A Great Record Spoiled

by Richard Booroojian, EEEEEE! Contributing Editor


"We Giants fans will always be secure in the knowledge that, for one of the few times since any of us have been fans of this team, something magical happened in baseball and it completely belonged to us"

Their collective performance is already fading from our memories, overwhelmed by the events of September 11, 2001 and the incredible Barry Bonds home run and walk extravaganza. It's amazing. The 2001 San Francisco Giants team ended up being as competitive as just about any of the franchise's offerings over the last 30 years or so, but these Giants probably won't even be remembered as one of the "good" Giants' teams. In fact, they probably aren't destined to be remembered for much anything other than having provided a lineup spot for their (arguably) greatest player ever to have the (arguably) greatest offensive season ever in major league history.

All that is left when thinking about the team (as opposed to Bonds) is the sinking feeling that a significant opportunity was wasted. The fact that the Giants couldn't win the division or even a wild card in the fairly level playing field that was the National League, despite Bonds' and Rich Aurilia's historic offensive outputs, says a lot about the failings of the rest of the lineup and the pitching staff. Had Bonds left for greener pastures with a bigger-money franchise, it is easy to see 2001 as the unsatisfying end of a generally successful era.

How on earth to summarize the 2001 Giants season in a way that separates out the amazing accomplishments of Barry Bonds? There is no way to overemphasize his importance to the team; San Francisco, which won 90 games, might have been a sub-.500 team with even the second-best left fielder in the game replacing him. Bonds set single-season major league records with 73 home runs, 177 walks and an .863 slugging percentage, and his OPS was less than a point from Babe Ruth's single-season record for that statistic. He became the first player in nearly 50 years to have an on-base percentage over .500, and only the fact that pitchers flat-out refused to pitch to him with runners in scoring position kept his RBI count as low as 137.

Aurilia was also spectacular. After flirting with .400 early in the season, he ended up with 37 home runs (25 of them coming after the All-Star Break), 97 RBIs, and an OPS of .941 -- amazing stats for any shortstop not named Ernie Banks or Alex Rodriguez. The pair's 110 combined home runs is the second highest total for two teammates in history, behind only the Maris/Mantle duo of the 1961 Yankees.

This is not a recap of the 2001 Barry Bonds season. It's about the Giants, and the 2001 Giants, absent Bonds (and to a lesser extent Aurilia), are not a very interesting team to reminisce about. But this is EEEEEE!, and so we will now expend a fair amount of verbiage reminiscing all the same. To do so without dwelling on Bonds is, of course, impossible, but even that is a reflection of how things went for the Giants this season: during the long 162-game adventure that was the 2001 season, there were all too few other heroes to talk about.

The 2001 Season in Perspective

Emotional responses have a way of getting in the way of reality, naturally. The Giants did win 90 games in 2001, which is always an admirable accomplishment, and they continued their recent run of success unmatched in the divisional era. First of all, 2001 was the fifth consecutive winning season for the Giants, matching the span of 1986 through 1990 under the guidance of manager Roger Craig and GM Al Rosen, said period having since been held up as the standard for Giants' success in the divisional era. Since 1997, the Giants have gone 452-359, a .557 winning percentage. Not since 1965-1969 has San Francisco seen a better sustained performance over a five-year period; even the Craig/Rosen team only reached 433-377 (.535) over its peak five-year stretch.

The Giants finished second in the NL West, the fifth straight year that the team finished either first or second in the Western Division. Amazingly, prior to this, the franchise had never accomplished that even in consecutive seasons (ignoring strike-shortened seasons) since divisional play began in 1969. This was also the fifth consecutive season in which the Giants finished ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the standings, the longest such stretch since the two teams moved to the West Coast in 1958.

Though 2001 turned out not to be the end of the Barry Bonds era in San Francisco, it is still worth looking back on the results of his time here with some admiration. In the nine years since Bonds joined the Giants in 1993, the team has gone 745-649, a .534 winning percentage. Not since the nine years ending in 1973 have the Giants performed so well over such a period, and of course those results were heavily influenced by the performances of such Hall-of-Famers as Mays, McCovey, Marichal and Perry. When one adds the entertainment value of his 2001 season for the ages, it's hard not to be amazed at just what a fabulous move signing Barry Bonds as a free agent turned out to be. Without a doubt, it is by far the best such player transaction in Giants' franchise history.

Letting him go would have been a very, very difficult transaction to contemplate.

