Back in June, with the San Francisco Giants mired in third place, Manager Dusty Baker claimed to have a vision. As visions go, it was rather modest. It involved inverting his two stars in the batting order, Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. Kent would now hit third, Bonds fourth and catcher Benito Santiago fifth.
The Giants roared into a wild card berth using mostly that batting order, and it is now wreaking havoc on the Anaheim Angels, whom the Giants crushed here tonight in Game 5 of the World Series, 16-4.
Kent, who hit .337 out of the third spot this season, had two homers, four RBI and four runs scored. Bonds crushed the ball when the Angels pitched to him. When they didn't, Santiago made them pay, blistering a two-run single in the second inning that blew open the game.
More than anything, the offensive explosion showed the dilemma faced by Angels Manager Mike Scioscia as he considers how to deal with the phenomenon that is Bonds.
As the Series goes on, it has become clear there is no scenario too preposterous to walk Bonds. Scioscia seemed to confirm this today, saying he "would never rule anything out" when asked if he might even walk Bonds intentionally with the bases loaded.
Even as he spoke, the San Francisco Examiner was handing out "Pitch to Barry!" signs to the incoming crowd. And Scioscia was then asked if baseball itself was inherently flawed, allowing a team to effectively eliminate the most dangerous player on the other team.
"We have a responsibility to go out there and use whatever strategy we can to win ballgames," said Scioscia.
Millions then saw exactly what Scioscia is up against. In the first inning, he chose to have his starter, Jerrod Washburn, pitch to Bonds. Bonds hit a double so hard it ripped the confidence from the young left-hander's face. In the second, Scioscia chose to walk Bonds. The next batter, Santiago, hit a sharp two-run single, making it a 5-0 game.
The outcome of the Series, which San Francisco leads 3-2, may ultimately be decided by Scioscia's hard choices and how the Giants respond to them. Bonds continues to put on a historic clinic; seemingly, he hits the ball hard every single time he gets a pitch to hit.
Tonight's intentional walk was his sixth, the most in a Series since the statistic was first recorded in 1955. He has an astonishing 24 walks in the postseason, also a record.
For his part, Santiago is making the Angels pay, as he did against the Cardinals in winning the NLCS MVP. He is hitting .364 with 10 RBI after Bonds walks in the postseason, and often he is showing why never in 135 years of Major League Baseball have we seen these kinds of scenarios, in which a manager can choose to walk a batter intentionally with runners on first and third, or first and second, and people still regard him as relatively sane.
"It's not easy hitting behind Barry," said Baker. "But he's going to have his opportunities and most of the time Bennie has come through."
In fact, the Giants' success this year was largely dependent on Baker figuring out who should hit behind him. In the 77th game of the season, with the Giants 43-33, Baker moved Kent ahead of Bonds, saying it came to him early one morning. The Giants erupted for 11 runs. Baker stayed with the lineup in 59 of the next 83 games, going 40-18-1 during that span.
Kent hit .337 with 16 homers and 46 RBI in 60 games hitting third.
"I guess it was one of the reasons we started to come around, but I don't think it was the only thing," Kent said of the lineup change. "We just needed something to get us going. I guess that turned out to be it."
Bonds this season broke the major league records for on-base percentage (.582) and walks (198). But he said it's nothing out of the ordinary.
"I've been going through intentional walks for over 10 years now," he said. "I'm accustomed to it."