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SAN FRANCISCO -- A.J. Pierzynski, whose last name resembles the bottom line of an eye chart, was taking a physical exam in spring training when he encountered an obstacle he couldn't overcome.



Barry Bonds

Left Field

San Francisco Giants






15 9 19 14 0 .500

The bottom line of an eye chart.


"They have a line where the letters are about this big," Pierzynski said, holding his thumb and index finger a smidge apart. "I couldn't read it, so I asked the doctor, 'Can anybody read that line?' And he tells me, 'Yeah, Barry can.' "


Pierzynski, traded from Minnesota to San Francisco in November, was shocked to discover that an apartment rental in his new city is extravagant even for a catcher with a $3.5 million salary. But it didn't compare to his amazement over a discovery in the home clubhouse, when he realized that Barry Bonds is a better player in person than on television.


In Pierzynski's estimation, it all starts with the eyes -- and the discipline to trust them.


"Barry can take all those pitches just off the plate, then a guy throws it two inches in another spot, and he hits it freakin' 500 feet," Pierzynski said.


"We were taking batting practice the first day of spring training, and most of the time guys would say, 'Was that a strike or a ball?' Barry's different. As soon as the pitch left the guy's hand, he'd say, 'Ball,' and it ended up like an inch off the plate. He could see it even before I could, and I was catching."



New teammate A.J. Pierzynski says Barry Bonds already was dialed in when the team reported to spring training.

Just when you think Bonds has reached new heights of amazing, he raises the stakes. Barely a week after hitting his 660th home run to tie Willie Mays for third on the all-time list, he had homered in seven consecutive games to move within one of the record shared by Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr.


It didn't happen. Bonds struck out in his first at-bat against San Diego's Jake Peavy last night, then walked in his next two plate appearances. With the Padres on the way to an 11-0 victory, Giants manager Felipe Alou inserted Dustan Mohr in left field before Bonds had a final crack at tying the record.


According to Alou, Bonds consented to the move. Bonds wasn't in the clubhouse after the game to elaborate.


The Giants, who made several low-cost acquisitions over the winter in the name of fiscal restraint, don't look much like the team that won 100 games and finished 15? games ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West in 2003. Three weeks into the season, Michael Tucker, Edgardo Alfonzo, J.T. Snow and Pierzynski have combined for no home runs, nine RBI and a .215 average in 181 at-bats. It's a wonder Bonds has seen enough hittable pitches to homer nine times in 38 at-bats.


The rotation looks iffy, the bullpen is tired, and the Giants have dropped six of their last seven games against mediocre NL West competition. A couple of years ago, you would have needed season tickets or serious connections to see Bonds try to hit a homer for the eighth straight game. Last night, 34,545 fans were at SBC Park -- which holds more than 42,000 when things are hopping -- and most of them were gone by the eighth inning.


If Giants fans are a bit blas? these days, Barry-mania is rampant among scouts, coaches, teammates and opponents who appreciate the show.


? I've seen guys get locked in, but this guy's been locked in for three

years. ?

? A scout, watching Bonds take batting practice Wednesday

"I've seen guys get locked in, but this guy's been locked in for three years," said a scout in the stands for batting practice.


"I heard he's gone three years without breaking a bat," said a scout in the SBC Park press box.


"He belongs in a higher league," said Padres second baseman Mark Loretta.


In 58 plate appearances this season, Bonds has struck out four times. Two came on borderline pitches by Roger Clemens in the third game of the season, the Rocket's Astros' debut. He went down swinging against the Dodgers' Odalis Perez and was rung up by umpire Mark Carlson last night on a 95-mph fastball by Peavy that caught the outside corner.


Discussion of Bonds and his accomplishments leads to weird, offbeat observations in opposing clubhouses. It goes beyond steroid speculation or the standard chat-room stuff and focuses more on preparation and technique. Players talk about how Bonds' head never moves when he's in his stance, or the otherworldly shortness and quickness of his swing.


San Diego pitcher Adam Eaton said some Padres were watching Bonds recently and noticed that he never really takes a hack in the on-deck circle when he's locked in. Bonds sort of swings his arms back and forth to get loose, then leans on his bat and stares when he's ready.



Barry Bonds rounds the bases after hitting home run No. 661.

"We were also talking the other day about how many home runs he'd hit if he were pitched to like a normal person," Eaton said.


The verdict?


"Over 100," Eaton said.


It's a tired clich? that baseball is predicated on failure -- that hitters who succeed three times every 10 opportunities make All-Star teams or even the Hall of Fame. Bonds turns the statistical probabilities sideways and upside down. Instead of one or two hittable pitches per at bat, he might see one per game. But he still deposits it in the seats or, if he's home, McCovey Cove.


Pierzynski, Eaton and San Diego's Phil Nevin all said they won't be shocked if Bonds makes a serious run at hitting .400 this year. "I wouldn't put it past him," Nevin said.


In 2002, Pierzynski traveled to Japan with a major league All-Star team after the World Series. He recalls Bonds coming to the plate with the bases loaded in one game and lining out to the first baseman.


"Pat Burrell looked at me and Eric Chavez on the bench and said, 'The amazing thing is, I'm surprised he didn't hit a home run,' " Pierzynski said. "With most guys, you're surprised when they hit a home run. Pat said he was shocked that Barry didn't. That's the greatest testament ever."


Bonds turns 40 in July, and he still makes the best baseball players in the world shake their heads in wonder on a daily basis. Mark Loretta was right. He does belong in a higher league.

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