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Nats aim to avoid Bonds’ moment
THE WASHINGTON TIMES Their names are forever known by baseball fans, their images forever burned in their memories for their contributions to the seminal moments in the sport's history.
Ralph Branca, Al Downing, Mitch Williams ... Shawn Hill?
That may not be so far-fetched. The Washington Nationals' right-hander, along with the rest of his pitching mates, could very well find himself joining that infamous list of hurlers who served up the biggest home runs in major league history.
Why? Because at his current pace this season, Barry Bonds is due to slug his record-setting 756th career homer in San Francisco on Aug. 8 against the Nationals.
So how about it, Shawn: Want to be a part of history?
"No, thanks," Hill said. "That's how I'll be remembered in baseball: I gave it up to Bonds? I don't want to be that guy. I don't think many people want to."
At least not on the Nationals' pitching staff. Most players asked about the possibility this week gave similarly emphatic answers.
"Would I want it to be me? Absolutely not," right-hander John Patterson said. "I don't want for them to be showing it over and over again on TV for the rest of time. Nobody wants to be that guy."
Every record-setting or pennant-winning home run immortalizes two players: hitter and pitcher. The Giants' Bobby Thomson is forever known for hitting "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" at the Polo Grounds in 1951, but Brooklyn right-hander Branca is equally well-known for giving it up.
Many fans know who was on the mound when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time record in 1974 with his 715th home run: Downing, a Dodgers left-hander.
The list goes on. Philadelphia's Williams gave up Toronto's Joe Carter's World Series-winning homer in 1993. The New York Yankees' Ralph Terry threw the pitch to Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski that won the 1960 World Series. St. Louis' Mark McGwire's 62nd homer in 1998 came off the Chicago Cubs' Steve Trachsel. Three years later, Bonds broke that record with a blast off the Dodgers' Chan Ho Park.
Now, the controversial Bonds is poised to break the biggest home-run record of them all: Aaron's career mark of 755. The Giants slugger, who has all but been proven guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs, enters this weekend's series against the Yankees with 748. It seems only a matter of time until he surpasses Aaron.
That's why the Nationals could suddenly find themselves in the thick of the biggest sports story of the decade. Barring a sudden hot streak or a complete power outage, Bonds should be somewhere near the golden 756 mark on Aug. 6 when Washington travels to AT&T Park in San Francisco for a four-game series.
"I would be on every highlight tape known to man," said catcher Brian Schneider, who would be squatting right behind the plate.
The question then becomes whether the Nationals would be willing to pitch to Bonds. Go after him, and they risk making history. Intentionally walk him, and they avoid infamy (though surely they would face a cascade of boos).
"If I had to face him and the situation dictates that I should go after him, I'm going to go after him," said reliever Ray King, who has surrendered just one hit (a homer) in 19 career confrontations with Bonds. "I mean, we're going to be smart about it. If there's a base open, what's the average person going to do? Give him the base. But we're not going to go out of our way to try to avoid it."
Clearly, Washington's pitchers don't want to be the ones on the mound for the record-breaking homer. But several admitted they wouldn't mind being in the ballpark when it happens.
"It would be amazing to see him break the record," King said. "I'd be the first one in line trying to get a ball from him."
Perhaps, then, the Nationals would prefer a scenario in which Bonds hits the milestone homer in a meaningless situation. He could have the record; the Nationals could have the win.
"Put it this way: The only way I'd like to see it is if we're up 10 runs with nobody on base," Hill said. "But under any circumstances where it might mean anything, I'd rather watch it on 'SportsCenter.' "
The question may prove to be moot anyway. Bonds could go on a power binge and hit No. 756 within a few weeks. Or, the 42-year-old could remain mired in the current slump that has seen him hit only three homers over his last 36 games and prolong the chase another month or longer.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't get there in time for us," Hill said. "Maybe he doesn't get it until September."
Like Sept. 1, when the Giants are in the midst of a three-game series against the Nationals at RFK Stadium?
"Oh, is that when they're here?" Hill asked. "Well, I wouldn't mind seeing it, but I don't want to be the guy. I also don't want one of the other guys here to be it either. Maybe you could throw a position player in to pitch. They can take it."
Barry Bonds' 756th home run coming off a fastball from outfielder Ryan Church? Now that would be one to remember.
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