04/05/2004 10:21 PM ET
Bonds' big night propels Giants
Slugger clubs No 659 in win over Astros
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- There have been majestic shots that orbited the moon, broken-bat homers, balls that smashed windows, blows that just swerved inside foul poles.
|Barry Bonds watches his first home run of the season -- the 659th of his career -- take flight Monday. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
You never know what physics or parabolic arcs will be involved in San Francisco megastar Barry Bonds' next home run, but career homer No. 659 in Monday night's season-opening, 5-4 victory against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park looked like a slightly rising clothes line, leaving pitcher Roy Oswalt hanging out to dry.
It was pinch-hitter Tony Torcato getting hit on the foot, a sacrifice hit by Ray Durham and a game-winning sacrifice fly by J.T. Snow against losing pitcher Octavio Dotel that made the ultimate difference in the ninth, but it was the 39-year-old Bonds -- aging but as powerful as ever -- whose dramatic three-run shot in the eighth brought the Giants back from a 4-1 deficit.
And left him one homer shy of godfather Willie Mays' historic 660 career blows.
"It was a tough pitch, too," said Giants manager Felipe Alou. "He just happened to hit it out. It was down and on the outer part of the plate and the big guy pulled it. I knew when he hit it it was going to be over the outfielder's head. We didn't build this stadium but we'll take the four-bagger."
For sure. Matt Herges, forced to be the San Francisco closer with Robb Nen on the disabled list, saved the game with a 1-2-3 ninth, retiring Craig Biggo, Adam Everett and Jeff Bagwell in the final frame, but he was more enamored with Bonds' one-step-closer-to-history blow.
Oswalt had been magnificent over seven innings, and with a three-run lead, it appeared to be a lock for the Astros. But the right-hander gave up a single to Ray Durham and a base hit to Michael Tucker and then faced Bonds, unloading a 94 mph fastball.
"Anytime Barry's in the lineup anything can happen," said Herges. "Oswalt was dominating us and all of a sudden he got into a little trouble. The manager [Jimy Williams] asked him if he wanted to stay in the game and I'm sure he said 'yeah.' First pitch got him. It was sick."
The 34-year-old Herges, who gave up only two hits over 12 scoreless innings in Spring Training -- "that's all forgotten," said the right-hander -- was impressive in making his closer debut and admitted to butterflies as his moment of truth became near.
"I was nervous, yeah. I was probably more nervous leading up to going in. But not more than I've ever been. This was a great game to win and I didn't want to mess it up. Fortunately it worked out for us. On the bench, we kept hoping to get Barry on. I still don't know why they keep feeding Tucker heaters -- that guy hits heaters. Flat out hits it and he got it going. Then Barry. Unbelievable. It's hard to put into words."
Giants starter Kirk Rueter, in his second straight Opening Day effort, was shaky over the first two innings, allowing one run on four hits and three walks, but then the 34-year-old lefty temporarily found his rhythm, retiring nine straight Astros from the third through the sixth.
Astros right fielder Richard Hildalgo broke Rueter's three-inning spell with a solo homer to right field in the sixth inning, and the Giants hurler departed after retiring the side, throwing 94 pitches overall and giving up five hits. Rueter became the first San Francisco left-hander to start two consecutive Opening Days since the club moved west from New York.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who singled twice and drove in Bonds with a fourth-inning hit, thought Rueter threw well.
"He threw 45-some pitches in the first two innings then settled down and gave us six innings," said Pierzynski. "That's pretty good. He gave us a chance -- that's all you can ask of starters and he did that. Then the bullpen came in and did a good job."
Except for Leo Estrella. He gave up three consecutive singles to Biggio, Everett and Bagwell in the seventh along with Jeff Kent's RBI sac fly and Hidalgo's hit that boosted Houston to its 4-1 margin. Felix Rodriguez (1-0) was the victor as he retired the side in the eighth.
Noted Alou of Rodriguez's effort, "Felix can only reach back and fire until further notice," said the skipper. "He worked hard in the spring on his sinker, but he has to go with the pitch [fastball] that brought him to the big leagues."
In the second game of the series on Tuesday night at 5:05 p.m. PT, Brett Tomko opposes Houston's Andy Pettitte, while Wednesday's 4:05 p.m. contest at Minute Maid Park features Giants righty Jerome Williams against Roger Clemens.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.