The 2001 Season in Review

This turned out to be a season of three chapters. The first, characterized for the most part by a long-running series of offensive pratfalls, poor defense, and bullpen foibles, lasted until just prior to the trading deadline, when GM Brian Sabean started shuttling players in and out of town like a last-place fantasy league franchise owner. The run that resulted from the revised and upgraded roster was the second chapter, and that half might well have been the final word on the 2001 season were it not for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The third chapter of the season was the final and separate three weeks that followed the resulting week off, a break that probably had as much impact on the Giants' chances for a postseason berth as on any team in baseball.

Chapter One: Futility

While there was nothing in the winter preceding the 2001 season to compare to the excitement of prior year's Pacific Bell Park unveiling, there were several interesting themes at work nonetheless. Two of them involved Barry Bonds: his request for a new contract extension (ultimately denied by the Giants front office) and the attention being given to his impending run at 500 career home runs (he began the season with 494). Of more immediate concern were the various changes being made to the roster after the team's 97-win season in 2000. The Giants were fairly active during the winter, although little of that activity boded well for the season on deck:

None of these, frankly, worked very well. Russ Davis, beset with personal and talent-deficit problems, put forth a dreadful performance and ultimately asked to be released (with full pay, of course) because his head was not in the game. Pedro Feliz rarely got a chance to play, and it showed in his continually rusty performances. Eric Davis was usually hurt and contributed little. Santiago had some memorable moments for the team, but the catcher's spot was ultimately even less productive in 2001 than in the prior year. In fact, third base, center field, right field, and catcher (along with first base, where incumbent J.T. Snow was frequently injured and mostly unproductive) were huge gaping holes all season that were, with one exception, never satisfactorily filled.

Still, this had been a really good team in 2000, and the Giants were well regarded in the preseason prognostications for 2001, as were the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers, and the (once again rebuilt) Rockies. As usual, the Giants were not impressive in the exhibition season, posting an anemic 11-20 mark. In fact, the only highlight of those games was the mispronunciation of Russ Davis' first name by one of the kids doing the batter introductions at Pac Bell Park just prior to the start of the season.

(Davis, as was his habit throughout his time here, at first bobbled the incident by taking umbrage at the "Roose" label, but perhaps he eventually realized that being serenaded with "Roose" by the home fans was preferable to a more descriptive or apt nickname such as "Incompetent Jackass", and "Roose" he was during the rest of his remaining tenure with the team.)

San Francisco spent the first few weeks of the season living up to expectations, mostly thanks to a schedule that gave them six early games against the San Diego Padres, and they withstood several savage drubbings at the hands of the Dodgers to hold first place for all but one day over the first three weeks of the season. Even this early, what would turn out to be the season's predominant theme was already starting to emerge. Early on, Barry Bonds had endured a career-worst 0-for-21 streak, which he finally broke out of with a home run in a loss to San Diego on April 12 (a game in which, strangely, the Padres wore camouflage jerseys). He hit home runs in the next three games as well, giving him 499 for his career heading into a three-game series at home against the Dodgers.

Memorable Game #1: The Giants/Dodgers rivalry has provided many memorable moments over the years, and the April 17 game will certainly be added to that list. Shawn Estes matched up against Darren Dreifort and, for the only time this year, he was up to the task against LA, striking out eight in six innings. Still, the Giants trailed 2-1 in the eighth with Rich Aurilia on first base, when Barry Bonds hit a towering fly ball off Terry Adams into McCovey Cove for what turned out to be the game-winning home run, his 500th. The game was stopped for several minutes for a presentation, which rankled the Dodgers no end, making the moment in some respects even more satisfying.

Bonds hit another home run into the Bay to win the next day's game as well, the sixth consecutive game in which he had homered. Rich Aurilia also homered in that game, and he was already starting to get some notice for posting an early batting average hovering just around .400.

Not doing nearly as well was Livan Hernandez, who had been the Giants' clear ace in 2000 but who was off to a miserable start in 2001. The Reds pounded him for 11 hits and seven runs in four innings on April 24, and the Giants dropped into a first-place tie with Colorado with an 11-8 record. They lost again the next day to former Giant Osvaldo Fernandez, knocking them into second place behind the Rockies. The Giants would chase first Colorado, then Los Angeles, and finally Arizona, but from this point on, except for one day in mid-May, the team never led the division again in 2001.

