Liveblogging Bonds’ last home game

Barry Bonds in left field at AT&T Park, 26 Sep 2007
Live from AT&T Park, San Francisco:
9:50 pm: The Giants — the lineup full of scrubs and callups by the 9th inning — managed to put another run across, and the fans who remained — and why not remain, it was still a beautiful warm night — were starting to make noise. I even saw a few rally caps. But the veterans quickly restored a sense of reality to the proceedings. With two on, no out and a run in, Pedro Feliz struck out swinging at the worst pitch I ever saw, and then Ray Durham grounded into a double play to end the game.

Then the final scoreboard tribute to Bonds — with the honoree nowhere near the field — took place: a montage of Greatest Hits set to the tune of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.” I thought I heard him singing “I’ve already changed out of my uniform, and I’m… on… the… highway.”

(For another view of the evening see this excellent SJ Mercury News piece by Andrew Baggarly.

Then Giants players came out onto the field and, without explanation, threw a bunch of balls into the stands. Since they could only carry about five balls each, this was quickly over with, and the players disappeared again into the dugout, looking not all that happy about the extra work.

Final score: 11-3, with the Padres getting 17 (!) hits.

8:55 pm: For possibly the last time, Bonds comes up to bat. Kevin Frandsen has grounded out, and Randy Winn popped out to the shortstop.

Bonds is announced and the crowd rises as one. The cheer is loud but not frantic — I imagine it’s somehow gently reflective.

The man behind me says, “Barry, you’re a son of a bitch, but you sure can hit a baseball.”

The first two pitches are low. Thinking the pitcher is avoiding Bonds, the crowd boos.

Then Bonds swings mightily and the crowd roars. The ball goes soaring into deep right center field to the warning track. But it’s in the park, in Death Valley, where home runs go to die.

That’s the third out. Bonds leaves the field walking, doffing his helmet, waving.

Fred Lewis takes left field and the scoreboard camera switches to a shot of the dugout. Bonds is accepting hugs and handshakes and high fives from the players. Dramatic common-man-fanfare music is playing on the P.A. system. The crowd cheers and remains standing — it strikes me that the stadium is, at this moment, almost completely full.

After about 90 seconds, Bonds comes out for a curtain call. He stands before the dugout as photographers cluster, waves to the crowd and points to someone. There are loud cheers, but again, not tumultuous.

Then he disappears into the dugout, and the camera shows him vanishing down the tunnel to the clubhouse.

8:52 pm: With Bonds due up third in the bottom of the 6th, the crowd is growing tense. Meanwhile the Padres score another run in the top of the inning on a ball hit deep to the left field corner. Almost nobody would be able to catch that ball, and Bonds doesn’t try. He lopes into the corner, plays it off the wall, and then throws a seed to the cutoff man to try to nab the runner scoring from first. Kevin Frandsen’s throw is a second or two too late, but it was closer than you expected.

It strikes me that Bonds has been playing this way just about all season: instead of risking injury by diving after balls, he plays them on a bounce, or off the wall, and holds the runner to a double. In doing this he usually appears not to hustle; what he’s really doing is being as economical with his energy as possible. He knows the runner will reach 2nd base no matter how much of a show he puts on, so he takes his time and makes the smart play.

The inning ends with only the one run scoring — I think. As soon as it ends the scoreboard starts playing home runs again. This is becoming more and more purgatorial: all home runs, all the time.

8:40 pm: As Bonds takes the field in the top of the 6th, a drunken middle-aged lady (or perhaps a man in a blond wig) runs out to greet him. Bonds stands still as security people yank her off the field. Uniformed San Francisco cops sprint across the field from the right field line with their hands on their billy clubs.

After the woman is removed, the crowd chants “Barry! Barry!” for the first time in half an hour.

8:36 pm: By the bottom of the 5th inning it’s clear that the park is almost full. The wind stops blowing completely, then a gentle breeze resumes. There are a lot of people watching the game for free through the fence in right field.

