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McKeon says Marlins will pitch around Bonds

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Associated Press

Sep. 28, 2003 8:26 p.m.


MIAMI (AP)? The Florida Marlins want to pitch to Barry Bonds. They really do. Just give them a 10-run lead first.

"We're not going to let him beat us," Marlins manager Jack McKeon says.


McKeon would rather walk Bonds than see his home-run trot, and the Marlins plan to pitch around the San Francisco Giants' slugger when the teams meet in a best-of-5 playoffs series beginning Tuesday at Pacific Bell Park.


The Giants have more tradition, more postseason experience and the NL West title, while the Marlins won the wild card to become the most unlikely playoff entrant.


But the teams were virtually even this season in batting average, runs, slugging percentage and fielding.


While San Francisco had the lower ERA by one-third of a run, Florida pitchers had more strikeouts and fewer walks. And the Marlins have baseball's best record since late May.


So the series may hinge on whether they can contain Bonds, who went into the final game of the regular season Sunday with 45 home runs, 148 walks and a .339 average.


"You're always going to be careful with the guy," says right-hander Josh Beckett, one of at least seven Marlins expected to make their postseason debut Tuesday. "You don't want to leave anything right over."


McKeon sounds as though he doesn't want to leave anything close.


"We'll pitch to him if we're way ahead," McKeon says. "We might even pitch to him the first time up in a 0-0 game. Might.


"It might be a situation where you get a guy on first and you still walk him and take your chances on the next guy."


McKeon's caution failed to pay off during the regular season. Bonds went 3-for-10 against the Marlins with a home run and seven walks, two intentional, and they lost all four games in which he played.


"With people not pitching to Barry, we won it by how many games?" Giants manager Felipe Alou said Sunday night after learning of McKeon's intentions. "Fifteen and a half. So I believe people should change their strategy - next year.


"I'll take it any time to win by 15 if they don't pitch to one guy on our club. I believe that all teams fell into a pattern, or sort of a compromising written rule, that they were not going to pitch to him. I know a lot of times it hurt because the majority of the time he wound up scoring, which is the same thing as if he hit a home run."


But then the Marlins often have trouble with the Giants, especially in San Francisco, where their record is 14-34. They lost two of three there in August during a 1-8 trip.


"We're going out to play the Giants tough," McKeon says. "That's not saying we can't get the stuff kicked out of us. But I sense this is a different team, a much more confident team than it was going out there the last time. We know we're as good as anybody in this league right now."


The young Marlins thrived under the pressure of a playoff race and went 18-8 in September to earn their first postseason berth since winning the 1997 World Series.


Now: October. And Bonds. In 20 games against Florida over the past three seasons, he has a .388 average with 10 home runs, 22 RBIs and an .896 slugging percentage.


And Bonds is coming off a monstrous playoff and World Series performance last year.


"He's one of the few guys who, every swing, you think can hit a home run," Florida outfielder Juan Pierre says.


So the Marlins will likely give Bonds a lot of free passes and try to retire the hitter behind him, likely Edgardo Alfonso or Benito Santiago.


"I'll take my chances with those guys," McKeon says.


McKeon has only one left-handed reliever, Michael Tejera, and left-handed batters hit .397 against him. Lefty Dontrelle Willis, scheduled to start Game 4 in Miami on Saturday, will be available to pitch an inning of relief in Wednesday's game.


However, McKeon says situational matchups aren't the solution against Bonds.


"It doesn't matter to him whether it's a right-hander or a left-hander," McKeon says. "He hits them all."


But only if the pitches are within reach.

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The Mets announcers mentioned something interesting on Sunday about Bonds perhaps not being as big a threat as everyone makes him out to be. They said when the Mets played the Giants in the playoffs a few years ago, Bonds made the last out of an inning 11 times. That is a lot for a 5 game series. But I guess I'd rather see the Marlns make someone else hurt us other than Bonds.

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