Friday, April 05, 2002

Bonds is making it look easy

But ring more elusive than HR milestones

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

Barry Bonds hits his second home run of the game, a solo shot to right field off Terry Mulholland during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium Wednesday.
(AP photo)
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        It is still September. Each night a San Francisco Giants baseball game, each night a Barry Bonds home run, or two.

        There was an offseason, wasn't there? Sure. Or else the Texas Rangers would still be 43 games behind, which they aren't. Not yet, anyway.

        But it seems Bonds was gone for only a minute or two, after blowing past Mark McGwire's record last fall, and now is back sending bad fastballs 459 feet away, needing to be pitched around, and it's barely Easter.

        Two nights into this season, Barry Bonds had four home runs and nine RBI. He was a one-man wrecking ball against the quickly retreating Los Angeles Dodgers — beaten 21-2 in two fat-pitch nights. Bonds has been distributing more keepsakes than the souvenir stand.

        “Tomorrow,” said Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn after Bonds' second straight two-homer night, “we'll probably pitch him underhanded.”

        Only one other player has ever started the season with two two-homer games. Eddie Mathews, 44 years ago. But then, it is growing common to see the rare from Bonds.

        “I think you can learn something about yourself every day,” he was saying earlier this week.

        He has learned whatever supernatural forces drove his swing last season for 73 home runs appear to still be there.

        He called 2001, and the need to stay on task night after night, “probably the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my entire life.”

        Then he wintered in Colorado, not skiing because he is afraid of heights. An odd malady for an Aspen resident.

        Surely, Bonds is due for a drop in voltage this season. He is 37 years old. The home runs are not supposed to fall like peanut shells.

        Right. Bonds came out of the starting blocks like Carl Lewis. Four home runs in his first six at-bats. That's a 324-homer pace.

        But he'll slow down. Probably.

        “I still feel ... not old,” he said. “I think I still have a lot to offer to the game of baseball.”

        This, while the pitchers weep.

        So we are quickly back to marking off the mileposts. Last year was McGwire's infant season record. Now it is the career list. Bonds, with 571, is suddenly only two behind No.6 Harmon Killebrew, and 12 back of No.5 McGwire.

        After that would be the land of the home run gods. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron. Hallowed ground, but not all that far away.

        And yet, while he resumes his carpet bombing of National League pitching, there can be only one truly happy ending, right? Even in the first sprinkles of a long season, we can see that.

        “That's not why I'm playing baseball,” Bonds said at the mention of his rising standing on the career list. “I'm not playing baseball to climb totem poles here. I'm playing baseball to go to the World Series.”

        Ah, those two mystical words again. And scanning the 17 men of the 500-homer club, you notice only two never played in the World Series.

        One is Ernie Banks.

        Bonds is the other.

        “He's beginning to make a case for himself as arguably being the best player to ever play the game,” Dodger manager Jim Tracy said of Bonds.

        But even if a calculator is needed to keep track of his home runs, can that argument ever come without footnotes if he never plays in a World Series game?

        So this week, while others asked about his thunderous start, Bonds brought up teammate Reggie Sanders, and the ring Sanders has from last year's Arizona championship.

        “I wish I had one of those,” he said.

        October. That is Bonds' pursuit, more than Harmon Killebrew. The home runs will come. Nearly, it seems again, every night.

        Mike Lopresti is a columnist for Gannett News Service.


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