Heifetz was but 16 when he made his Carnegie Hall debut, Horowitz
only 24. Barry Bonds was 38 last Saturday when at last he stood
on the precipice of the ne plus ultra for a ballplayer, the World
Series. With only a little more than one hour left to a lifelong
wait, the San Francisco Giants leftfielder stood alone in a
stairwell that descended from the visiting dugout at Anaheim's
Edison Field, poking his head high enough to measure the rising
tumult and tension of the filling ballpark. His manager, Dusty
Baker, would later observe that Bonds "was really, really focused
and kind of quiet" as the moment neared.
This is an article from the Oct. 28, 2002 issue
If from the top of his concrete burrow Bonds's posture resembled
that of the proverbial groundhog, he surely could see his long
shadow cast over this World Series. "My pitchers have been asking
me all week, 'Are we going to pitch to Barry? Are we going to
pitch to Barry?'" Angels pitching coach Bud Black said last
Friday. "And they were kidding only half the time."
The most feared hitter ever, judging by the avoidance tactics of
opposing teams, Bonds is so good that he changes baseball's
standard rules of engagement. In the chess game of this year's
World Series, he is the only queen on the board, influencing
nearly every move with the unequaled breadth of his power, even
when standing still. Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia sat in his
dugout on the eve of Game 1 and predicted, "You're going to see
some things that in other eras of the game would seem
unconventional and way out there, but in these games make sense."
It took only two games to realize that there had never been a
World Series like this, and not only because Bonds had not played
in any of the previous 97. For just the seventh time in history
the Series was tied after two one-run games, and never had such a
deadlock created so many runs (28). "I'm exhausted," Angels
rightfielder Tim Salmon said late Sunday night, after Anaheim had
answered a 4-3 San Francisco win on Saturday with an 11-10 epic
The Angels and Giants clubbed more home runs (11) than had been
hit in the first two games of any World Series, prompting both
sides to suspect that the specially marked baseballs were harder,
smaller and livelier than the ones used in the regular season.
Anaheim shortstop David Eckstein, for instance, said he felt a
difference in the balls as soon as he took infield practice
before Game 1. Several of his teammates even cut open a Series
ball, searching for evidence of a compositional change. (Results
Put away your scalpels, boys, because here's the real cushioned
cork center of the matter: The World Series proved again that
it's the surest thrill ride in sports. Ten of the last 16 Series
games through Sunday had been decided by one run, and seven of
them had been won in the winning team's last at bat, including
the entertaining 21-run salute in Anaheim. The World Series does
not disappoint, whether you've waited 17 years, like Bonds, or
just 31 days, like 20-year-old Angels reliever Francisco
Rodriguez, who has become known as K-Rod, is Heifetz with a
killer slider, the prodigy who brought down the house on Sunday
in his Series debut. He entered a riot of a baseball game--San
Francisco led 9-8 after only five innings--and immediately
established order by retiring all nine batters he faced (fanning
four) with only 26 pitches, 22 of them strikes. His near-perfect
form recalled Phil Simms in Super Bowl XXI (completing 22 out of
25 passes) or Bill Walton in the 1973 NCAA final (hitting 21 of
22 shots). In his first 13 postseason innings Rodriguez allowed
just four hits and struck out 19.
"We were in good shape," said the Giants' Shawon Dunston, who
fouled out against Rodriguez, "and then they brought in
"There's nobody in our league who throws a slider like that,"
said second baseman Jeff Kent, who was punched out on three
"He's right about that," agreed rightfielder Reggie Sanders,
another three-pitch strikeout victim. "He hides the ball
extremely well in his delivery, and the spin is so fast and tight
that you can't recognize it. And then it has such a late break to
it. We knew how well he was throwing, but we didn't know he was
In Rodriguez's 26 pitches the Giants swung and missed six times.
They did so four times in 120 pitches from Anaheim's four other
pitchers (Kevin Appier, John Lackey, Ben Weber and Troy
The Angels tied the score at 9 in the sixth and took the lead in
the eighth when Salmon (box, page 49) socked his second two-run
homer of the night, a two-out bomb off Felix (no relation, no
slider) Rodriguez. Francisco Rodriguez became the youngest
pitcher to win a World Series game and joined Randy Johnson as
the only pitchers ever to win five games in one postseason.
Johnson did so last year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, when, like
Bonds, he made his World Series debut at age 38.
Like parts of a physics equation, Rodriguez and Bonds collided in
the sixth inning for only one pitch. Rodriguez's acceleration
times Bonds's mass equaled the force of one of the most exciting
groundouts to first base you've ever seen, most likely
foreshadowing more classic confrontations in this Series.
Every Bonds at bat figured to keep the Series on an emotional and
strategic edge. The first two games left the Angels alternately
giggling with wonder and slack-jawed with awe at his prowess.