Problems were cropping up everywhere. Starters Hernandez (1-4) and Mark Gardner (0-3) were being pounded, and Kirk Rueter contributed one start in which he gave up eight runs in just one inning against the Phillies. The bullpen was shaky -- Alan Embree spectacularly so. The offense also struggled: the Giants had been outscored by 13 runs even while leading the division, and over the next few weeks they were outscored by nine more while going 6-9. In those 15 games, the Giants committed 19 errors, four of them in one game against Pittsburgh in which the winning run for the Pirates scored on a Bonds' misplay. A Marvin Benard grand slam, a J.T. Snow two-home-run game, and a seven-RBI effort by reigning MVP Jeff Kent somewhat masked the fact that all three were struggling mightily at the plate.

But Bonds continued on at full speed, with six more homers in those 15 games. The Giants stayed close. As of May 9, they were in a tie for third place, just 1.5 games behind the leading Dodgers. They then began their last push into first place with a five-game winning streak, starting with a 13-0 drubbing of Montreal and including a satisfying three-game sweep of the Mets in Pac Bell Park. Chad Zerbe even took an emergency start for Shawn Estes, after a late scratch from a start against the Mets landed Estes on the disabled list, and pitched well in his only start for the Giants in 2001. With a final win in Florida that featured Bobby Estalella's last home run as a Giant, the team was back in first place by a half-game.

But it started to slip away with two losses in Florida, and then the Giants headed to Atlanta for three memorable games with the Braves. While San Francisco lost two of three, the 2001 Barry Bonds story really started to pick up steam.

Memorable Game #2: Game one of the series featured Bonds' 17th home run, which gave the Giants a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning and tied Bonds with Mel Ott for 15th place on the all-time home run list. This was after he had earlier thrown out a runner at home. However, Robb Nen couldn't hold the lead, with his two-out wild pitch allowing former Giant Dave Martinez to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Memorable Game #3: Rain disrupted the next game, delaying its start by over an hour. With Estes still out, Ryan Jensen got his first start and pitched well (plus contributed his first major league hit and RBI) until another 1:35 rain delay in the sixth inning forced him out of the game. None of this fazed Bonds, who hit three solo home runs, the second a clutch shot to tie the game after a Javy Lopez homer off Tim Worrell had given the Braves a 3-2 lead immediately after the second rain delay. The Bonds home run count was now at 20, and he had moved all the way up to 13th on the career list.

Memorable Game #4: The story of this game was Alan Embree. In what was pretty much his last hurrah with the team, he gave up a record-tying four home runs in the seventh inning, blowing the Giants out of a game in which an ineffective Livan Hernandez had already squandered an early 3-0 lead. Still, Bonds hit two more home runs, tying the major league record for the most home runs over a three-game stretch, and he received the first of what would be many 2001 road standing ovations after his second shot in the seventh, as even the increasingly apathetic Turner Field patrons were overwhelmed by what they had seen in the series.

Bonds hit home runs in his next two games as well, meaning he had gone deep in six consecutive games for the second time in the season, setting and tying many home run records as a result. Starting with this memorable weekend series, his chase of Mark McGwire's single season record of 70 homers was officially under way.

The Giants' chase for the NL title, however, was starting to go south. They lost two of three in Arizona (despite the improbable occasion of Mark Gardner outdueling and besting Randy Johnson in the getaway game), then split a four-game series with a Colorado team that ended a 13-game losing streak as a result. Bonds hit the franchise's 12,000th home run during that series, his 26th of the year. Now front-running Arizona visited Pac Bell Park, and the Giants offensive struggles finally came to an ugly zenith.

Memorable Game #5: Incredibly, in the first game of the series, Gardner outpitched Johnson yet again, allowing only three hits in seven innings while matching zeroes with the Diamondbacks' ace. In the tenth, Arizona finally pushed across the game's first run, but Felipe Crespo, only one game removed from a stint on the DL, became the first Giants' player besides Bonds to hit a home run into McCovey Cove, tying the game at 1-1. However, Mark Grace hit his own Bay shot for Arizona in the twelfth, and Steve Finley snatched a potential game-tying home run by Pedro Feliz away from a fan in the bottom of the twelfth to seal the win for the Diamondbacks.

Memorable Game #6: That loss might have slipped out of our collective memory were it not for the next game, in which the Giants went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position en route to an 18-inning 1-0 loss. Estes came off the DL to throw seven shutout innings, and then six relievers shut down the Diamondbacks until Ryan Vogelsong, in the third inning of his major league debut, gave up a run-scoring double to Erubiel Durazo, one inning after Durazo had thrown Armando Rios out at the plate on a failed safety squeeze play.

