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Baseball Notebook: A Giant heart in left in San Francisco

Sunday, September 07, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

In years past, The Guy In The Stands would have taken advantage of the situation to fire off a one-liner. Headline: Barry Bonds taken to hospital with heart palpitations.

Analysis: At last! Medical science has proof that Barry Bonds has a heart.

Ba-da-boom!

For years, Bonds’ surliness, his decision to leave the Pirates, his postseason failings, his disdain for reporters and his arrogance all made him an easy target. Right up there with Anna Nichole, advice from Dr. Phil, Ben Affleck movies, Bill Clinton, the Detroit Tigers and the California stripper who would be governor.

But not this time. The Guy does not need to fly in Dr. Michael DeBakey for a consult to support what he saw last weekend. Or the past two weeks. Or all summer, in fact.

Barry Bonds does have heart. No rimshot. No yuk. No championship ring needed.

We always knew the talent. We always knew the numbers. These past weeks, however, we were offered clearer knowledge of apparently his greatest muscle; the muscle that trains his eye, the muscle that wills his bat, the muscle that drives him back onto a ballfield last weekend less than 48 hours after burying his father.

“My dad would want me to play, and that’s what I’m doing,” Bonds said. “I’ve got plenty of time in the off-season. Right now, I have to do my job ... and get to my dad after the season.”

Some will say The Guy has lost his cynical senses. That he’s given himself to The Dark Side out of sympathy over a grieving son for a dead father. That he simply wants to sell papers by playing up the melodrama of a man who says “it’s like somebody’s carrying me right now, giving me an extra push.”

Sorry to spoil your theories. It is not over the death of Bobby Bonds that The Guy has experienced this transformation that just might rank up there with those of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus and the rumpus room in episode 3 of “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.”

It is not over his father’s death that he sees him differently. But, rather, because of it.

Because against its emotional devastation, not only did Bonds play again, but performed in ways a man weakened by hurt and distracted by final goodbyes should not have been able.

Consider all he did in the two weeks that bookended his father’s death Aug. 23:

Aug. 19: In his first game back after being away for five days standing vigil at his father’s bedside, he led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a home run to beat the Atlanta Braves, 5-4.

Aug. 21: Again facing the Braves, again in the bottom of the 10th, again he homered to beat the Braves, 4-3.

Aug. 30: Two days after his father’s funeral and seven days since his previous at-bat, he returned in Arizona. On the mound: Randy Johnson. Thanks, God. No matter. After a single in his first at-bat, he stepped up in the fourth inning with the score, 1-1. Are you kidding? Johnson didn’t have a chance. Bonds homered for a 2-1 lead in a game that would end that way.

Aug. 31: He proved he was really human and missed a game, if not by choice. Officially, it was listed as exhaustion. Mostly it was to be monitored for an accelerated heartbeat. “The doctor said this is more serious than you think,” he told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. “ ‘If he’s not getting enough blood flow or oxygen and he goes out on that field and something happens, it might be too late to get him to the hospital.’ ... That was the bottom line. If it stops, you stop. Period.”

But only for 24 hours.

Monday: He was back at it. A pitcher’s duel sent the game 0-0 into the ninth. Up stepped Bonds with the bases loaded. He lined a two-run single to center off Arizona closer Mike Myers. And the Giants won again, 2-0.

Bottom line: In a two-week span during which most of us would be in such an out-of-body haze that we would not have known what day it was or that Britney had lip-locked Madonna, Barry Bonds managed to play in six games and win four of them.

The tally is more telling the further back into the summer you go; back before his story went national but not before it had become apparent that his dad was dying. In the 15 games Barry played in August, he homered in seven of them. In the 42 he has played since July 1, the numbers are 18 homers and a .417 average. While he knew his dad was dying.

Anyone who ever stepped into a batter’s box knows that something greater than talent or ego had to be at work.

“I haven’t slept,” Bonds told Shea. “My wife is always saying, ‘Go in the other room, take a half a bottle of NyQuil and just pass out.’ ... Exhaustion, lack of sleep, I’ve been through it all. I spent every night with my father, then went to the ballpark.”

“I don’t know,” Giants trainer Stan Conte said, “if we understand what he really went through for several weeks.”

Or, for that matter, if we truly understood until now the heart that made it possible. The Guy didn’t.

Wild, wild month

When September started, eight teams were within 3 1/2 games of each other in the NL wild card. The NL Central winner will emerge from among three of them -- the Astros, Cardinals or Cubs -- leaving seven to contend for that one last, lonely postseason spot over these final three weeks. A look at who’s hot, who’s not and who’d better pray (a lot):

Leader: The Phillies lead Florida by a game.

One to remember: Cubs manager Dusty Baker said this week’s Cubs-Cardinals series at Wrigley “was one of the best series I’ve ever been in.” Helping make it so, the Cubs won 4 of 5 with the centerpiece an 8-7 win Wednesday in which they trailed 6-0 going into the bottom of the sixth before rallying on the back of Moises Alou (5 for 5, 4 RBIs).

