Into the home of the Hammer

The Giants will spend their next three nights playing baseball at 755 Hank Aaron drive — a.ka. Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves — so the obvious question is whether Aaron and Barry Bonds will get a chance to meet up face-to-face.

What would you do if you were Aaron?

If Aaron indeed stops by Turner Field to offer his congratulations to Bonds face-to-face, he’ll take the heights of class to a new level. Aaron told Terrence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was “as happy for (Bonds) as anybody,” so it seems clear he doesn’t have a problem with how Bonds may have attained the home run record. He certainly seemed to pass along those sentiments in his videotaped message last Tuesday after Bonds hit No. 756.

Now, if Aaron doesn’t show, do not take that as a sign that he’s snubbing Bonds. Aaron is not a regular at Turner Field, never has been, and he has to be aware that if he shows, the media will descend upon him like bees to a hive. He’s not big on that, so I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for him to show up.

One thing that was interesting was the mostly warm reception that Bonds received in Pittsburgh during a tribute in between games of a doubleheader Monday. It seems the rest of the nation is not as outraged as we anticipated they would be. Bonds’ 755th home run was greeted mostly with cheers in San Diego, and were he to have been lambasted anywhere, Pittsburgh would seem to have made the most sense.

Oh, and in case, you didn’t notice, Bonds is taking steps to keep folks from talking about his possible steroid use.

Finally, Bonds is planning on being back in 2008. If you’re the Giants, what do you do?


Staggering to the finish line

It seems a bit like cruel and unusual punishment that we have to sit through another seven weeks of the A’s and Giants. The two began Monday a combined 25 games below .500 and a combined 30 1/2 games out of first place. The Bay Area hasn’t seen both of its teams finish below .500 since 1996, and they haven’t been on pace to be so collectively bad since 1979.

As bad as both teams are, however, there are things to watch for.

— Can Dan Haren regain his Cy Young form for the A’s? Haren continues to string together quality starts, but his ERA has risen nearly a point since June 9. On that day, it was 1.58 ; after Saturday’s effort it’s 2.53. That’s still the best in the AL, but the gap between Haren and second place Kelvim Escobar is dwindling. Haren’s ERA has gone up after each of the 11 starts he’s made since he threw seven shutout innings against the Giants on June 9.

Can Barry Zito regain any resemblance of his old form? You gotta wonder if, given the chance to do it all over again, the Giants would’ve left Zito alone to tinker with his wind-up after that first day of spring training. The former Cy Young winner should get about 10 more starts, and I question whether he can get his ERA under 5. Conventional opinion seems to be that Zito will bounce back next season, but that process needs to start now.

— How much will the Giants start to faze out Barry Bonds? If they indeed are intent in moving in another direction, no time like the present than to send that message. On the other hand, he is their most potent offensive player, so if the hope is to finish strong, how do you leave him out?

— Will any more players move? The deadline to trade players who have cleared waivers is 18 days from now, and for the A’s, there already have been reports that Mike Piazza and Shannon Stewart have cleared and could be moved. No such leaks regarding the Giants, but you know general manager Brian Sabean is hoping another sucker like Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield calls.


756 — The Day After

One night of short sleep later, some thoughts about Barry Bonds’ big night:

Henry Aaron offered up the class and dignity that defined his career. Regardless how he feels about Bonds personally, his congratulatory tribute gave the big event a sense of legitimacy that it may otherwise have been lacking. Bonds said after the game that “the record is not tainted, period,” and because of Aaron’s actions, he’s right.

— Bonds is the greatest player of his generation, and even if you think his performance was chemically enhanced — and how can you not? — consider this: The man has walked 2,540 times during his 22-year career. That’s a bit more than five full seasons in which he never took the bat off his shoulder. Reduce that by a half or even one-third, take away the performance enhancers, and chances are his home run total would be awfully close to where it is right now.

