- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

It's the question everyone's asking this postseason: Should you pitch to Barry Bonds?

And no one seems to have the right answer, including the Anaheim Angels, who have two more days to come up with a plan before the start of the World Series on Saturday night.

Ask members of the Angels' pitching staff, and they'll tell you they have every intention of going after the San Francisco Giants slugger.

"I hate pitching around anybody," says Game1 starter Jarrod Washburn.

"I'm going after him like everybody else," says closer Troy Percival. "You start to walk people just to walk them, you're going to have a problem."

"Hey, he can't hit everything out of the park, can he?" wonders reliever Ben Weber. "Somebody's got to get lucky and get him out, right? The way I look at it, maybe I'll be that lucky one. So I want to pitch to him."

Anaheim's pitchers may have the bravado to pitch to Bonds, but their manager and pitching coach ultimately will decide what to do with the game's most feared hitter. And at the moment, they appear to be leaning toward the "walk Barry" approach.

"If you look at all of Bonds' stats and micro-stats over the last two years, he may have had the best two years in baseball history," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Tuesday. "Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and walk him."

Added Bud Black, Anaheim's pitching coach: "The willingness of teams in the National League not to pitch to this guy leads me to believe that's the thing to do."

The stats seem to back that up, too. Bonds was less likely to score after being walked this season than after being pitched to.

Bonds drew a major league record 198 walks during the regular season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he scored after 34 of them, a rate of 17.2 percent. Even more telling, Bonds was intentionally walked 68 times, also a record. He scored only three times, a rate of 4.4 percent.

Those percentages have led most managers to go against the "book" we so often hear about and intentionally walk a batter in situations they'd normally never dream of: runners on first and second with no outs, runners on first and third with one out, even bases empty with two outs.

Tony La Russa certainly had no qualms about pitching around Bonds, no matter what conventional wisdom said. The St. Louis Cardinals manager walked him 10 times in 21 plate appearances during the National League Championship Series.

"We don't go out there every at-bat just to take Barry out of the game," La Russa said at the time. "When it's real obvious that this is not the time we should even try to be nasty with him, then you play around him to get to somebody else.

"Right now, if we had to win tonight's game, and you had to choose between Barry and somebody else in that lineup, you've got to take the other guy."

Of course, La Russa is currently sitting at home in St. Louis making plans to watch the World Series on his big-screen TV, not from the visitors' dugout at Edison International Field. And he has been forced to do so in part because of his regular decisions to pitch around Bonds and take his chances with "the other guy," No.5 hitter Benito Santiago.

The well-traveled, 37-year-old catcher may not strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers like Bonds, but he did prove he could handle the pressure of batting behind a future Hall of Famer.

In Santiago's 10 NLCS plate appearances following walks to Bonds, he had four hits and five RBI, ultimately earning him series MVP honors.

"It isn't like there's a 12-year-old batting behind Bonds," said Angels left-hander Scott Schoeneweis.

So maybe the correct strategy isn't to walk Bonds, but to gasp! actually pitch to him.

Common sense and 130 years of baseball history seem to back that thought process, and Angels reliever Dennis Cook knows it.

"What did he hit for the year?" Cook asked reporters the other day, to which they replied, ".370."

"That means he got 37 hits for every 100 at-bats," Cook retorted. "Somebody is getting him out."

Indeed, no one has ever batted more than .424 for a season in the modern era. So it stands to reason that, even when you pitch to him, Bonds is going to make an out in about two of every three at-bats.

Aren't those better odds than giving him a free pass to first base every time he steps into the batter's box?

Yes if you're willing to tempt fate and risk serving up a three-run homer into McCovey Cove.

What it boils down to is this: There is no right way to pitch to Barry Bonds, because no one's ever done what he has over the last two seasons.

His presence is so great, he actually changes the way the game is played. That's an awesome statement to make, given the fact that baseball has been played virtually the same way for much of the last 100 years.

With Bonds, though, everything you thought you knew has to be thrown out the window. The "book" doesn't apply to this generation's most dangerous hitter, and if you still doubt it, just consider the drastic measure Buck Showalter once took to keep the bat out of Bonds' hands.

On May 28, 1998, Showalter's Arizona Diamondbacks led the Giants 8-6 with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases loaded. Bonds came to the plate, only to watch in sheer astonishment as the Diamondbacks threw him four straight balls, intentionally walking in a run, putting the tying run on third and the winning run on second.

San Francisco catcher Brent Mayne was up next, and on a 3-2 count he lined out to right field to end the game and validate Showalter's unprecedented move.

Now here's the real kicker to the story: That took place four seasons ago, when Bonds was merely a great hitter. These days the only man he's being compared to is Babe Ruth.

That is the challenge facing Scioscia and the Angels. Say the same scenario played out in Game7 of the World Series: bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, two-run lead, Bonds at the plate.

What would you do?


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