Those two losses were agonizing, and Arizona completed the sweep the next day despite two more Bonds home runs. Two days later, Robb Nen gave up three straight hits while trying to save a 5-3 lead in Colorado, and Chad Zerbe then served up a game-winning two-run homer to Larry Walker. After a loss to the A's on June 10, the Giants had hit bottom. In going 9-16 over their last 25 games, they had fallen to fourth place, seven games behind Arizona. Only the collapsing Rockies (who could not beat anyone other than the Giants) stood worse than San Francisco.

Brian Sabean had been moving players up and down from the minors for weeks on end, yo-yoing Calvin Murray, Chad Zerbe, Edwards Guzman (who earlier had finally gotten a hit after going oh-for-his-first-22 in the majors), Ryan Jensen, Ryan Vogelsong and Jamie Arnold (for one day), while running Shawn Estes, Felipe Crespo, Eric Davis, J. T. Snow and the ineffective Alan Embree through the DL. Now Sabean began to take more drastic and permanent measures. First Bobby Estalella and then Russ Davis were designated for assignment, with the former landing in Fresno for a stretch before being dealt to the Yankees for Brian Boehringer, while the latter took his guaranteed money and rode off into the sunset for some self-prescribed mental R&R. Alan Embree was also mercifully shipped out, to the White Sox for a minor leaguer.

(A digression: the two or three longtime readers of these seasonal recaps may have noticed by now that the author always seems to find at least one player upon whom he unleashes inordinate amounts of vitriol, sometimes to levels seemingly out of proportion to the actual performance of the player. The author admits that in prior years, he has heaped abuse on such luminaries as:

This year's whipping boy is "Roose" Davis. One could look at his base stats of .257, 7 home runs, and 17 RBIs in 53 games and perhaps not understand just what the problem was. However, consider that Davis, while holding down the starting third base slot for a good part of the year and thus arresting the development of Pedro Feliz, delivered an OPS of just .802, which was substandard for the third base position. What was even more frustrating, though, was his futility in key situations; his OPS was .744 with runners on, .699 in close and late situations, and an amazing .381 with runners in scoring position. In eight at bats with the bases loaded, his OPS was.000, with four strikeouts and one double play. Add to that his 10 errors in 46 games in the field and you get a portrait of a player who added no real value to the team in any way. Plus, in one game he struck out swinging on a ball that hit him. If there were an counterpoint to the Willie Mac award for most inspirational Giant (could we call it the Steve Frey award?), Davis would without question be its proud recipient for 2001.)

The Giants briefly rallied by winning nine out of the next 10, including a gratifying three-game sweep of the red-hot Oakland A's in which Estes, Hernandez, and Rueter outdueled the A's highly regarded starters Mark Mulder, Cory Lidle, and Tim Hudson by a combined run total of 8-2. The only loss in those 10 games was the result of another spectacular meltdown by Nen, who blew a 3-1 lead to the Padres after getting two outs and two strikes in the ninth. In the end, though, the Giants only managed to pick up one game on Arizona over those 10 games, reminiscent of a stretch in 1999 when the Giants went 22-6 and only picked up 2.5 games on the Diamondbacks.

The Giants then fell back into retreat mode, stumbling into the All-Star Break by losing nine of the last 15. The bullpen now began to emerge as a primary culprit, with the otherwise spectacular Felix Rodriguez enduring his worst stretch of the year, blowing three games over the two weeks. It all culminated with perhaps the worst loss of the year in the final game before the break against the Brewers.

Memorable Game #7: After Rodriguez wasted a fairly strong (and atypical in the first half) Livan Hernandez outing by giving up a two-run homer to catcher Raul Casanova in the eighth to wipe out a 3-2 lead, Felipe Crespo hit his second dramatic Bay shot of the year in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. However, the Giants could not score in the ensuing four extra innings despite putting eleven (11) men on base and leaving the bases loaded in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth innings. If ever there could be a more wretched offensive performance than that which the Giants endured in the 18-inning shutout loss to Arizona, this was it. The two runs the Brewers finally scored in the 13th to win it were almost a blessing, so painful had this game become.

Nor did it help that Bonds was suddenly in a home run slump, having now gone 13 games and 44 at bats without after hitting his pre-All-Star-Game record 39th on June 23 against the Cards.

The Giants sent Bonds, Rich Aurilia, and Jeff Kent to the All-Star Game, all as starters. Kent had the only hit (a double), but he also made a key error that let in an AL run. Because there were no Giant pitchers on the roster, Cal Ripken was forced to hit his memorable home run against someone else, specifically the Dodgers' Chan Ho Park.