— Be careful about assuming that this record is just on loan to Bonds until Alex Rodriguez takes it away in 10 years. Let’s assume Bonds gets hot, hits 14 more home runs this season and never plays again. That would leave him with 770. That would mean A-Rod would have to average about 27 dingers a year for a decade to tie. I’m not ready to take the leap of faith that A-Rod will do that without blinking. All it takes is one catastrophic injury or a handful of minor ones to derail a guy. Just ask Ken Griffey Jr.

— Washington Nationals starter Mike Bacsik, who gave up the big 7-5-6, handled the event with as much grace and perspective as you would’ve hoped. Like I blogged on Tuesday, why wouldn’t you want to give up such a historic blast? It means your name will endure forever.

— Here is why Bonds is so frustrating: He mentions his father during his speech to fans and is overcome by emotion. Great moment, one to which every human who has ever lost somebody close can relate. Then he’s asked about it in the postgame press conference and brushes it off, saying, “He can’t remember.” The man won’t even give us even a tiny glimmer into his soul.

— Bonds snapped at a question regarding Greg Anderson, but the inquiry was perfectly legitimate and timely. Bonds mentioned Anderson after he hit No. 71 in 2001, as well as several other times, and the man is sitting in jail in large part to prevent Bonds from being there.

The Moment was unforgettable, but personally, it didn’t create the lump in my throat that watching Aaron’s home run, Pete Rose’s 4,192nd hit or Cal Ripken’s 2,131st straight game did. Perhaps because I wasn’t working those other events and frantically trying to jot down every detail. But I’m sure part of it also is that it’s just so tough to like Barry Bonds. Great player. Not a nice human being.

— Given all the hints Bonds keeps dropping about returning next season, you have to imagine things are getting quite interesting in the Giants’ front office. Sue Burns is the team’s major stock holder, and if she wants him back, he may well be back next season.

— Finally, I’ll say this. Steroids or not, Barry Bonds is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. The Tiger Woods of baseball. A prodigy who was born to be the greatest and has fulfilled every expectation. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that we’ve been privileged to watch him.


The Bonds Watch (756)!!!!

It’s done. Barry Bonds surpassed The Hammer, Henry Aaron, at at 8:50 p.m. with a smash into the center-field seats at AT&T Park, just over the Bank of America sign. Remarkable moment. Whether you like Bonds or dislike him, that’s what you have to respect the most. The Moment.

Classy ceremony, as well, the highlight of which was Aaron giving his congratulations on the high-def scoreboard.

More later.


The Bonds Watch (2-for-2)

Barry Bonds is making it interesting tonight. He once again failed to hit home run No. 756 — that’s nine plate appearances without one since he cracked the big 7-5-5 — but he has smoked two balls. The one in the third against Mike Bacsik was a single to center, and he later came around to score on Bengie Molina’s two-run dinger.

Molina has three RBI tonight, and judging by the way he’s cracking the ball against Bacsik, it’s a logical thought that Bonds eventually will square one up and elevate it.

Of course, we’re moving into the middle part of the game, and as I noted in the blogs last night, Bonds has hit only three home runs at home all season after the sixth inning.

One other thing. Barry Zito looks like a Bacsik clone. His stuff is fairly flat, with little explosion. He’s been touched for two homers tonight, and after Austin Kearns roped a two-run shot in the third, Zito was cascaded by boos. Cheer up Giants fans. Only six more seasons.


The Bonds Watch (2B)

Well, no sooner had Barry Bonds smoked a double to Triples Alley off Mike Bacsik in the second inning than my cell phone rang. Buddy of mine watching on TV, on the other end, exclaiming: “If he doesn’t hit it off this chump tonight, he never will.”

Interesting evaluation, and one that’s hard to dispute. Turns out Bacsik is a lefty and he seems to be throwing absolute slop. His fastball seems to top out around 87 mph, his ball doesn’t have exceptional movement, and his command doesn’t seem the greatest.

