Giants move on from Bonds era

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds came bounding out of the Giants dugout in jeans and his old No. 25 jersey, jumping up and down and waving, showing more enthusiasm than he ever did when he wore the full uniform, pants and all.

He was back at the ballpark he once owned, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3 of the NL Championship Series. And the crowd stood cheered, reverting to the "Bar-ree" chant, picking it up like an old habit.

But something different happened at AT&T Park on Tuesday. Bonds was an afterthought. His presence was a blip on the interest radar. The day belonged to the current Giants, who scored three runs off Phillies starter Cole Hamels, winning 3-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

That marked a moment franchise history: the first time in all his appearances at AT&T that Bonds wasn't the primary focus. It's taken years, but the Giants have finally broken their Bonds habit.

And the team that's taking the Giants deep into the postseason this year is as different from the old Bonds teams as possible.

Sure, the Giants this year wouldn't mind a little Bondsian firepower in their often offense-challenged lineup. But, in truth, they wouldn't trade the clubhouse chemistry they have right now for any magic in Bonds' bat.

That former team was designed around one superstar. The Giants' world revolved around their sun in the No. 25 uniform. And when he was gone, the franchise was cast into darkness.

"In the past we lived and died with one superstar player," general manager Brian Sabean said. "There aren't any superstars on this team. There might be a couple of rising stars, but our organization is built on pitching."

That 2002 World Series team, which was honored in a pregame ceremony, was buttoned up, reserved, tense. They didn't have characters. They didn't have nicknames. Bonds and "characters" didn't mesh.

This Giants team has the Freak, the Rally Thong, the Beard, the Rodeo Clown. It has no single superstar but a bunch of role players who have banded together. Wouldn't it be interesting if it could do something that the greatest hitter of his era could never do: bring the Giants their first championship in San Francisco?

The closest thing the Giants have to a hitting star right now is Cody Ross, claimed off of waivers in August. Ross drove in another run on Tuesday, his fifth of the postseason.

In the seventh inning, when Ross switched from right field to left field the bleacher fans chanted "Co-dee, Co-dee" and bowed down to him in the salaam they used to reserve for Bonds.

Ross, the anti-Bonds, didn't notice.

Bonds has made it clear he's rooting for the Giants this postseason even though he worked with Ryan Howard in the offseason and considers him a friend. Bonds, wearing a tight black shirt and noticeably smaller than he was a few years ago, stayed at the ballpark for almost the entire game, sitting near Giants executives.

His presence earned the Giants instant criticism. Bonds has a March court date for his perjury trial stemming from his grand jury testimony in the BALCO case. For some, honoring Bonds was a clear case that the Giants still don't get the cloud he cast over baseball.

But Bonds was a huge part of the Giants for 15 years. Without him, the ballpark hosting this week's games may never have been built. They made mind-boggling sums of money off of him. They're going to keep feting him on a regular basis. It's probably more honest than acting like he never existed.

The difference is that on Tuesday they honored Bonds, let him get his applause and then moved on with a baseball game. Getting on with an era that's entirely different than his.