If the final pre-break game against the Brewers hadn't been the most galling loss of the year, the first game after the break against the high-flying Seattle Mariners would have been. First, Robb Nen blew his fifth save of the year by surrendering a game-tying homer to David Bell in the bottom of the ninth. [I think I just figured out why the Giants traded for him. -- GP] Then in the eleventh, the Mariners scored the winning run from second base on, of all things, an infield hit. The only bright spot was Bonds' 40th home run, which put him back on the record pace.

Amazingly, after all of that, the Giants were still in third place, 5.5 games behind Arizona and just one behind the Dodgers. Even after splitting the next 12 games (during which time they got their best starting pitching performance of the year, a complete-game, five-hit shutout of the Rockies by Russ Ortiz over the team's long-time nemesis Mike Hampton), they were still only 6.5 games out despite a record of 62-59. As for Bonds, his home run count was stalled at 42, and he was running behind the record pace for the first time since early in the season.

Certainly the Giants had been fortunate that such a long lethargic stretch hadn't knocked them completely out of the race. However, almost nothing had happened to that point which would suggest that the team was going to make any significant move towards the NL West title.

Chapter Two: Wheeling and Double-Dealing

On July 24, the Giants dropped their fourth in a row, the last two at the hands of a Colorado team that had lost 25 of its previous 30 games coming into the series. The big news, though, was that the Giants had traded three of their minor leaguers to get Andres Galarraga from the Texas Rangers.

As has become an annual tradition in Brian Sabean's tenure as general manager of the Giants, the time had come for him to initiate his annual trading deadline frenzy. In 1997 he made probably his most famous move, obtaining Wilson Alverez, Roberto Hernandez, and Danny Darwin from the White Sox in exchange for six minor leaguers. In 1998 he made what were probably his worst trades by sending off Steve Reed and Jacob Cruz to get Joe Carter, Jose Mesa, Shawon Dunston, and the execrable Alvin Morman, although he did redeem himself somewhat by later landing Ellis Burks at the mere cost of Darryl Hamilton. In 1999 he picked up Livan Hernandez for two more prospects.

(In 2000 his big move was to snag Doug Henry, but the Giants were on such a roll by then that his relative inactivity could reasonably be excused.)

Unlike 1998, in which his moves seemingly were made as much for the sake of making moves as anything, this time Sabean scored with almost everything he did. The Galarraga trade shored up first base, which J. T. Snow was too unhealthy to man effectively. Next, Sabean sent Felipe Crespo to the Phillies for Wayne Gomes, a questionable move in that it cost the Giants a key bat off the bench (and also cost them one of the few players other than Bonds and Aurilia to produce a dramatic moment thus far) to get a pitcher who was of limited value at best, spent several weeks on the DL and then was actually harmful down the stretch. However, on July 30, Sabean pulled off his biggest deal of the year, sending Armando Rios (soon after a dugout altercation with Rich Aurilia) and rookie Ryan Vogelsong to the Pirates for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal. To top it all off, on the day of the deadline he picked up lefty Jason Christiansen from the Cardinals for a minor leaguer and a player to be named later.

For the most part, this all worked out very well for San Francisco. Schmidt filled a big hole in the Giants' rotation, the result of an All-Star-Break trip to the DL for Mark Gardner for health and personal reasons. Schmidt went 7-1 in 11 starts down the stretch for the Giants, with a 3.39 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 66.1 innings. Galarraga was also a hit, with the Giants winning 15 of his first 16 starts at first. Christiansen and Vander Wal also played key roles in the weeks ahead. The team was retooled, and almost immediately their play improved dramatically.

Galarraga joined the team on July 25 and went 3-for-5 with two RBIs in his debut as the Giants salvaged one game in the series in Colorado. That was the start of a memorable nine-game winning streak that enabled the Giants to finally catch up again with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Included in the streak was a critical four-game sweep of the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Bonds hit two home runs (one a grand slam) in the first game off Curt Schilling in what was probably the 20-game-winner's worst start of the year. In the final game of the series, Rich Aurilia hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning off Randy Johnson, setting up Marvin Benard's game-winning pinch-hit home run off closer Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth. The ninth win was, appropriately enough, delivered courtesy of a Galarraga walk-off home run against Philadelphia, and it brought the Giants into a second-place tie with Los Angeles, just a half-game behind Arizona. But the surge was not yet finished. Over the next few weeks, the Giants went an additional 10-5, and while they had finally started to put a little space between themselves and the Dodgers, they actually lost a game on the front-running Diamondbacks.

