10/05/2003 8:23 PM ET
A walk in the park for Bonds
Marlins successful in pitching around slugger
MIAMI -- Florida manager Jack McKeon summarized his strategy on pitching to Barry Bonds the same way several times during the National League Division Series: "You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't."
But for the most part, McKeon and the Marlins, who are now headed to the National League Championship Series after downing the Giants three games to one, managed to stay away from damnation either way, despite having little rhyme or reason to their decisions about what to do when facing the fearsome slugger.
Bonds did get some pitches to hit -- 17 of them, to be exact. That's how many of the 56 pitches he saw for strikes. But unlike the regular season, when Bonds would find a way to make the most of his precious few opportunities, he not only didn't homer the entire series (none of his Giants teammates did either), he also mustered only two hits in nine official at-bats.
The Marlins displayed absolutely no interest in pitching to Bonds in Game 1, issuing three walks (two intentional) while getting him to fly out once. The last two walks both helped manufacture a run, however, thanks to the clutch hitting of Edgardo Alfonzo, so perhaps that caused McKeon to become a little more aggressive to start Game 2.
Bonds got a hittable pitch in his first at-bat of that contest, and he cracked an RBI double. With a runner again on base his next time to the plate, Bonds didn't see anything he could hit, getting a four-pitch, but not intentional, walk, but Alfonzo made the Marlins pay with a two-run double.
"You pitch to him today and he doubles," said McKeon. "You pitch to him another time, he homers. You walk him, the next guy doubles. This is the problem you have with a guy of his caliber."
And yet, McKeon still preferred what he called the "lesser of two evils," walking Bonds intentionally his third time up in Game 2 to load the bases with one out for Alfonzo. This time, the strategy worked, as both Alfonzo and Benito Santiago popped out to end the threat.
Bonds' final at-bat of Game 2 was about the only slam-dunk decision for McKeon. The Marlins led by four in the eighth inning and Bonds led off the inning, getting a ball and fouling off one pitch before popping out in foul territory.
In Game 3, with spacious Pro Player Stadium behind his pitchers, McKeon became a bit bolder, walking Bonds only twice (both intentionally) in six plate appearances. And of the four times Bonds reached base, on two walks, an infield single and an error, Alfonzo followed by also getting on base each time (three singles and a walk).
But the utter futility of the 6-7-8 spots in the lineup meant Bonds only ended up crossing home plate once in that game, neutralizing his outstanding on-base percentage (.556 for the series). In four games, Bonds scored three runs despite walking eight times, six times intentionally.
In his first time at bat during Game 4, Bonds fouled out, but he then hit a ball to the warning track in center his second time up. Yet despite that scare and three consecutive Giants hits off Dontrelle Willis to open the sixth, McKeon had the young lefty pitch to Bonds with two men on but first base open. Bonds lofted a sacrifice fly during the Giants' four-run, game-tying rally, his second and final RBI during the NLDS.
In his last plate appearance of the series, Bonds ended his season in fitting fashion, earning an intentional free pass with two out in the eighth inning of a tie game. Forced out by an Alfonzo grounder, Bonds was about to step into the on-deck circle when he saw the game -- and the Giants' season -- end with a play at the plate.
Who knows if Bonds would have gotten a chance if he'd made it to plate? Even Jack McKeon probably couldn't tell you.
Chris Shuttlesworth is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Chris Shuttlesworth / MLB.com