Difference maker: Jim Thome (39 HRs, 107 RBIs) is providing ample return on that big off-season contract, including a .323 average (10 for 31) with three homers and seven RBIs to help the Phillies rebound from a six-game losing streak to win 8 of 9. “That’s what big guys do,” manager Larry Bowa said.

This week: The Cubs open a four-game series tomorrow against the Expos in San Juan. The matchup: The Cubs’ pitching staff vs. the smallish dimensions of Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Biggest movers: The Diamondbacks (2-5 this week) and Expos (1-5) dropped to 6 and 6 1/2 games back, respectively. Only one team since 1969 -- the 1973 Mets -- overcame a deficit of five or more games in September while leapfrogging more than one team. “We’ve got the noose around our neck,” said Montreal hitting coach Tom McCraw. And the Phillies are tugging on it.

Cat-scratch fever

In case you’ve had any lingering doubts since, oh, the Pope delivered his Easter address, the Detroit House Cats officially cemented last place in the AL Central with a 7-4 loss to the Indians Monday. As if the team record book could handle much more negative karma, that made them the first team since the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics to sew up last place by Sept. 1. It likely was only an appetizer for the bad month ahead. They need to go 4-17 to surpass the 1962 Mets (40-120) as the losingest team of the modern era. “We’re in uncharted waters,” Manager Alan Trammel said. “It hasn’t gone the way I scripted it.” It has if the script was “Hollywood Homicide.”

20-loss fallout

Now that Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth has dispatched Brian Kingman back to the bowels of trivia hell after a run of fame that lasted longer than his actual career, maybe you’re wondering: Who was the last pitcher to lose 21 games in a season? That would be Randy Jones, who went 8-22 for the Padres in 1974. But unlike Kingman, who was in Toronto Friday to see Maroth lose No. 20, don’t look for Jones to start stalking Maroth. Good thing, too. Tigers broadcaster Jack Morris might want to take him out. Morris for the life of him couldn’t understand Kingman’s infatuation with being known as the last man to lose 20 games. “What’s wrong with him,” Morris wondered. “Is that a record to be proud of. I think it’s asinine.”

Another tradition soiled

Think about Marty Martin of Bristol, Conn., the next time you catch an opponent’s home run ball and the crowd implores you to throw it back. Martin, attending only the second Red Sox game of his life, caught a home run off the bat of Jorge Posada, catcher for the hated Yankees, in the fourth inning Aug. 30 at Fenway Park. “Throw it back, throw it back,” came the chant that is so often heard in any ballpark these days upon the occasion of an enemy home run. “The crowd practically lifted me off my feet it was so intense,” Martin told Brian McGrory of the Boston Globe. So, being the loyal Soxer that he is, he did. And Fenway roared.

Unfortunately, Martin’s 15 minutes of fame only lasted about 2 minutes, 37 seconds. Police and security showed up at the end of his row and quicker than Manny Ramirez could order another round of throat losenges, Martin was led away and told he’d have to leave the park. Fans just can’t be throwing objects onto the field.

Imagine Martin’s chagrin as he rode back to Bristol that evening, sticking out like the busted, rebel lawbreaker he was among his fellow day-trippers ... from the Knights of Columbus.

Houston hillclimb

Pirates fans likely remember the circling, staggering catch Houston’s Lance Berkman made on Rob Mackowiak while going up “Tal’s Hill” in center field at Houston’s Minute Maid Park last season. Well, that now might only be the second-best play produced on that stretch of ground taken straight from an amusement park putt-putt layout sans clown’s mouth and red nose.

In a game Aug. 28, Dodgers center fielder Dave Roberts went up the hill on a deep drive hit, coincidentally, by Berkman. Up and up he ran. Incredibly, he not only managed to keep his balance while keeping an eye on the ball, but once at the wall, fought off a souvenir-hunting fan to bring back in what appeared to be a sure home run.

Said a disbelieving Berkman: “That was horrible hand-eye coordination of whoever the fan was out there. I watched the replay and I don’t know how he missed it.”

Maybe the windmill distracted him.

Shot and a jeer

Shot: The Blue Jays unveiled a new logo this week that featured the word “Jays” with the head of an angry blue jay sicking out from the letter “J”. Not to doubt Toronto’s marketing flaks, but just how angry can you make a blue jay look?

Jeer: Cubs manager Dusty Baker heard about his dugout-to-dugout war of words with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa Wednesday. From the office of the commissioner? No. Office of the father. “My dad told me, ‘Son, we’ve been working on your temper all our lives,’ ” Baker told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. “I said, ‘Sounds to me that if I was 12 years old, I might’ve got a spanking.’”


Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474. This notebook was gathered from personal interviews, wire service reports and other newspapers.

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