Thursday, June 9, 2011

2002 NLDS: Bonds' redemption

The 2002 playoffs were put up or shut up time for Barry Bonds. For all his brilliance, first with the Pirates and then with the Giants, Bonds had never won a playoff series. Most of the time, he was scuffling while his team was valiantly fighting, his team often losing at the bitter end when all they would have needed was one big hit from Bonds.

Bonds headed into the 2002 season coming off a shocking 2001, in which he hit a record 73 home runs. In 2002, teams started walking him en masse, putting him on base 198 times, shattering the single-season record Bonds had set the year before. When he did get pitches to hit, Bonds was nearly unstoppable, winning his first batting title with an impressive .370 average.

Bonds entered the 2002 season with just one postseason home run in 26 career games. After the Giants beat the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS, Bonds hit a relatively meaningless home run in the ninth inning of Game 2 in the Giants' 9-3 loss. Game 3 featured another Bonds home run and another Braves blowout victory. The Giants came back to win Game 4, setting up Game 5.

At that point, Bonds was hitting .214 for the series. The two home runs he had hit were meaningless. He had to be feeling the pressure going into Game 5 in Atlanta.

The Game
Sometimes it isn't a big blast that gives a player redemption. In the second inning of Game 5, Bonds got a bit of redemption, leading off with a single hit the opposite way against the shift to start the Giants' rally. Three batters later, he was trotting home with the game's first run. But that's now where his redemption ended.

Leading off the fourth, Bonds worked the count full against Atlanta's Kevin Millwood before putting the sixth pitch into play. Like his second-inning at bat, it was hit the other way. Unlike that one, though, this one went a long way, clearing the left-field fence for his third home run of the series. This one wasn't a meaningless blast, though. This one gave the Giants a 2-0 lead, letting Giant fans breathe a little easier.

But things never seemed to go easily for Bonds in the playoffs. The Braves loaded the bases in the fifth before Chipper Jones grounded out to end the threat. They scored a run in the sixth and had runners on first and second before to fly outs to center ended that threat.

The Giants led 3-1 entering the ninth, but the Braves put runners on the corners with nobody out. Out in left field, Bonds had to be replaying his teams' past postseason failures, specifically Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS against Atlanta, when the Braves came from behind at home in the ninth to stun the Pirates. This time, it was the Giants in town, but the scene looked eerily familiar.

But Gary Sheffield struck out, continuing a rotten series for him, and Chipper Jones grounded into a series-ending double play. Finally, Bonds had the monkey off his back. For the first time, his team had won a playoff series.

With the first playoff victory behind him, Bonds and the Giants ripped through the Cardinals in five games in the NLCS. Bonds hit a home run, but was mostly neutralized by Cardinal pitchers unwilling to throw him a strike. Enter the World Series, where the Giants faced off against Anaheim. Bonds dominated, hitting .471 with four home runs in the seven-game series. But the Giants, having taken a 3-2 series lead, blew a 5-0 lead in Game 6, then took an early lead in Game 7 before losing that one, as well.

Bonds only played in the postseason one more time, with the Giants losing in four games in the next year's NLDS. They wouldn't make the postseason again until 2010, long after Bonds had retired. Their first-round opponent that year? The Atlanta Braves, whom the Giants beat in four on their way to their first World Championship.

The Rundown

18. San Francisco 3, Atlanta 1 (2002 NLDS)
19. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
20. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
21. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
22. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
23. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
24. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
25. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
26. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
27. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
28. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
29. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
30. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
31. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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