Including an intentional walk in Game 2 that backfired, Bonds saw
10 strikes in nine trips to the plate (chart, page 48)--even
though eight of his plate appearances occurred with no one on
base. He put four balls in play, two of them home runs that
traveled a combined 903 feet. "Oh, my goodness," Angels bench
coach Joe Maddon said after Game 2. "Wow. It's freakish the way
he's able to square up a ball going 97 miles an hour like it's
Last Friday, Black had gathered his pitchers around a conference
table adjacent to the clubhouse to review the San Francisco
hitters. He made sure to spend no more time talking about Bonds
than about any other Giant, which made Black unique last week in
Orange County. He told his pitchers, "You're going after Barry
unless Mike [Scioscia] tells you not to. Stick to your
Black even delivered the message the next day to Bonds, his
former teammate with the Giants. "Hey," Black told him at the
batting cage before Game 1, "you're going to get pitches to hit."
Black meant it in a lighthearted way, a wink at all the pitchers
and managers who tiptoed around Bonds this year, walking him 216
times, postseason included. Bonds, deep into his pregame calm,
didn't even bother responding--at least not until the second
Angels starter Jarrod Washburn began the game with the
persistence of a roofer with a nail gun, pounding 21 consecutive
fastballs. He challenged Bonds with a 2-and-0 fastball in the
upper half of the strike zone, the 17th pitch in that sequence.
Bonds barely tipped it. Catcher Bengie Molina called for another
fastball, this one down and away. Washburn missed terribly, and
the ball hung belt-high on the inner half of the plate. "That's
my favorite spot, right there," Bonds said.
The last light of day glowed orange, a theatrical twilight known
to photographers as the magic hour, as the slugger rose to a
moment as big as himself. His bat flashed like a cracking whip,
launching the ball on a 418-foot sortie into a maintenance tunnel
in rightfield. Seventeen years after he broke into the
majors--among Hall of Famers only Walter Johnson waited longer to
reach the Fall Classic (18 years)--Bonds became the oldest man
ever to homer in his first World Series at bat.
"Yep, he's as good as they say," Washburn said later.
Yes, child, the stove top is hot.
"You're looking at the living Babe Ruth," said Giants pitcher
Back in San Francisco, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, watching on
television, smiled. "When I saw it, I thought, There goes a load
off his back," Mays said on Sunday. "What are they going to talk
about now?" Mays played in four World Series and did not hit a
home run in 71 at bats; his team lost three of those Series.
Until this year Bonds had hit one homer in 97 postseason at bats
while his team had lost all four of its playoff series.
"I got rid of the ghosts of the postseason when we beat the
Braves," Bonds said, alluding to the Division Series win over the
team that had knocked his club out of the playoffs three times.
Washburn, true to Black's wishes, continued to attack Bonds. He
whiffed him in the fourth when Bonds uncharacteristically chased
a high fastball that would have been ball four. He retired him
too in the sixth, when Bonds grounded out on a first-pitch
slider. But Washburn never made it out of that inning. Sanders
laced a two-out, two-strike single, and J.T. Snow homered to put
the Giants ahead 4-1.
Sanders and Snow combined for eight RBIs in the two games,
reminding Anaheim pitchers that trouble lurks in the San
Francisco lineup beyond Bonds's cleanup spot. In Game 2 the
Angels held a 7-5 lead in the fifth inning when Scioscia ordered
Bonds intentionally walked with a runner at second and one out.
"We might have done the same with another great hitter, like
[Jason] Giambi or Alex Rodriguez," Black said. "We didn't think
it was that tough a call." But Benito Santiago, Snow, David Bell
and Dunston all singled off Weber, driving home four runs.
Rodriguez faced Bonds with nobody on base and the Giants up by a
run. "With Frankie," Black said, "Mike and I looked at each other
for half a second, and he said, 'Hey, we're going after him.' We
have complete faith in his stuff. Plus, Barry had never seen him
Bonds would get one more swing in Game 2, this time against
Percival, Anaheim's hard-throwing closer, with two outs and the
bases empty in the ninth. Everybody in the ballpark knew what
Percival was going to throw. It was as if Bonds had stepped into
the last batting cage at the local arcade, the one marked VERY
FAST, and dropped a token into the slot. Bonds looked at one
fastball, a ball, and immediately measured its pace. He connected
with the next pitch, a 97-mph fastball, so hard that his black
maple bat made a ringing sound that echoed through the ballpark.
The homer sailed 485 feet, prompting a wide-eyed Salmon to
exclaim in the dugout, "That's the farthest ball I've ever seen
It was that kind of Series, a sprawling, lavish production made
for the biggest stage and, at last, the biggest star. Bonds stood
in front of his locker on Sunday, stripped to his comic-book
superhero musculature except for a pair of shorts, and
smiled--yes, smiled--in defeat. After all these years the World
Series was everything he had a right to expect it to be. "Yes,"
he said, "it's a lot of fun right now."
Best of all was its promise to yield more.
said Kent of Rodriguez.
and slack-jawed with awe at Bonds's prowess.