomfort during the exam for the Giants to shut down his recovery. In the best-case scenario, trainer Stan Conte estimated Nen, 34, would need 6-8 weeks of rehab after this latest exile.
Starting June 21 against the Dodgers, the Giants began selling orange rubber chickens named "Walk'er" at home games, the Los Angeles Times reported. The item -- described as "your average fowl" -- sells for $10 each with proceeds going to the Giants Community Fund. The team created the chicken to protest the number of intentional walks Barry Bonds draws.
3B Edgardo Alfonzo hit a grand slam into the left-field seats in the seventh inning June 20 against the Red Sox. Alfonzo, who hit a tiebreaking two-run shot in the eighth inning June 19 to give the Giants a 6-4 win, gave a curtain call to the energized sellout crowd of 42,568. "With the bases loaded, I just want to try to get the ball to the outfield and score a run," he said. "I was able to make something happen."
RHP David Aardsma was recalled from Triple-A Fresno on June 20 to replace LHP Noah Lowry, who was sent back to Fresno. Aardsma is in his third stint with the Giants this season. He was 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in nine outings in his first two trips to the majors. Lowry made two starts in place of the injured Brett Tomko, who is expected to come off the disabled list June 24 to start against Los Angeles.
Barry Bonds sets walk record - July 4th, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds became baseball's all-time walks leader Sunday, breaking Rickey Henderson's major league record when he drew his 2,191st from Oakland reliever Chad Bradford in the eighth inning.
The San Francisco slugger had an 0-2 count then drew four straight balls from Bradford. Bonds received a standing ovation, walked to first and picked up the base to save as a memento of the milestone. The Giants lost 9-6.
"I don't know how to react to a walks record," Bonds said. "It's just another one. I'd rather hit, but the circumstances it's just what it is. I need a ring with all these other records."
The six-time NL MVP walked on a 3-2 pitch by Oakland starter Mark Mulder leading off the sixth inning. The A's were leading 8-3. Bonds was plunked on the right hand in the second inning and threw his bat down in pain and frustration, but stayed in the game. He hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
"That's incredible," Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda said. "I never thought anybody was going to break it. That's unreal. Barry's a cleanup hitter. Henderson was a leadoff hitter who's supposed to walk. Wow. Unbelievable. Awesome!"
Bonds, the most feared slugger in the game, has been drawing walks at a remarkable rate in recent years as few teams are willing to challenge him. He has 121 walks in the Giants' first 82 games, including 63 intentional passes, and is on pace to shatter his single-season record of 198 set in 2002.
"That's a big accomplishment," manager Felipe Alou said Saturday in anticipation of the record-breaking walk. "There are two things: You have to be a great player and you have to be a healthy player. Barry is not a guy who has had a major injury. You also have to be good enough to make it in the lineup every day."
All-time walks leaders:
B. Bonds 2,191
R. Henderson 2,190
B. Ruth 2,062
T. Williams 2,021
J. Morgan 1,865
C. Yastrzemski 1,845
M. Mantle 1,733
M. Ott 1,708
E. Yost 1,614
D. Evans 1,605
Bonds also walked 177 times in 2001 when he set the single-season home run mark with 73, and 148 times in 130 games last year.
He's likely to see more balls in the coming series against the Rockies. Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said he won't pitch to Bonds.
"If he can beat us, he is going to have to move on down the line," Hurdle said. "I don't like it, but that's just the way it is."
Frequent walks are slowing Bonds' progress to a much more substantial record: Hank Aaron's career home run mark of 755. Bonds has gone deep 22 times this year and has 680 for his career, trailing only Aaron and Babe Ruth (714).
If he keeps up his pace of more than a walk a game, Bonds figures to open some distance from Henderson's mark in his final few seasons. But Alou figures that someday another player will come around to challenge that mark.
"There are no untouchable records," Alou said Saturday. "There's always a Barry Bonds somewhere. There's always somebody being born and trained -- a phenom."
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