- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO The Atlanta Braves had it all wrong. They don't need to shut down Barry Bonds to take control of the National League Division Series.
All they need to do is render the game's most feared hitter irrelevant.
For the second straight postseason game, Bonds homered off one of the Braves' best pitchers. And for the second straight game, it came with the San Francisco Giants trailing by five runs.
When Bonds took Greg Maddux deep in the sixth inning of Game 3 yesterday, the Giants were already losing 6-1. And by the time he grounded out in the bottom of the ninth, the Braves had locked up a 10-2 victory at Pac Bell Park and a 2-1 series lead.
How does the saying go: The best defense is a good offense?
Atlanta has had plenty of offense in its two series wins, blasting San Francisco for 17 combined runs in Games 2 and 3, more than enough to offset Bonds' solo homers.
And the production is coming from all sorts of unusual places, such as often-overlooked infielders Vinny Castilla and Keith Lockhart, who turned a 1-1 pitchers' duel into a 6-1 blowout in the sixth inning yesterday.
"We have a great lineup," said Castilla, whose bases-loaded, broken-bat single gave Atlanta the lead for good. "No one's more important than the other. Hopefully, we can keep it up."
For five innings yesterday, no one in the Braves lineup had much success against Giants right-hander Jason Schmidt. Rafael Furcal's leadoff triple in the third (which was aided by Bonds slipping on the warning track) and Julio Franco's subsequent RBI groundout were all Atlanta could come up with to support Maddux.
The playoff-savvy right-hander, making his 30th career postseason appearance and 28th start, matched Schmidt pitch-for-pitch, allowing only Jeff Kent's run-scoring double in the first. San Francisco had its chances against the future Hall of Famer but twice hit right into the Braves' defensive alignment to halt rallies.
With Kent on second and one out, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox elected to walk Bonds intentionally and bring up Benito Santiago. As both runners broke, Santiago grounded to third, where Castilla fielded the ball, stepped on the base and fired to first for an inning-ending double play.
"The play Vinny made was huge," said Maddux, who threw only 67 pitches over six innings, perhaps putting him in line to start Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Wednesday should the Braves advance. "When one of your teammates can pick you up like he did that's huge."
Maddux had no choice but to pitch to Bonds in the third inning after he plunked Kent in the head with a fastball. As the stadium record crowd of 43,043 booed lustily, the Braves put on their standard Bonds shift, with shortstop Furcal moving to the other side of second base.
Furcal couldn't have chosen a better place to stand. Bonds drilled a hard grounder up the middle for what in any other situation would have been a run-scoring single. In this case, Furcal barely had to move to scoop up the ball and step on second to end the inning.
Maddux breathed a sigh of relief as he left the field, fully aware that he might have gotten away with one.
"You never want to see Barry up with [runners on] first and second," he said. "The last thing you want to do is put your team in a position where Barry can hurt you."
The Braves never found themselves in such a predicament after that, because when Bonds' next at-bat came around, Atlanta had just completed a five-run outburst to take the lead.
Schmidt, after five innings of brilliance, lost all sense of his command in the sixth, walking three straight batters to load the bases for Castilla. Giants manager Dusty Baker then summoned right-hander Manny Aybar from the bullpen.
"Vinny is prone to the double play," Baker said. "And Manny is probably my best guy down in the bullpen. He has the ability to throw the sinker and slider to try to get a double play."
Aybar didn't get the chance to show Castilla his full arsenal, because the Atlanta third baseman dropped a broken-bat single to shallow left field on the first pitch he saw. Two runs scored, and the Braves had a 3-1 lead.
One pitch later, Lockhart made it 6-1 with a surprising three-run homer off the tin plating atop the high right-field wall his first homer in 33 postseason games.
"When I first hit it, I kind of just stood there," said Lockhart, who got the surprising start at second base over the better-hitting Mark DeRosa and Marcus Giles. "I thought I hit it better than that, and I looked at the flags and they were blowing out. As soon as I heard it hit the tin, I was pretty excited."
Now pitching with a five-run lead, Maddux was free to challenge Bonds with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the sixth. The San Francisco slugger, whose postseason failures over the last decade have been well-documented, went the other way with Maddux's high fastball and deposited the ball over the left-field fence.
Bonds is now 3-for-11 with two homers in the series, perhaps making slight strides to improve his suspect postseason legacy.
Of course, it doesn't matter how many home runs Bonds hits if the Giants lose one more game to the Braves. His legacy will not be judged on personal stats but on his teams' record in six career playoff series.
That would be 0-6, if you're scoring at home.


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