- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO The ball sailed into the Atlanta night, just inside the right-field foul pole and a good 15 rows up the bleachers at Turner Field. Barry Bonds flipped his bat aside, paused to admire his handiwork and trotted around the bases with a defiant scowl.

At long last, Bonds had come through in the postseason. He hit a home run in the ninth inning, off Braves closer John Smoltz nonetheless. To put his San Francisco Giants down by only four runs.

Oh well, you can't have it all.

Bonds' titanic blast Thursday night in Game2 of the National League Division Series ended a 10-year postseason drought for the most prolific home run hitter of this generation. But it didn't put to rest the one black mark on the future Hall of Famer's otherwise impeccable career resume: his inability to come through in the clutch in October. And for that reason, Bonds was in no mood afterward to gloat about his second career postseason homer.

"I don't know what game you guys are watching," he said following San Francisco's 7-3 loss to the Braves. "They had a big lead regardless. I could hit three home runs and we'd still lose."

That's the way it has been for Bonds throughout his career. The man has hit more home runs than anyone not named Aaron, Ruth or Mays, and he just completed one of the most productive offensive seasons in baseball history. But he cannot shake the negative image of his postseason failures, nor does he seem concerned about erasing the stigma in the public's eyes.

"My legacy will be what it is regardless whatever you guys say it's going to be," Bonds said before the series. "Great player didn't win a World Series. Whatever, it's your opinions."

It's nobody's opinion it's fact. Bonds is a career .295 hitter, .311 since signing with the Giants in 1993. He's hit 613 home runs fourth on the all-time list and last year established the single-season record with 73. And in perhaps the finest all-around performance of his 17-year career, he won the NL batting title this season with a .370 average, crushed 46 homers and set major league records with 198 walks and a .582 on-base percentage.

But as soon as the calendar switches from September to October, he goes into hibernation like an Alaskan brown bear.

In five previous playoff series (27 games), Bonds hit .196 with one homer and six RBI. His team's record in those series: 0-5.

"It preys on his mind the more you guys bring it up," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "You're not going to stop people from talking about it. But instead of people bringing up the positives, they seem to bring up the negatives. Personally, leave all those negatives back in past years. Don't bring them forward with you."

Trouble is, nobody seems to be able to put Bonds' past behind.

To this day, folks in Pittsburgh still can't get over the fact that Bonds couldn't lead the Pirates three straight years in the NLCS or throw out lead-footed Sid Bream from left field in the ninth inning of the Braves' dramatic Game 7 win in 1992.

Bonds left Pittsburgh for San Francisco after that game, but his October failures haven't changed a bit. He went 3-for-12 with two RBI in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins in 1997, then 3-for-17 with one RBI in a four-game loss to the New York Mets in 2000.

Since then, he's gone on perhaps the most dominating two-year stretch of any offensive player in history. And when the Giants won the NL wild card this season and returned to the playoffs, there was little doubt what would be the ever-present storyline to this series.

"You can't assume that the struggles that Barry has had in the past in the postseason are going to be true this time around," said Atlanta left-hander Tom Glavine, who faced Bonds and the Pirates in 1991 and '92, "because he's a much different player than he was when we last saw him in the postseason."

Maybe so, but Games 1 and 2 this week bore a striking resemblance to those of two, five and 10 years ago. Bonds went 1-for-4 with an intentional walk in San Francisco's 8-5 win Wednesday, then 0-for-3 Thursday before homering off Smoltz in the ninth.

There were plenty of questions about how the Braves' pitchers would approach Bonds in this series, whether they would give him anything to hit. With the exception of the intentional walk, Atlanta has gone right after him, though that has been in part a reflection of the situations he's come up in.

"We have the type of pitchers who will pitch to Barry if he can't beat us; if he can, we won't," said Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield, a longtime friend. "We don't have guys over here with big enough egos to want to say, 'We pitched to Barry Bonds when the game was on the line.' That's a stupid pitcher, and we don't have any of those types of guys here."

Smoltz certainly wasn't caught in an act of stupidity when he served up a 1-1 fastball to Bonds Thursday night. With his team up five runs, there was no reason not to pitch to him, and Smoltz knew that.

"I know what the situation is," the Braves closer said. "If it comes up where it's a one-run game, it might be a little different."

Bonds managed to avoid reporters early on in the series, but after his Game2 homer, he relented. He spoke hesitatingly and constantly reminded everyone that his team lost the game.

He wasn't about to believe one meaningless home run in the ninth inning of another loss was going to relieve him of the giant albatross that's hung from his neck for more than a decade.

"I get relief when we win the World Series," Bonds said. "That's when I get relief."

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