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Bonds Has Will, but Can See No Way

September 24, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE

An MVP candidate involved in a pennant race this week at Dodger Stadium said something unusual and interesting Monday.

He said if the Dodgers play hard, they will sweep the San Francisco Giants in a three-game series beginning tonight.

Unusual, in that the speaker was not Mike Piazza.

Interesting, in that it was Barry Bonds.

Yes, the same Giant outfielder, one who has apparently chosen to forsake conventional lodging here for three days of laying in the weeds.

"If they look at our team and take us lightly, they will end up losing," Bonds said. "But if they think we're the Atlanta Braves and play us hard, I don't see us beating them."

There was no sarcasm in his voice, no apologies in his explanation.

"The Dodgers are really good," Bonds said. "They will be throwing Ramon [Martinez] at us, and that bullpen, and, well, our players are a lot of minor leaguers just learning."

But what about him? At this moment, he may be the league's best player, with a .308 batting average, 42 homers and 125 runs batted in while playing only three games with his opening-day starting lineup intact.

The story, Bonds was told, was supposed to be about how the pennant race now hinges on him.

"Any chance I have at glory for beating the Dodgers, it's not happening, because they aren't going to let me beat them," he said. "They are going to pitch around me. They aren't going to jeopardize their chances."

Not like the San Diego Padres' Bruce Bochy last week when he pitched to Bonds and watched him hit a game-winning, two-run homer in the eighth inning to lead the Giants back from a six-run deficit.

Padre pitcher Dario Veras had fallen behind Bonds 3 and 0 and still pitched to him. It was a count, and a loss, that could haunt them all winter.

"I could not believe the Padres pitched to me," Bonds said. "The Dodgers won't do that."

Not once in three games?

"Well, OK, they will not walk me on my first at-bat, because I can hit a homer and they have time to come back," he said. "But I expect no official at-bats after that, only plate appearances and walks."

If nothing else, this will allow Bonds to steal the five bases he needs to become only the second player in the 40 homers/40 steals club.

He should also set the league record for walks in a season--he is four short of the current mark of 148.

Considering he has consistently played hard on what has been the worst team in the league, this may have been his best year.

Couldn't he at least end it by threatening the Dodgers, vowing to end their title hopes like the Dodgers ended his hopes in 1993 with a final-day, 12-1 victory here that gave the West to the Atlanta Braves?

"Well, it would be special," he said, "if I had some of my regular teammates around me. But with Matt Williams gone, with Shawon Dunston gone. . . ."

Who knows, next year Bonds could also be gone, but not to injury. If the team is rebuilding, maybe it won't want his large contract and . . . well, if the Giants call, the Dodgers should listen.

If nothing else, for his gamesmanship.

Sure, half of this week's Giant starters could be rookies who have showed little promise with the exception of third baseman Bill Mueller . . . and that's where Matt Williams plays.

And certainly, the pitching staff has given up a league-record 11 grand slams, and two of the three starters in this series have earned-run averages over 4.50, and closer Rod Beck is 0-9, and that is not a misprint.

Still. They are the Giants.

"And this is a rivalry that has gone on forever," Williams said Monday. "Forever."

And if Bill Russell is smart enough not to pitch to Bonds, he should also be smart enough not to listen to him.

"I just know that Bill Russell is in their ear about not overlooking us," Williams said, "He's saying, 'You guys can't do this. Do not do this. They've lost a lot of guys, but do not do this.' "

Russell should remind them of 1991, when the Will Clark-led Giants played host to a Dodger team that was tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves on the final weekend. The Giants knocked them cold with two quick victories.

Russell should also remind them of 1982, and little Joe Morgan, and another home run, and another second-place finish.

And perhaps Russell will want to tell them about the drunk on the subway.

The year was 1951. You know where we're going with this, but why go anywhere else?

After blowing a 13 1/2-game lead in mid-August to the New York Giants, the Brooklyn Dodgers were forced into a three-game playoff to decide the league championship.

In the third and deciding game of that playoff, the Dodgers led, 4-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Which is when Bill DeLury met the drunk.

DeLury is the Dodgers' traveling secretary, the longest currently active front-office employee.

Back then, he worked in the mail room, and it was his job to send out World Series tickets.

"So I left the Polo Grounds in the top of the ninth to beat the afternoon traffic and get back to the office in Brooklyn to start printing those tickets," DeLury said.

Now you really know where we're going with this.

DeLury was on a mostly deserted subway when, a couple of stops from his office, a drunk stumbled aboard.

"He started shouting, 'The Dodgers lost, the Dodgers lost,' " DeLury recalled. "I thought, he was just drunk."

By the time DeLury reached his building, he had forgotten all about the drunk. He hurried inside to begin working on the tickets when he was stopped by an elevator operator.

Who told him about Bobby Thomson.

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