ATLANTA — Barry Bonds enjoys waxing nostalgic about baseball history, reveling in the accomplishments of his godfather, Willie Mays, and fellow Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson.
Only don't steer the discussion to Bonds' playoff history.
That's a recurring nightmare for Bonds, who hopes to create better memories today as the San Francisco Giants play the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the best-of-five National League division series at Turner Field.
The future Hall of Famer is determined to have his first productive postseason as he leads the Giants, who held off the Dodgers for the NL wild-card berth, to their third playoff appearance since 1997, and second in three seasons. But the East-champion Braves, trying to overcome their own October baggage, are equally intent on ending the Giants' season and compounding Bonds' frustration.
"My legacy will be what it is regardless--whatever you guys say it's going to be," Bonds told reporters. "Great player ... didn't win a World Series ... whatever, it's your opinions.
"I want the World Series. I said I'd be back [in the playoffs], and I'm back, but I want a World Series ring."
Then he had better start producing at this time of the year.
In 27 playoff games with the Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonds has batted only .196 (19 for 97) with a home run and six runs batted in. The New York Mets limited Bonds to three hits in 17 at-bats (.176) with one RBI while beating the Giants in four games in the 2000 division series.
Of course, that was before Bonds began his stunning assault on the record book, debunking conventional baseball wisdom with each historic swing.
After establishing a single-season mark with 73 homers last season, Bonds led the major leagues with a .370 batting average, hit 46 homers, drove in 110 runs and scored 117. He set records with 198 walks and a .582 on-base percentage as managers avoided pitching to him in almost every situation and is expected to win a record fifth NL most-valuable-player award.
"Barry is a different type of hitter right now, so you can't bank what he's going to do this postseason on postseasons of the past," said Atlanta right fielder Gary Sheffield, one of Bonds' closest friends. "And the thing is, we're not even going to find out. When you already know, why would you want to find out if he's up for the task?
"Just one mistake to Barry can change everything around. We have the type of pitchers who will pitch to Barry if he can't beat us; if he can we won't. We don't have guys over here with big enough egos to want to say, 'We pitched to Barry Bonds when the game was on the line.' That's a stupid pitcher, and we don't have any of those types of guys here."
Once again, the cerebral Atlanta pitching staff was the majors' best across the board, leading the club to its 11th consecutive division title. But the Braves have won only one World Series title (1995) during their historic run, and how they handle Bonds could help determine whether they get another this season.
Game 1 starter Tom Glavine said he wouldn't take unnecessary chances.
"You can't assume that the struggles that Barry has had in the past in the postseason are going to be true this time around, because he's a much different player than he was when we last saw him in the postseason," the 18-game winner said. "The law of averages are probably on his side, but we're hoping to delay that by at least one more year."
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STRENGTHS: Two words: Barry Bonds. Bonds had a remarkable encore to his stunning 2001 season, leading the major leagues in batting at .370 and setting single-season records with 198 walks and a .582 on-base percentage. Jeff Kent forms the other half of the Giants' formidable 1-2 punch, having hit at least 22 homers with 100 RBIs the last six seasons. One of the majors' strongest pitching staffs could help Bonds and Kent create some positive postseason memories for a change.
WEAKNESSES: There isn't much there, once you get past Bonds and Kent. Benito Santiago had a nice season--but who couldn't, hitting behind Bonds? Rich Aurilia had a huge drop-off offensively from his big 2001 season.
KEY RESERVES: INF Ramon Martinez (.271, 4 HR, 25 RBIs), OF Tom Goodwin (.260, 1 HR, 17 RBIs), C Yorvit Torrealba (.279, 2 HR, 14 RBIs).
TEAM BATTING: .267 (Fourth in NL).
TEAM PITCHING: 3.54 ERA (Second in NL).
STRENGTHS: Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who together have won six Cy Young awards, are still the foundation of Atlanta's success, but 18-game winner Kevin Millwood was the Braves' most consistent starter this season. Closer John Smoltz, the majors' all-time leader in postseason victories, established an NL record with 55 saves. Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones are one of the game's most productive outfields.
WEAKNESSES: Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla were awful at the plate, minimizing Sheffield's impact in to the batting order. Flashy leadoff batter Rafael Furcal was caught stealing 15 times in 42 attempts, and what was up with that .259 on-base percentage in September?
KEY RESERVES: INF Julio Franco (.284, 6 HR, 30 RBI), C Henry Blanco (.204, 6 HR, 22 RBI), INF Keith Lockhart (.216, 5 HR, 32 RBI), OF Darren Bragg (.269, 3 HR, 15 RBI).
TEAM BATTING: .260 (Ninth in NL).
TEAM PITCHING: 3.13 ERA (First in NL).
KEYS TO THE SERIES
Bonds will soon add a record fifth NL MVP to his remarkable resume, but postseason success has eluded him. In 27 playoff games, Bonds has batted .196 (19 for 97) with a home run and six runs batted in. However, he has played at an unparalleled level since the Giants' last playoff appearance in 2000, so history may not apply. But will the Braves pitch to Bonds?
RECORDS: Giants 95-66, Braves 101-59.
HEAD TO HEAD: Tied, 3-3.