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Avoid Bonds? Alfonzo Hopes so...


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Monday, September 29

Avoid Bonds? Alfonzo hopes so



By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, September 29, 2003




SAN FRANCISCO -- Watching the Giants notch their 100th regular-season victory Sunday, one truth was self-evident: Jack McKeon's willingness to walk Barry Bonds to pitch to Edgardo Alfonzo makes as much sense as skipping breakfast in order to lose weight.


It sounds good in theory, but in practice the strategy can fall apart quicker than a cheap burrito. Ever watch a ravenous person tuck into lunch? That's what it has been like since the All-Star break, seeing Alfonzo batting behind Bonds.


All of the managers and pitching coaches obstinate enough not to give Bonds a nibble have seen Alfonzo feast off the strategy like a man starved for the limelight. Honestly, gluttony is the word that comes to mind when you look at the infielder's second-half numbers.


Alfonzo has hit safely in 40 of the past 56 games. Put a runner on base and Alfonzo practically licks his chops. In the second half of the season, the third baseman is batting.366 (.364 with runners in scoring position).


Before McKeon tries to rationalize his strategy of pitching around Bonds, the single-season home-run leader, by musing, "Is it easier to get the next guy out?" somebody should send him this all-points bulletin: Alfonzo is almost as tough to strike out as Juan Pierre and he has collected 52 RBI since June 28.


The Venezuela native has a swing as smooth as the soft ice cream sold at the concession stands at Pacific Bell Park. Goodness knows the ice cream cones were sweating more than any of the Giants on Sunday. The lick Alfonzo delivered to Dodgers starter Wilson Alvarez in the first inning was a veritable clarion call to McKeon and Co.


After a two-out RBI single by Bonds, Alfonzo deposited a 1-2 pitch by Alvarez in the bleachers in left-center. The rout was on. The Giants ushered out the regular season with a 12-3 victory that stretched their lead over the second-place Dodgers in the National League West to the billowing point.


Fifteen-and-a-half games was the final margin. Good thing all those opponents pitched around Bonds all year, lest he beat them.


"With some people not pitching to Barry, we won by how many games?" Felipe Alou, the Giants' first-year manager, said in a tone so deeply satisfying it could have been mistaken for crowing.


"So I believe people should change their strategy" -- Alou smiled and a snicker escaped his lips -- "starting next year."


Alou, 68, could have been forgiven for gloating a little. In spring training, there were people who whispered that the game had passed him by. As the spring wore on, they offered as proof Alou's steadfast faith in Alfonzo, signed as a free agent in December.


Like the weather, Alfonzo took a while heating up. His first few months as a Giant, he looked less like the player who had batted over.300 in four of his previous six seasons than the one who struggled to hit.243 as a Met in 2001.


Said Alou: "He always promised me, 'I'm a second-half guy,' and he was right."


If Alfonzo hasn't made believers of the Marlins, just wait. The week is young. When the teams square off Tuesday in Game 1 of the National League division series, it would behoove Josh Beckett to approach the Giants' batting order in much the same way the Dodgers' rookie reliever, Steve Colyer, did.


In the fourth inning, Colyer challenged Bonds. He struck him out on a full-count fastball, lending credence to the rumor that Bonds, for all his rainbow blasts, is human, after all.


"Any time you get a chance to strike out a guy of that caliber, it's special," Colyer, a left-hander, said. "Barry usually doesn't miss too many fastballs. To get a couple by him like that is pretty tough."


Tough but hardly impossible. Why more pitchers don't try to throw one (or three) by Bonds is a matter of bemusement to his teammates. "If Barry was hitting behind himself, he wouldn't get pitched to," shortstop Rich Aurilia said. "Saying you're not going to pitch to him is fine. It means more times that he's on base for us to (get) him home."


If the Marlins aren't mindful, Alfonzo will become this year's Benito Santiago. Remember Santiago during last year's playoffs? St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa probably still is seeing the Giants catcher in his sleep.


Santiago earned MVP honors in the National League Championship Series after batting.300. Nobody wanted Bonds to beat them and so Santiago was happy to do the honors, collecting two home runs and 16 RBI in the playoffs.


"If they don't pitch to Barry," Santiago said of the Marlins, "it's going to be a big mistake."


There you have it. The Marlins can consider themselves warned.


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