Sports Nut

Game 3: Angels 10, Giants 4

Sluggish slugger

My idea was to find the most Anaheim-style place in New York City and watch Game 3 of the World Series there. I wanted to be where people were wearing homemade tinfoil halos and putting the hex on Barry Bonds. The obvious choice was something Disney-themed or Disney-owned, but I wondered if maybe there was a more authentic option, a dimly lit bar on Second Avenue, say, where Anaheim expats commiserate about being forced to live in a frigid, awful place like New York. Or maybe a Hoffbrau in the outer boroughs, where the Jerries toast Anaheim’s Germanic roots with giant steins of Spaten.

But the whole point of a place like Anaheim is that it bears no relation to New York whatsoever. So I called the ESPN Zone, a Disney property, and asked if I need to make special reservations to watch the game. “Not for these teams, honey,” I was told. I was there.

I set up at the corner of the bar, next to two guys from Atlanta who wished to God that a football game would be shown instead. It was good I got there on time because the Angels won the game in the first inning, and they did it without scoring a run. After the Angels went quietly in the top half of the inning, Ramon Ortiz took the mound for Anaheim, and you could just tell he had Barry on the Brain. In baseball, one player, no matter how great, can’t carry a team, but Bonds almost can, because of his ability to intimidate pitchers—you can see them worrying about facing him even when he’s several hitters away.

Indeed, Ortiz looked shaky right from the outset. He walked Kenny Lofton, the Giants leadoff hitter, who in this series seems to be looking to avoid first base at all costs. Rich Aurilia then did his best to calm Ortiz by swinging like a maniac and striking out, but Lofton stole second (he was actually out, but nevermind), and Jeff Kent got an infield hit, nicely setting the table for Bonds.

Ortiz walked Bonds intentionally, but he became a different pitcher after that. Benito Santiago, who is developing a specialty of making bad outs, grounded out meekly to second. A run scored, but now Ortiz had confidence, and you could see it in the first pitch to J.T. Snow, a hard-riding fastball in for a called strike. Ortiz retired Snow, and after seeming ready to deliver a knockout blow, the Giants had a measly 1-0 lead.

The Angels started their assault immediately. In the next inning, a slicing pop fly was hit out toward Bonds in left field, and though he got near the ball, it fell in for a ground-rule double. The Atlanta guys I was sitting with went into apoplexy.

“He should’ve dove!”

“All he had to do was lay out!”

In that instance you could see how easy it is to develop a hatred for professional baseball players. Bonds could have caught the ball, and five years ago, perhaps he would have. But he is 38 years old, and in every thing he does, he weighs the risks against the rewards—how important is this out? Important enough to risk a busted collarbone?

Bonds plays the game with such intense regard for his own self-preservation that he can often seem lazy and arrogant. But this is precisely how he manages to be a better player at 38 than he was at 28, an almost unprecedented accomplishment. We saw an example of it in Game 1, too, when he hit a sharp grounder to first, which Scott Spiezio momentarily bobbled. If Bonds had been tearing out of the box, the play at first might have been close or Spiezio, forced to hurry, might have made another mistake. Bonds, however, had barely moved out of the box, and he was an easy out.

Bonds’ at-bats have become Culturally Significant Moments, and when he came up to the plate in the third inning last night, the noisy bar almost became hushed. Ortiz suddenly looked all-world, striking out Bonds on three straight pitches down and away. On the third one, Bonds looked truly terrible, his hips swinging out awkwardly as he lost his balance. Ortiz seemed to have discovered a chink in the armor.

Until the fifth inning, that is, when Bonds hit a stupendous home run to center. There, Ortiz made a classic mistake. He made a great pitch on the outside corner for strike one, then tried to “challenge” Bonds—by which I mean he threw him a pitch straight over the plate. Now, there are hitters who can smash pitches way out of the strike zone—guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Vladimir Guerrero almost seem to prefer to swing at stuff over their heads and in the dirt—but Bonds doesn’t do this. He simply waits for anything that is from the middle of the plate and in, and he turns on it, almost never missing a pitch that’s thrown there. I have no idea why Ortiz stopped going for the outside corner—perhaps he just missed.

It didn’t matter, though, because the Angels did their customary job of piling up the runs. I would’ve guessed that a speed-changing junkballer like Livan Hernandez would give the free-swinging Angels fits. But it didn’t happen. The Anaheim hitters held their bats in Game 3, and Hernandez walked five in 3 2/3 innings. Then reliever Jay Witasick came in to pitch batting practice, just like he did last year for the Yankees.

At 11:15, the game not yet out of the seventh inning, the ESPN Zone bartender announced it was last call. He was grumpy after a long night that included a run on Buttery Nipples, a drink that I did not know was a popular selection at sports bars. Nobody in the bar could believe we were being cut off. “What the heck, is this New York?” said one of the Atlanta guys.

We really were in Anaheim.