Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Maybe the World Series is as interested in finding out about Barry Bonds as Bonds is in exploring his first chance to win a world title. Sometimes, the game seems to seek out players, put them on the perfect stage at the ideal time. Saturday night, baseball finally let Bonds -- after 17 years and 613 home runs -- play in the event for which he has spent his whole life in preparation.
"Everyone's excited to be here. I am particularly," said Bonds, before hitting a home run and making two fine running catches in left field as his San Francisco Giants won Game 1, 4-3, over Anaheim. "It's something I've worked for my whole life."
That, if anything, is an understatement. When your father is Bobby Bonds, who hit 332 home runs, and your godfather is Willie Mays, you spend your whole life in a world that is saturated in baseball, marinated in lore and filled to the brim with expectations that few can imagine.
Bonds's first memory of Edison Field comes from the days when it was known simply known as The Big A. The parking lot beyond the left field fence was his playground in 1977, when his dad hit 37 homers for the Angels. "Oh, I remember being out here all the time," Bonds said. "We used to have family softball games with the Disney characters."
Few can even imagine what it has been like being Bonds. Or the frustration of waiting so long to reach the one stage on which he was raised to believe he belonged.
"I always wanted to play the outfield next to my godfather, Willie Mays. I didn't understand [our] age difference at the time. I just said, 'I'm going to play the outfield with you, be in left field,' " Bonds said this week.
"Now, I have the opportunity to play left field. And I play against the ghost of Willie and my dad. My dad played right field, my godfather played center, I play left. I get to have that dream every single day when I step on that field at Pac Bell."
If Bonds seems to be living a life that has an eerie, utterly self-referential, almost mythological quality, then so be it. It's the life he has come to love.
Fittingly, his first Series at-bat was one of those instant memories that will be replayed for years. If this is just Bonds's first Series act, what remains in store for us over the next week?
The 38-year-old got his feet wet by making a nice running catch in left in the first inning. Then, he faced Jarrod Washburn, the Angels' southpaw ace, in the top of the second inning.
The Angels, despite their respect for Bonds, don't seem to grasp that he hits left-handers even better than right-handers. That left-vs.-left "percentage" theory may work for the rest of mankind, but not Bonds. This year, he hit 22 homers off lefties -- the highest total by a left-handed hitter in baseball history. And he had a better batting average, too -- .384 to .363.
"Jarrod is going to come right after hitters," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got good late life on his fastball. He works up in the zone a lot, gets a lot of fly balls."
Washburn missed with two fastballs, one high, one low. Would this just be Bonds's 213th walk of the season? Just another pitcher too afraid to challenge perhaps the best player since Babe Ruth?
Washburn has hinted as much before the game, saying, "If we win the World Series and guys are calling me a wimp because I pitched around Barry Bonds, that's fine with me."
But on his third pitch, Washburn made Bonds look bad, getting him to flail at a fastball up and in. You see, Bonds really is mortal. Even this season, with his .370 average, he actually makes almost twice as many outs as he gets hits. That's why pitchers keep putting their hands in the fire, then trying to pull them out fast enough.
So, a first-rate pitcher, like 18-game winner Washburn, lives in the hope (a diabolical one) that, even if he's facing Bonds or the ghost of Babe Ruth, if he can just hit those perfect spots, he'll survive.
Washburn threw a fourth straight fastball, this time trying to jam Bonds on his hands. But the pitch strayed over the heart of the plate. Before the ball stopped straying, it had flown 418 feet, far over the right field fence, for Bonds's fifth home run of this postseason.
Even before the ball left the infield, Bonds knew the result and flipped his bat away with the imperial disdain that typifies his style.
That one at-bat seemed to illustrate the theories of hitting that Bonds has, quite generously, been explaining in the days before this Series.
"I can only swing at what I can hit. If I can't hit it, I don't swing at it," he said. That is literally true because his bat is so short, and (unlike any other great slugger) he chokes up on it so much. He simply cannot get the fat of the bat on pitches which are several inches off the plate.
"You can't hit every pitch. You have to tip your hat to a certain pitch that's there. There are margins of error in hitting. Like they say, the game is about inches," said Bonds, who might have been describing the perfect 2-0 fastball Washburn threw past him.
"[A pitcher] may make that pitch that, on his inches, gets me out. But if he misses with those inches, that's the pitch I'm going to hit out." And so it was with Washburn's gopher ball.
For the Giants, Bonds's blow seemed to be the ignition they needed to feel at home not only in the Series, but on the road, too. Before the second inning was over, Reggie Sanders hit a 390-foot solo home run. In the sixth inning, Sanders singled off Washburn and J.T. Snow followed with the knockout punch -- a towering opposite-field home run for a 4-1 lead.
We may not know, until this Series is over, how much this event truly means to Bonds. For now, he'll only hint at the depth of his emotions. "I never really watch the World Series . . . just flick back and forth," he says. "I've never been to the Hall of Fame, either. I'll go the day somebody says I'm invited or inducted."
Are those standards high enough?
"I figured the World Series [is] meant for me . . . the day that I get there [by earning it] . . . Unfortunately, I hit 73 home runs last year and got invited to go to the World Series to throw out the first pitch. It was a great honor," said Bonds, laughing sardonically.
To get your mind around Bonds, you have to imagine a man who can say, with a straight face, "unfortunately, I hit 73 home runs last year." A man who plays with ghosts -- of men who are still alive and his closest friends -- in the same outfield beside him.
"This is something I've worked forever [for]," Bonds said. "We're the two teams that now have that opportunity to have our time, our day."
Forget that word "we." It's not Barry's favorite. What he means is clear. Now is the time, after so long, since those days in the parking lot here, that he has the chance to have his time, his day. So far, so good. One Series game, one home run, one Giants victory. Sometimes, great deeds are worth the wait.