During that 19-5 run following the Galarraga trade, the Giants hit like they had not hit since 2000. They batted a collective .311 with 42 home runs, and they averaged six runs per game in outscoring their opponents 151 to 100. In the first 101 games, the team had averaged less than five runs per game (and in fact had continued to be outscored by their opponents) while batting just .257. Bonds had gone off, hitting 12 home runs (including two grand slams, the one against Schilling and, on August 14, as part of a 13-run, 20-hit assault against Florida, one into the Bay off Ricky Bones), and he had set an all-time franchise record for home runs in a season when he hit his 53rd (and second of the game) on August 16 against the Marlins. Rich Aurilia was now taking his power numbers into personally uncharted territory, with 10 more home runs to bring his season's total to 26. The other hitting star was, amazingly, Livan Hernandez, who had 12 hits (including a home run) in 13 at-bats over consecutive starts against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Hernandez had finally started to pull it together on the mound as well, going 3-1 with a 3.53 ERA in five games, after going 8-11 with a 5.85 ERA previously. Ortiz (3-0, 2.87) and Schmidt (3-1, 3.91) also contributed several quality starts during this string.

The Giants had clearly reestablished their momentum in the NL West and were in great position in the wild-card race as well. However, external forces now began to intrude on the Giants, the first in the form of Sports Illustrated and their columnist Rick Reilly. Attracted by the story of Bonds' home run pace, Reilly ripped the slugger, quoting a number of negative comments from defending MVP Jeff Kent about Bonds' antisocial tendencies in the clubhouse. If Reilly felt he might cause Bonds some distress, he failed miserably; Bonds never blinked, and continued to pound the ball (in fact, he hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run against Montreal the next night). However, the resulting controversy did seem to affect Kent, who had finally started to hit well with runners in scoring position once again, and his fall-off hurt the Giants. The Giants lost six of the next eight, including two in Arizona in which they scored a total of one run, and the team quickly dropped three games in the standings. This ultimately turned out to be a meaningful swing the NL West race, and so Rick Reilly, having failed to get under Bonds' skin in any way, could at least take some solace in allowing Kent to harm his own reputation and, ultimately, in contributing to the derailment of the Giants' chances in 2001.

The Giants put that little slump behind them by pounding the Diamondbacks 13-6, and then a week later they welcomed Arizona into Pac Bell for a terrific three-game series. First the Giants turned the tables on Bobby Witt, who had shut them out the week prior, as Aurilia hit two homers and Bonds his 59th in a 5-2 win. Then, after Schilling won his 20th game of the season the next day, Bonds closed out the series by making a little history.

Memorable Game #8: Ryan Jensen made another start, this time in place of Estes, who was back on the DL, and Jensen was not very effective, leaving in the fourth inning. However, the Giants staked him to four runs in the first, and then in the second, Bonds came up with two outs and the bases empty and hit his 60th home run of the season, only the fifth player (and the fastest) ever to do so. Aurilia went 3-for-5 with a homer, and the Giants were back within 1.5 games of front-running Arizona after the 9-5 victory.

In gaining a game on the Diamondbacks with that victory, the Giants did something they were never able to do again until the last day of the season: they won a game on the same day Arizona lost. The next 13 times the two teams both played on the same day, they mirrored each other's results. This frustrating stretch (during which the Giants posted a very credible 11-7 record and yet lost a half-game in the standings), ultimately earned Arizona the NL West title.

But long before that all played out, Bonds had another big game against an NL West opponent.

Memorable Game #9: On September 9, the day after the Giants had taken over the wild card lead from Cubs and the Dodgers, Jason Schmidt took the mound in Colorado against the Rockies' Scott Elarton. In the first inning, Rich Aurilia hit his 33rd home run off Elarton, and then Bonds went back-to-back with his 61st, tying him with Roger Maris' single-season home run total for a lefthanded batter. Bonds hit his 62nd in the fifth, giving the Giants a 4-1 lead. However, Colorado rallied, tying the game 4-4 in the sixth, and it stayed that way until the eleventh inning, when J. T. Snow had one of his biggest moments of the season in hitting a dramatic two-run homer off reliever Todd Belitz to put the team ahead, and then Bonds hit his third home run of the game, a three-run shot to supply the final runs in a 9-4 victory.

Just as happened after his earlier home run explosion against Atlanta, Bonds earned a standing ovation (and even a curtain call) from the historically hostile Colorado fans for this outburst.

The Giants next headed into Houston for a scheduled September 11 game against the Astros. San Francisco was back on track with an 80-64 record, and Bonds was on fire. It seemed certain that the former was headed to the postseason and the latter to history, both of which were surely just 18 games away.

