YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bonds Factor Is Sign of Times

National League: One way or another, Giant slugger will be key, but La Russa says to not forget his teammates.


ST. LOUIS — Sitting in the locker room at New York's Madison Square Garden more than half a century ago, Minneapolis Laker center George Mikan, the league's first dominating player, couldn't figure out why none of his teammates were getting dressed for the game.

"Did you see the marquee outside?" he was asked.

It read, "Geo Mikan vs. Knicks."

Barry Bonds knows just how the chagrined Mikan felt.

When the best-of-seven National League championship series begins tonight at Busch Stadium, Bonds wouldn't be surprised to see a sign reading, "Barry Bonds vs. Cards."

Bonds' teammate, Reggie Sanders, refers to the San Francisco Giants as "Barry Bonds and his seven little dwarfs."

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Bonds followed his record 73-homer season of 2001 by winning the league batting title with a .370 mark and posting a .582 on-base mark.

But the Giants didn't win 95 regular-season games, hold off the Dodgers for the wild-card spot and defeat the Atlanta Braves in their division series after trailing 2-1 in games with a roster that included Sleepy, Dopey and Grumpy.

The Giants' .267 team batting average tied them for third in the league with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jeff Kent, with 37 home runs and 108 runs batted in; Sanders, with 23 homers and 85 RBIs, and David Bell, with 20 homers and 73 RBIs, ably backed up Bonds, who had 46 home runs and 110 RBIs, in the power department.

With a team earned-run average of 3.83, San Francisco was fourth in the league. And its bullpen ERA of 2.91 was second best in the NL.

Even so, one subject dominated Tuesday's media session with St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa. Would he pitch to Bonds?

Oh, there were variations on that theme. Would he pitch to Bonds with the game on the line? Would he pitch to Bonds with the bases empty? Would he pitch to Bonds, under any circumstances, with the bases loaded?

La Russa patiently answered each question.

"What Barry has done the last two years is incredible," he said. "We are not going to pretend he doesn't exist. We will go after him, just as we go after all dangerous hitters. We'll keep the ball away from the middle of the plate.

"The Giants beat the Braves. Barry Bonds didn't beat the Braves. The Giants have a hell of a team and we are going to give them respect."

When the barrage of Bonds' questions began anew, La Russa smiled at a reporter and said, "I know you'll do a very good job of recognizing the rest of the talent on that team and not fall into the trap."

La Russa, of course, was sending a message. He knows Bonds is Bonds, the most effective player in the game right now, performing at a level only an elite few have ever reached. He expects Bonds to do some damage if he gets pitches he can hit. La Russa's intent was to make sure he didn't provide bulletin-board material for the others in the San Francisco lineup. He doesn't want those "seven dwarfs" to feel so slighted that they turn into giants at the plate. Not only San Francisco Giants, but slugging giants.

La Russa knows all about these mind games. A few years ago, he was on the other side when Mark McGwire was in his lineup and other teams were pitching around the St. Louis first baseman.

That this discussion was even taking place shows how far Bonds has come. Until a week ago, despite all his regular-season heroics, the big question was: Why does Bonds always choke in big games? Never mind the World Series. He's never been in one. But until Monday night, he never even had been on a team that won a postseason series of any sort, going 0-5 with the Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates. Before this year's division series, Bonds had a .196 postseason average with one homer and six RBIs.

Against the Braves, he hit .294 with three home runs and four RBIs in the five games.

Matt Morris, tonight's starter for the Cardinals, was also subjected to a media grilling on the subject of Bonds.

"I would like to go after him every time, every at-bat if the situation called for it," Morris said. "But obviously, I'm not going to do something to jeopardize the win.... I'm going to be careful.

"Being a competitor, you don't want to get booed in your home park by walking him all the time. But being a winner, you want to do the right thing to win the ballgame, also, and not let your ego get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish."

La Russa isn't concerned about the fans' reaction to his strategy.

The Cardinal manager said, "I've got a feeling that a whole lot more of our fans will boo Matt if he throws a hanging curveball down the middle, or a nothing fastball down the middle, and Bonds hits a couple of home runs.

"If Matt misses with that curveball or fastball and walks [Bonds] a time or two, and a few people boo because they can't see Barry hit a home run, then they are misunderstanding the competition. We are here to compete against the Giants."

So change that sign to read, "Giants, including Bonds when unavoidable, vs. Cards."



Anyone's Guess

It's hard to figure Barry Bonds' chances against the St. Louis pitching staff based on the regular season. Because of injuries, Bonds made only token appearances against the Cardinals. A look at Bonds against National League teams this season:

*--* Team AB H HR RBI BA BB Florida 12 8 3 5 667 9 Philadelphia 12 6 1 1 500 3 St. Louis 2 1 0 0 500 3 Pittsburgh 17 8 3 6 471 11 Houston 13 6 1 2 462 9 Cincinnati 11 5 2 2 455 14 San Diego 46 20 7 21 435 34 Dodgers 40 16 6 18 400 21 Atlanta 19 7 1 3 368 10 Colorado 66 23 7 15 348 7 Milwaukee 13 4 2 5 308 10 Montreal 13 4 2 2 308 4 Arizona 57 18 7 19 316 26 Chicago 15 4 1 4 267 5 New York 18 3 1 2 167 6


Los Angeles Times Articles