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Big Swing for Bonds

Baseball: He scores twice, including homer, in Giants' 3-1 win in deciding game of NL division series.

October 08, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — They flew into the wee hours Sunday night.

And they danced into the wee hours Monday night.

The San Francisco Giants, who trailed the Dodgers by 4 1/2 games in the National League wild-card race in late August, who lost two of their first three games in the division series against the Atlanta Braves, came back to win the last two games on opposite ends of the country, beating Atlanta, 3-1, Monday night to advance to the league championship series against the Cardinals, beginning Wednesday in St. Louis.

And nobody was happier about it than Barry Bonds, the Giant outfielder, whose regular-season slugging feats have always been counterbalanced by his postseason failures. He may be a modern day Babe Ruth in the regular season, but he was Ernie Banks in the postseason. Banks, the slugging shortstop of the Chicago Cubs, never played in a World Series. Neither has Bonds, who had been on the losing side in all five of his previous preliminary-round series.

And how did he feel about Monday's victory?

"I don't know," he said. "I've never been past the first round. I'm shocked. I have seen a lot of celebrations by other teams."

Bonds couldn't be sure he'd be celebrating himself until the final out was made. The Braves had runners at first and third with no outs in the ninth. But Giant reliever Robb Nen struck out Gary Sheffield on 96-mph fastballs.

"My heart was going 100 miles an hour," said Giant Manager Dusty Baker. "I was saying, 'Be lucky.' And to be lucky, you've got to think lucky."

After Sheffield's strikeout, Chipper Jones hit a grounder to first. First baseman J.T. Snow stepped on the bag for the second out and then flipped to shortstop Rich Aurilia, who was blocking runner Julio Franco's path to second.

Nowhere to run, no way to avoid elimination.

Aurilia applied the tag, and the coup de grace, finishing the double play that sent the Giants to St. Louis and Atlanta home to ponder another frustrating ending to yet another division-winning season.

Bonds, who had a hand in two of the Giants' three runs, will gladly turn the postseason hex over to the Braves. They may have won 11 consecutive division titles, but only one World Series, in 1995, over that frustrating span. They were last in the World Series in 1999, losing to the New York Yankees. The Braves lost in the division series to the Cardinals in 2000 and in the NLCS to the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

With a chance to wrap up this series Sunday night San Francisco, the Braves fell behind, 7-0, and lost, 8-3.

The clubs flew to Atlanta, arriving near dawn for the finale of the best-of-five series. But neither home-field advantage nor the constant din of the tomahawk chant nor a pitching staff that was supposed to be the superior of the two, nor Sheffield, who was supposed to supply added punch after being traded from Dodgers, was enough to turn back the Giants.

Sheffield finished one for 16 in the series and is sure to receive some of the blame for another disappointing finish.

"I think Gary Sheffield is a great baseball player," said Bonds, his close friend. "There should never be pressure on one player. They have a team of All-Stars over there, so if the media comes down on Gary Sheffield, they should watch their language."

Was this loss among the toughest for Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox?

"If you're a real professional and care about your sport," Cox said, "they're all tough. We wanted to win as bad as anybody in the world."

Bonds' single in the second led to the Giants' first run. He went to second a groundout and then scored on Reggie Sanders' single to center.

Bonds led off the fourth with a towering home run that landed 417 feet from home plate in the left-center field seats.

A year ago Monday, Bonds hit his single-season record 73rd home run off the Dodgers' Dennis Springer.

Did this one rival it in terms of vindication? Bonds wouldn't say.

"You can't compare," he said. "The World Series is what it's all about. I won't be satisfied until we win a World Series."

Atlanta pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa singled in a run in the sixth, but the Giants' Kenny Lofton got it back with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Russ Ortiz hung in there long enough Monday to get the Giant victory, with Nen getting the save. Atlanta starter Kevin Millwood took the loss.

And for once, Bonds didn't have to take the heat.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Braves chart

The Braves have won 11 consecutive division titles, but have only one World Series title to show for it. A look at their regular-season record and playoff performance:

*--* 1991: 94-68 7-7 (lost to Minnesota in World Series) 1992: 98-64 6-7 (lost to Toronto in World Series) 1993: 104-58 2-4 (lost to Philadelphia in NLCS) 1995: 90-54 11-3 (def. Cleveland in World Series) 1996: 96-66 9-7 (lost to Yankees in World Series) 1997: 101-61 5-4 (lost to Florida in NLCS) 1998: 106-56 5-4 (lost to San Diego in NLCS) 1999: 103-59 7-7 (lost to Yankees in World Series) 2000: 95-67 0-3 (lost to St. Louis in NLDS) 2001: 88-74 4-4 (lost to Arizona in NLCS) 2002: 101-59 2-3 (lost to San Francisco in NLDS) Note: There were no playoffs in 1994 because of a player strike

*--*

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