Chapter Three: Bittersweet Triumphs

As the Giants whiled away the days in Houston, waiting through the continually expanding postponement of play while the nation recovered from the World Trade Center disaster, their postseason prospects started to diminish:

But more than anything, the break just briefly seemed to throw the Giants off their rhythm. They had just come off one of the more memorable individual performances in Giants' history and they had seemingly put the whole Sports Illustrated fiasco behind them, but it was clear during the enforced week off that the team was uncomfortable and had (understandably) lost focus. It showed in the first three games after the break, when the Astros came into San Francisco and swept all three games from the Giants. Robb Nen had an unfortunate hand in two of these losses. In the first game, after Galarraga had hit the longest home run ever in Pac Bell Park's short history, Nen couldn't hold a 2-1 lead in the ninth, surrendering a game-tying triple off the bat of Jeff Bagwell that Marvin Benard misplayed in center field, followed by a game-winning sacrifice fly. Two days later, the Giants stranded nine runners over the last five innings after Bonds' 64th home run had tied the game 4-4, and Houston finally won the game again off Nen in the tenth.

Meanwhile, St. Louis had won four in a row to catapult three games ahead in the wild card. San Francisco quickly righted the ship, winning six of the next nine against San Diego and Los Angeles (despite one loss in which Ramon Martinez lost a ground ball in the lights and then Calvin Murray had a deep fly hit by the Padres' Mike Darr hit off his glove and over the center field wall for a game-deciding home run). Snow and Benito Santiago each had four-hit games in separate wins, Russ Ortiz had two strong starts in pushing his record to 16-9, and Bonds hit five more home runs, the last being his 69th of the season.

As it turned out, though, the damage had been done in those first three games against Houston. St. Louis never slowed down again, putting the wild card essentially out of reach the rest of the way, and Arizona matched each Giant victory (and the Giants each Arizona defeat) with one of their own. On September 30, the originally scheduled final date of the season, the Giants' record stood at 86-70, and they were still a frustrating two games behind in the NL West with six games left.

The three games in Houston will not soon be forgotten, and not just because the Giants swept the Astros to keep pace with Arizona (which in turn was sweeping Colorado, upholding Colorado's long-standing tradition of folding in any meaningful game against any team ever locked up in a pennant race with the Giants). Larry Dierker, the Astros' manager, made the decision that he would not let Barry Bonds beat his team (or, coincidentally, hit his 70th home run), and he ordered him walked. And walked. And occasionally thrown at. By the time Bonds came to bat in the ninth inning of the third game of the series, he had been walked eight times (and hit once) in the three games. Those walks did indeed allow him to shatter one single-season record: Babe Ruth's 170 bases on balls.

However, the strategy, which certainly had some sound logic behind it considering Jeff Kent's chronic inconsistency with runners on base in 2001, blew up in Dierker's face. With Bonds and Aurilia (who got his 200th hit in the first game) jamming the bases, Kent cashed in as he hadn't all year, driving in seven runs and keying all three Giants wins. Even worse from Dierker's perspective, the Astros fans were very interested in seeing Bonds get a shot at the record-tying 70th home run, and they booed each Bonds walk unmercifully throughout the series. Finally, with the Giants leading 9-2 in the series finale, Dierker threw in the towel.

Memorable Game #10: In the sixth inning with Giants leading 8-1, Bonds had drawn yet another mind-numbing intentional walk. Thus, when Bonds led off the ninth against September call-up Wilfredo Rodriguez, he was probably surprised enough at actually seeing a first-pitch strike that he swung and missed. On a 1-1 pitch, though, he didn't miss on Rodriguez' 93 MPH fastball, sending it 454 feet for his record-tying 70th home run.

The home run gave Bonds 564 for his career, putting him ahead of Reggie Jackson in seventh place on the all time list. The Houston fans gave Bonds yet another road standing ovation. Houston had lost its sixth game in a row, and while that ultimately was not enough to allow the Giants to overtake the Astros, the events of this series probably played a part in Dierker's forced resignation after the season.

Now everything rode on the final three game series against the Dodgers, and the two teams played a game that fits well into the long history of that rivalry.

Memorable Game #11: On October 4, the Giants playoff hopes hung by a thread. With Arizona having won and Houston having defeated St. Louis, the Giants had to win or they would be eliminated from both the NL West and wild card chases. Shawn Estes, two good outings removed from his second stint on the disabled list, started his most important game of the season, and he bombed, giving up five runs in just two-thirds of an inning. The last two runs scored with reliever Mark Gardner on the mound, and before the Giants could even take their first swing against Chan Ho Park, they were down 5-0.

Then, with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the first, Bonds hit a 1-0 pitch from Park into right-center for the record-breaking 71st home run.