The Giants make a bit of noise with a single, then Ray Durham pinch-hits and advances a runner to third. Then with one out, Nate Schierholtz pinch hits in the pitcher’s spot. He drives a ball deep to center and the runner from third tags and scores. Dave Roberts ends the rally by lining out to the first baseman. The score is now Padres 8, Giants 2.

8:28 pm: In the top of the 5th inning, rookie pitcher Misch falls apart, and the Padres score five… make that six runs. At one point a ball is hit in Bonds’ direction. It looks like it’s going to bounce in front of him, but he goes into a slide — unnecessarily, since in my opinion he has no chance to catch it. He makes it close, but then rolls over the ball, which dribbles away from him. Two runs score. (Later: Bonds was charged an error on the play.)

By the time the inning ends, the Padres lead 8-1. The video highlights seem a little more hollow now.

8:03 pm: Barry is due up 2nd in the bottom of the 4th inning, but first Randy Winn has to hit. He takes his swings in the on deck circle as a relatively quiet interview with Bonds plays on the scoreboard. When Winn is announced and enters the batter’s box, there’s barely a smattering of applause despite his home run in the first.

Winn grounds out to second base, and Bonds is announced. Most of the crowd stands — not everyone like the first time.

He takes a big cut, and dribbles out to the pitcher.

The next batter, Bengie Molina, quietly grounds out. Almost no one notices.

That’s three outs. Then the excitement starts… on the scoreboard.

7:58 pm: Pitcher Pat Misch reaches when a throw from the third baseman pulls the first baseman off the bag. (Correction — they gave him a hit.) But Dave Roberts erases that when he grounds into a double play. Frandsen grounds out too, and the game is one-third over.

The scoreboard announces there will be a “Post Game Video Tribute” to Barry Bonds. Since they’ve been showing highlights all evening long, you have to wonder what remains to be shown. I guess they haven’t shown all 762 home runs.

It’s still very warm, and the breeze has died down. The flags in right center field are stirring listlessly.

7:47 pm: In the top of the 3rd inning, Bonds gets his first chance in left field. Trotting easily about twenty yards to his left, he makes a stylish swipe-catch, and the fans cheer.

Looks like he’s getting a scoreboard tribute every time he takes the field. Also before the bottom of the third… They’re showing exclusively home runs, which is kind of a shame, because in his day Bonds was a great outfielder and a dangerous base stealer.

OK, they just showed one thing that was not a home run — an assist from left field.

A woman behind me asks her friend: “When he’s gone are they gonna take down all this ’756′ crap?”

7:33 pm: After Bonds makes the third out in the first inning, everyone watches to see if he’ll go back to the outfield — maybe, as some predicted today, that’s it. But he takes his position. As he reaches left field the fans in the bleachers greet him with wild cheers, and the scoreboard shows another two minutes of Bonds highlights.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, Randy Winn homered to make it 1-0. Winn has been unbelievably hot this month.

But in the top of the second inning, the Padres quickly take the lead on a single, then two doubles to the gap.

7:26 pm: The first two Giants make outs, and as Randy Winn steps into the batter’s box, Bonds comes out on deck. He stands in the on deck circle swinging a weighted bat over his head like Thor, then picks up his black game bat.Then Winn homers to the right field pavilion, a powerful line drive.

Bonds steps up to the plate. The crowd rises, cheering, chanting his name.

The count goes 0-2, then Bonds bounces one foul up the first base line. After a moment the cheers and chanting resume.

He waggles the bat behind his shoulder, looking ready to cream the ball. The pitcher throws two in the dirt outside.

On the 6th pitch, Bonds drives another one foul through the coach’s box up the 1st base line. Then he fouls one back. Finally, he dribbles a weak grounder to the first baseman.

7:18 pm: Two minutes before game time, Bonds emerges from the dugout without pausing to pose for photographs, pushes through the photogs’ scrum, and trots out to the field, waving to the crowd. He stands out there waving as the fans give him a standing ovation; he literally hops up and down, unwittingly proving just how ready to hit he was last night. Meanwhile a full moon rises behind him. “It’s orange!” Anna says.

