Bonds connects in Giants victory

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2002

ATLANTA -- The long wait is over. Barry Bonds is finally a postseason winner.

One of the greatest players in baseball history seized the playoff stage Monday night, homering and scoring the first two San Francisco runs as the Giants held off the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in the decisive Game 5 of the NL division series.

''I'll be happy once I win the World Series,'' Bonds said. ''I must admit, I'm a little bit shocked. I've never been past the first round. I don't know how to respond. Should I be happy or just to sit here?''

Bonds homered three times in the series. His last one meant the most as San Francisco won the final two games to oust the Braves.

Bonds and the Giants barely hung on. The Braves, no strangers to postseason misery, put runners on first and third with no outs in the ninth.

But Robb Nen struck out Gary Sheffield and then got Chipper Jones to ground into a double play to end it.

''We didn't capitalize on our opportunities,'' said Sheffield, who was 1-for-16 in the series. ''We had the makeup to do it. The other guys just outplayed us.''

Russ Ortiz earned his second win, sending the wild-card Giants to a matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL championship series. Game 1 is Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.

At 38 and in his 17th major league season, Bonds will be trying to reach his first World Series -- but he's already exorcised one of his demons.

In five previous trips to the postseason, the last two with San Francisco, his teams were 0-for-5. The four-time NL MVP and home-run king hit just .196 with one homer and six RBIs in those games.

''He was focused,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ''I prayed Barry would have a great series, and a great series he did. He hit the ball a lot harder than the numbers indicate. I'm very glad for him.''

Two of Bonds' postseason losses were to the Braves, including a gut-wrenching loss in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, now the site of a parking lot just across the street from Turner Field. The Braves scored the winning run in that game when Sid Bream beat Bonds' throw from left field in the ninth.

''The Braves have been my nemesis for years,'' Bonds said.

Because of those failures, Bonds became known as a player who couldn't come through in the biggest games. But in less than a week, he did his best to purge all those unpleasant memories.

Bonds' first two homers of the series didn't have much impact in blowout games, but the third gave San Francisco a crucial insurance run in the tightest matchup of the series.

Appropriately, he finally won a playoff series on the one-year anniversary of his record-breaking 73rd homer.

Baker and his coaches huddled in the dugout before Chipper Jones' final at-bat, finally decided to have first baseman J.T. Snow guard the line. The move paid off when Jones grounded over the bag, Snow grabbed it for one out, then flipped to shortstop Rich Aurilia, who tagged out Julio Franco to end the series.

''If he's off the line, that's a tie ballgame,'' Baker said. ''We were just thinking lucky.''

Leading off the fourth against Kevin Millwood, Bonds worked the count full, then sent a fastball soaring into the crisp Georgia night. Outfielders Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones barely had time to move before the 417-foot drive settled midway up in the left-center seats.

''I was just a little bit more aggressive,'' Bonds said. ''They say they come at me more than anyone else. I'm glad they motivated me on this one today.''

Bonds also scored San Francisco's first run, starting the second with a single to left. He moved to second on an infield grounder and came home when Reggie Sanders singled up the middle with two outs.

Bonds also drew a walk in the eighth, but was thrown out trying to steal.

The Braves, who scored 25 runs in the first four games, were held hitless by Ortiz through the first three innings.

From the fourth on, they squandered all sorts of chances, leaving the bases loaded once and two runners on in three other innings.

In all, Atlanta stranded 12.

The Braves loaded the bases in the fifth on third baseman David Bell's throwing error and two walks. Ortiz fell behind 2-0 in the count to Chipper Jones, but bounced back to get the cleanup hitter on a grounder to shortstop for the third out.

Ortiz, the Game 1 winner, was replaced in the sixth after giving up two hits and throwing his 95th pitch. Aaron Fultz surrendered a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa, then Felix Rodriguez escaped yet another jam by retiring Matt Franco and Rafael Furcal.

The Giants quickly reclaimed their two-run lead in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs to set up Kenny Lofton's sacrifice fly. Darren Holmes kept it from getting out of hand by striking out Tom Goodwin and Aurilia.

With Atlanta's departure, the three winningest teams during the regular season -- the Braves, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics -- all were sent packing in the first round of the postseason.

Also, for the first time since the current postseason format was adopted in 1995, all four teams with the best record were eliminated in the opening round.

For the Braves, this has become the norm. Despite winning 11 straight division titles, they have managed only one World Series championship. For the second time in three years, they couldn't even get out of the opening round.

Now, Atlanta faces an uncertain future. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the anchors of the pitching staff, are both at the end of their contracts. With declining attendance, heavy financial losses and belt-tightening ownership, the Braves could be forced to take a sizable chunk out of payroll for the first time in their amazing streak.

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