As had so often been the case in 2001, Bonds had given the Giants a much-needed shot in the arm. They scored three in the second inning on an Eric Davis bases-loaded double, and then Bonds hit his 72nd homer in the third, again off Park. Unfortunately, the bullpen was giving up runs almost as fast as the Giants were scoring them; Gardner had allowed another run in the second, and then Wayne Gomes threw a disastrous inning-plus in which he gave up home runs to Marquis Grissom and Shawn Green, accounting for three Dodgers runs. But the Giants countered again, with Kent driving in three more with another bases-loaded double in the fourth, only to be thrown out at third on a very questionable umpire's call.

Gary Sheffield homered off Aaron Fultz, but in the seventh, Rich Aurilia delivered one last dramatic moment of his own, hitting a two-run homer, his 37th. Incredibly, the Giants had come all the way back to tie it up at 10-10.

Sadly, that was the last high moment of the Giants' pennant drive of 2001. The Dodgers pushed across the go-ahead run on a fielder's choice in the eighth after an Aurilia error put a runner in scoring position. The Giants never got another hit, managing only two walks (one to Bonds in his last plate appearance), and when Shawon Dunston grounded into a fielder's choice in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants had lost one of the most exciting, if disappointing, games in their San Francisco era. The marathon game (at 4:27, it was the longest nine-inning game in major league history) marked a fitting end to a long, trying, and ultimately ill-fated season.

The only thing left to follow was Bonds, and he gave one last thrill. Following a postgame ceremony after his milestone home runs that lasted into the early hours of the morning, he made only a pinch-hitting appearance in the penultimate game, then hit his 73rd and final round-tripper off Dennis Springer in the first inning of the Giants' last game, a 2-1 win.

Final Thoughts

It's hard not to have mixed feelings about the Giants' performance this year. Just a few timely hits against Arizona or the Brewers, maybe a month less of Russ Davis or Alan Embree, a better performance during the first half of the season from ostensible ace Livan Hernandez, or even a decent bullpen effort against the Dodgers that last Friday night of the season, and the Giants might well have made up those two games on Arizona or the wild-card-winning St. Louis Cardinals. And with Arizona ultimately winning the World Series, it's hard not to reflect on the fact that the Giants played the Diamondbacks straight up in 2001 (losing the season series by only a 10-9 margin) and hung close to Arizona (and for that matter, the Cardinals and Houston) despite having a much tougher interleague schedule. Can one be blamed for thinking that perhaps the Giants might have had a chance to make some of their own postseason history if only events hadn't intervened?

But events did intervene, and that is how things always seem to go for this franchise. And, as the 2000 playoffs proved agonizingly, even when everything is clicking for the Giants, they are still well capable of suddenly falling flat at the worst possible time. The truth is that, with the exception of Bonds and Aurilia, the other players on the 2001 Giants didn't really play well enough to earn a trip to the playoffs, and the team is mostly an amazing example of just how far one or two great players can carry an otherwise mediocre team. Livan Hernandez did not come through nearly often enough for the Giants in 2001. Jeff Kent did not until it was pretty much too late in the season to matter. J. T. Snow almost never did. Even Robb Nen, his 45 saves notwithstanding, too often did not. The Giants needed these players to perform at the highest level possible for the team to be successful, and they pretty much didn't fill the bill. Had any of them better supplemented the tremendous production of Barry Bonds and Rich Aurilia, none of those external "events" and factors would have ended up mattering very much.

Bonds' amazing performance is obviously one we will never forget, as Giants fans or even as baseball fans. Even if he'd ended up in New York or Atlanta or wherever agent Scott Boras hoped to sell him, we Giants fans will always be secure in the knowledge that, for one of the few times since any of us have been fans of this team, something magical happened in baseball and it completely belonged to us. Neither Boras nor anyone else can ever take that away and sell it.

The fact that in 2002 that magic could very well have belonged to someone else is ultimately irrelevant. After all, we're used to it. The magic always ends up belonging to someone else. Giants fans just carry on, secure in the knowledge that, whatever may happen to the Barry Bonds of the world, there is always another Russ Davis waiting for us just around the corner.


Richard Booroojian, a financial consultant in the South Bay, is somewhat irritated that the Giants couldn't provide a more satisfying distraction from it all this October. Then again, what else is new?


Copyright ©2002 by Richard Booroojian
Last updated 1/26/02
Gregg Pearlman, gregg@EEEEEEgp.com

Back to the 2001 Postmortem Home Page

Back to the EEEEEE! Home Page