The game actually begins two minutes early. They run this stadium on a timetable by the second.

The game begins and the Padres go down 1-2-3 in the first without a ball being hit to the outfield.

By the way, Dan Ortmeier has replaced Klesko in the starting lineup.

7:11 pm:The starting lineups are announced:

Roberts, cf 
Frandsen, 2b 
Winn, rf 
Bonds, lf 
Molina, c 
Klesko, 1b 
Feliz, 3b 
Visquel, ss
Misch, p 

Announcer Renel Brooks’ delivery is unusually emphatic, and she calls Bonds “The King of Swing.” Wasn’t that Benny Goodman? I ask Anna.

“No, he was the Swing King. Someone else was the King of Swing.”

Bonds has still not emerged from the dugout.

6:55 pm: The number of photographers and TV cameraman standing in front of the Giants’ dugout numbers in the dozens. They’ve been there for 15 minutes just waiting for Barry to pop out. It almost makes you feel sorry for the guy.

On the other hand, he’s making $19 million this year. I guess he can stand it.

The scoreboard is now showing every home run from Bonds’ record-setting 2001 season, when he established the unbelievable figure of 73 home runs. The video comes complete with announcers’ calls at full volume. Meanwhile the other players on the team quietly continue their warmups on the field. You have to wonder what’s going through their minds. After a whole season of Bonds hoopla, do they just tune it out? I guess you’d have to.

6:40 pm: Before the team announced last week that they would not re-sign Bonds for next season, the stands had been pretty empty. It wasn’t difficult for me to get two face-value seats for the club level for tonight’s game — two weeks ago. Once the announcement was made, tickets started selling again, as evidenced by the crowd that was in the stands last night. Judging by the TV broadcast, the stands were about 85% full. They should be even fuller tonight.

The scoreboard has changed to a montage of Bonds’ milestone home runs, this time accompanied by the TV announcers’ calls. Meanwhile, a mild breeze has begun blowing from the west.

6:15 pm: As the visiting Padres finish batting practice an hour before gametime, the scoreboard begins a silent tribute to Bonds, listing his various records beginning with the home runs and extending to things like doubles and slugging percentage. Shadows fall over the outfield and local sports anchors do their last stand-ups from the warning track in front of the dugout.

This game is crucial to the Padres, whose lead in the Wild Card was saved by the Giants’ bullpen collapsing last night in the 9th inning. For the Giants, on the other hand, it means little — except to individual players like Matt Cain, who hoped to finally put some games in the win column.

In seasons past, much was made that the team had played very few “meaningless” games — that is, they were in a race either for the division or the wild card until the last weekend of the season. But having been eliminated from contention weeks ago, and after the excitement over Bonds’ home run chase and the All Star Game had died down, the last few weeks have been largely about the young call-ups proving themselves. That’s why it was surprising to see the aging Ryan Klesko play almost every game at 1st base. He didn’t contribute much with his bat, so why didn’t they use the opportunity to train Dan Ortmeier, who wants to convert from the outfield?

5:30 pm: The afternoon was unusually warm as fans gathered outside AT&T Park for the Giants’ last home game of the season, featuring the last appearance of Barry Bonds in the home vanilla cream-colored uniform. About 500 fans were in line outside the main gate of the stadium before the gates opened two hours before game time. Most were wearing Giants gear, including some home-made t-shirt tributes to the team and their superstar slugger.

But by the time the gates opened, Bonds had long finished batting practice; reserve players were still taking hacks as most of the team lolled in the outfield. A large media contingent crowded in front of the Giants’ dugout along the third base line. I recognized former player and Fox Sports Net announcer F.P. Santangelo, along with sports broadcasters from all the local stations.

As this is Bonds’ final home game, it’s the fans’ last chance to say goodbye to him — a chance they didn’t get last night as Bonds changed out of his uniform early. On KNBR, the Giants’ flagship radio station, his disappearing act was roundly denounced as classless, and some commentators were predicting he might even take a single at-bat tonight and then vanish. We’ll see.

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