In other words, this is a guy Bonds would’ve taken into the Cove a couple of times during his prime. Now, well, Bonds is 43, so nothing’s automatic. He elevated only one pitch from Bacsik in his first at-bat, hitting a pop up to the right side that Nationals second baseman Ronnie Belliard couldn’t corral. The double was smoked; it simply lacked elevation.

Does that mean history is a couple of innings away?


The Bonds Watch (Tuesday edition)

So, I’m sitting here by the dock of the Bay. The sun is splashing the outfield, the arcade near right field is filling with fans, the crack of bat on ball during batting practice is permeating AT&T Park, and I just scarfed a ChaCha Bowl for the Baby Bull’s food stand in left-center field.

In other words, perfect night for a record.

Unfortunately, not going to happen. Of course, by writing that statement, I’m likely ensuring that it will happen. But I’ve been picking Wednesday since the moment of No. 755, and I can’t go back now.

Tonight, Barry Bonds faces off against some guy named Mike Bacsik. To be honest, I’ve heard of him, but that’s about it. His numbers this season seem OK (5-6, 4.19), but let’s face it, if you couldn’t make the Washington Nationals rotation at the beginning of the season, you have issues.

Anyway, one thought that occurred: Why the reluctance of a pitcher to be the one who surrenders the record-breaker. Al Downing, who served up Henry Aaron’s 715th, remains an immortal. You say the name Al Downing, and if you’re a baseball, you know who that is. If I’m Mike Bacsik, this may be my only shot to be remembered forever. If I’m MIke Bacsik, I’m serving it up.


The Bonds Watch (K)

Barry Bonds told reporters in San Diego on Sunday that he wouldn’t need long to end the suspense of No. 756 if he maintained his mechanics. I’m not a hitting coach, and I certainly won’t profess to be able to break down a swing of Bonds’ caliber.

That said, I imagine he’s not mechanically sound when he comes out of his shoes twice the way he did in his final at-bat Monday, a strikeout against Washington Nationals starter John Lannan.

Bonds had a 3-ball, 1-strike pitch to hit. A fastball that looked to bisect the middle half of the plate. Bonds’ swing was not nice and easy. It was hard, as if he were trying to knock off the head of any reporter that’s been following The Chase for the past month. Anyway, his head jerked upward his shoulder yanked open and the result was predictable — a swing-and-miss.

Then Lannan made a very nice pitch on 3-2, a bender that dipped below Bonds’ belt at the last moment. Another mighty rip and miss. And with that, an 0-for-3, one-walk night was in the books. Henry Aaron shares the record for one more night. Bonds is out of the game, the Giants are tied 1-1. But as we all know, the result really doesn’t matter anymore.

What does matter: My prediction for a Wednesday rendezvous with 756 is still alive.


The Bonds Watch (A 5-pitch walk)

Two at-bats, and still he waits. Barry Bonds drew a five-pitch walk from John Lannan with nobody out in the third. And in the aftermath of the walk, you can see why Bonds’ presence is both a good and bad thing for the Giants. Good, because, well, it’s obvious. Bad, because his walk put runners at first-and-second with no outs in a 1-1 game, and the Giants fans were booing. Last I checked, first-and-second with no outs was a good thing.

(Of course, the Giants made nothing of it. Bengie Molina popped out, Ray Durham hit into a double play. Does any area do rally killing like our two Bay Area clubs?)

It’s 1-1 into the fourth. One note: Of the 21 home runs Bonds has hit this season, only six of them have come after the fourth inning.


The Bonds Watch (P5)

Barry pops out to in foul territory to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in his first at-bat. Two things to take note of here: 1) Bonds took two very good pitches by Washington Nationals starter John Lannan, the second strike in particular. That one was down, away and at the knees. 2) He seemed to jump at Lannan’s 1-2 offering, something that he has done periodically throughout the chase.

As for Lannan? He looks a bit like a Barry Zito clone. High socks. Lot of fidgeting on the mound. Bends far over when looking to get a sign. Wonder if he’s a bit goofy off the field like Zito, too.

Another update after Bonds’ next at-bat.