By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 8 -- Mike Bacsik has his special place now, one provided by the fastball he served up to Barry Bonds on Tuesday night, the pitch that became the 756th home run for San Francisco Giants' slugger. A day later, Tim Redding provided his own signature to the Bonds-fest going on here -- allowing No. 757 to Bonds, then giving up No. 1 to Matt Cain, the opposing pitcher.
Such was the dichotomy of Wednesday's 5-0 loss for the Washington Nationals to Bonds and the Giants. On a day when Bacsik reveled in his newfound celebrity, the Nationals couldn't do what they came here to do amid all the chaos -- beat the Giants to continue a trend in which they have, somehow, been one of the National League's best teams for nearly three months.
While Bacsik was on national television and radio and was recognized in bars, Redding's 1-1 fastball to Bonds in the first -- which Bonds crushed into McCovey Cove, the kayak-filled body of water beyond the right field wall at AT&T Park -- reinforced that Bacsik isn't in an exclusive club. Rather, he was just the 446th pitcher to allow a homer to Bonds. Redding, 24 hours later, became the 447th, and the two-run homer gave the Giants an early lead.
"I've looked at the replay on the computer three times, and the ball is on the black of the plate, if not maybe half a ball off the plate," Redding said. "The guy's hit 756 homers before tonight. It's not like he's guessing all the time. He does what he does."
From there, Cain did the rest -- allowing three singles over his six innings and smashing a 1-2 pitch from Redding into the seats in left in the fifth. With the series finale coming Thursday afternoon, the best the Nationals can do is a split with the Giants, who are last in the National League West.
That in itself represented a turnaround. What made Tuesday's events so much more palatable for the Nationals was their four-run eighth inning that led to an 8-6 win. That and an affable personality helped Bacsik become the darling of a chase that otherwise was tinged with ambiguity.
"It made it a lot easier after the comeback to win the game," Bacsik said.
Even if Bonds hadn't hit his historic homer, the Nationals used that victory to continue a stretch of quality baseball that couldn't have been predicted, even by their own coaches, players and front-office members. Before Wednesday's loss, the Nationals had gone 43-36 since May 11. Since that day -- when right-hander Shawn Hill threw five innings of no-hit ball against Florida before leaving with an elbow problem -- only four NL teams have better records than Washington, the consensus preseason pick to be the worst team in baseball.
"I think people are starting to find out about us," General Manager Jim Bowden said. "It's not a fluke when you do it for three months. April's a little different, and September's a little different because you have call-ups [when rosters expand]. But May, June, July and August is really getting a pretty good read on what a team is. This team is very close. They care. They want to win."
Which is one reason they almost universally enjoyed being part of Bonds's moment on Tuesday night. Bacsik considered it a significant gesture that, after Bonds homered in the fifth, first baseman Dmitri Young came over to check on the pitcher and "made sure everything was okay, the team leader that he is," Bacsik said. Bacsik also said he was buoyed by Felipe Lopez's vow that the Nationals would come back after Bonds's blast gave the Giants a 5-4 lead.
"The fact that our guys were able to put behind all of those emotions and get their focus into the game and put together that comeback and win the ballgame really made the night very nice for me," Manager Manny Acta said. "He got his home run, they had all the celebration -- and we won the ballgame."
That couldn't continue Wednesday, a day when Bonds arrived earlier than normal to the park so he could participate in the Giants' team photo. On his way to the shoot, Bonds playfully hopped on an iron railing that traverses the length of a 21-step stairwell connecting the home clubhouse to the dugout, sliding down the railing on the seat of his pants and breaking into a jog when he hit the ground below. Outside in the sunshine, the entire team lined up in three rows in the outfield to document the 2007 Giants for posterity.
From introductions to a replay of the moment to his first at-bat, Bonds's every move was cheered by an adoring home crowd. When he hit his homer off Redding, there were no hands thrust in the air and no ceremony to mark the occasion. All it did was provide the Giants with enough runs to win the game.
The Nationals couldn't score off Cain in the first despite having a runner on second and nobody out, and they didn't put another runner in scoring position until the eighth. Redding, meantime, gamely hung in through seven innings. Unlike Bacsik, he won't be remembered as part of history, and unlike Bacsik, he was saddled with a loss.
Bacsik, saved by that comeback, met up with a childhood friend to go out after Tuesday's events. He was recognized by some fans.
"I got two drinks out of it," he said.
He might, in fact, get more. He was already being told that he could generate a six-figure income signing memorabilia and attending card shows for as long as he wants.
"Right now," Bacsik said, "I need to worry about pitching better than I pitched last night."
Which, really, is what the Nationals are worried about, too. They have played good baseball for three months -- Bonds's chase or not -- and they don't want that to stop now.
Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.