Bonds' run at baseball history stalls

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds' race against history has become a grind.

With 10 weeks left in the regular season, Bonds no longer is on the breakneck home-run pace that grabbed the nation's attention this spring. He still leads the majors with 42 homers, but he has just three since the All-Star break -- which he entered in a 13-game homerless drought.

In fact, for the first time since mid-April, the San Francisco Giants' slugger has fallen behind the pace set by Mark McGwire during his record-breaking 70-homer season in 1998.

But Bonds' early season power display was so prolific that the record remains within reach. Bonds proved earlier this year that he's capable of hitting homers in huge bunches.

''It's a long season, and I know for a fact that we haven't heard the last of Barry Bonds,'' Arizona manager Bob Brenly said Sunday after his Diamondbacks held Bonds hitless in nine at-bats with two walks in a three-game series.

Entering a series at Coors Field that started Monday night, Bonds had just three homers in the Giants' last 25 games, going 15-for-75 (.200) with just 11 runs but 28 walks.

Bonds hasn't had much to say about his home-run chase recently because, like some athletes, he prefers to speak to reporters only when his play is newsworthy.

The news conferences that preceded each of the Giants' series in June no longer are held regularly, and manager Dusty Baker intimated that they might have been a distraction.

But neither Bonds' teammates nor his opponents think this story is over -- particularly with a challenger edging ever closer in Bonds' attempt to lead the NL in homers for the first time. While Bonds' pace has slowed, Arizona's Luis Gonzalez has maintained a steady position in his wake.

Gonzalez beat Bonds in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star game, and he hit his 38th homer of the season -- tying the Diamondbacks' franchise record -- on Saturday.

''I'm NASCAR right now,'' Gonzalez said with a grin. ''I'm staying right behind him.''

The most obvious cause of Bonds' slowdown is his earlier success. For much of the past six weeks, many pitchers have given Bonds few pitches to hit.

Even many of his unintentional walks were on four or five pitches. Giants fans have lustily booed many pitchers who obviously didn't want Bonds to put them on late-night television highlight shows.

''He's not seeing any good pitches to hit. That's why it's not happening like it did earlier,'' teammate Eric Davis said. ''If you went up there every day and didn't see one pitch you can drive ... even Barry can't do everything under those circumstances.''

Some pitchers might be tempted to go after Bonds again now that he's not hitting balls out of parks with such regularity. Colorado's Mike Hampton did just that at Pacific Bell Park on Wednesday -- and Bonds responded with two homers, despite back spasms that later forced him from the game.

Bonds tied Mickey Mantle for ninth place on baseball's career homers list (536) with his second shot off Hampton, but he didn't have much to say about matching the achievements of one of his childhood idols.

Arizona's Curt Schilling also was unafraid to pitch to Bonds, though the majors' winningest pitcher had better results. Schilling got Bonds to ground out twice on Saturday, and also struck him out with a wicked 96-mph fastball.

Brian Anderson held Bonds hitless in three at-bats on Sunday, but he didn't claim any insight into the task that will challenge every NL pitcher for the next 2 1/2 months.

''I just did what everybody tries to do and usually isn't lucky enough to succeed at,'' Anderson said. ''I tried to keep the ball down and make him swing at pitches he doesn't want. Fortunately, he didn't crush anything. That's all you can hope for.''



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