SPORTS

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April 9, 2002

Around the Horn

Headlining

Chances are pretty good that Barry Bonds has not seen a good pitch, the real juicy meatball sort, all fatty and starchy and on the plate, in over a year. But after the way he hit the veggie burgers he was getting last season you'd think that most pitchers would offer nothing more than leafy green crap (parsley and watercress and such) that never penetrates farther than the very fringes of the strike zone. I'm not one to say what he's getting. I haven't seen more than a highlight snippet of the work opposing pitchers have been doing. But the fact that Bonds had already hit five homers in the first three games suggests pitchers ought to think about trying something else. At this rate, he really could win the division all by himself, and that can't make anyone happy.

My personal recommendation would be that other pitchers should investigate even less appetizing pitching options, like lentils and little balls of fetid dirt-muck that they found on the perimeters of livestock pens. The kind of garbage Bonds, by all rights, should be seeing in the next few months should permit him to break his own record (set last season) for most walks ever. Consider 200 a possibility.

Mitigating all that, it has to be said that a season in which Barry Bonds hit 700 or so home runs would be a much more interesting one to watch, and I wouldn't mind it all that much if he started threatening Hank Aaron's all-time mark. Still, we can count on Sammy Sosa to hit all the home runs, as soon as Moises Alou returns from the disabled list to bat behind him.

Inauspicious beginnings

During the White Sox-Royals game on Saturday, 21-year-old Royals middle reliever Miguel Asencio made his major league debut. Asencio, who had recently made the extraordinary jump from Single A to the big leagues, must have been feeling a good deal of pressure, but appeared to be responding well during spring training. He walked all four batters he faced, without ever throwing a strike: 16 pitches, 16 balls, one earned run (plus two more that were later charged to him), zero hits, zero strikes. According to his manager, "the kid was extremely nervous," and "trying to throw 3,000 mph." For the record, Asencio swore that "that's not the way I pitch," (he has never yet hit 3,000 on the radar gun) and will presumably have something to play for the next time he throws. Had Asencio been a bit better, the Royals might have only lost 11-0 to the White Sox, instead of 14-0.

Other inauspicious beginnings

Jason Giambi has been hitting under .200 in New York City after finishing second in MVP voting last year for Oakland. Critics (me) have been fond of saying this is because God hates the New York Yankees. But if that were true, Roger Clemens would not be throwing complete games, and the Yanks would not be in first place in the AL East. So more likely Giambi's woes stem from the fact that George Steinbrenner made him shave his beard.

The height of Ken Griffey, Jr.'s career presumably came when Super Nintendo came out with a baseball game named after him. But after leaving the American League for Cincinnati (where Ken, Sr. used to play) Griffey has had knee problems that have kept him out of the lineup. He appeared to have rebounded, hitting at his usual clip last August and September. In Cincinnati's game on Sunday, Griffey homered in the first inning to give his team the early lead. But all his progress came crashing down when, caught in a weird rundown between third base and home in the late innings, Griffey fell onto the infield grass clutching at his knee. That about does it for me. The remainder of Griffey's career will likely be a frustrating mixture of home-run-comebacks and infield-grass-knee-clutchings. And the remainder of the Reds' season, unless Adam Dunn starts looking a lot better, will be a frustrating mixture of unfortunate losses and unfortunate losses.

Band-aid solutions

The Detroit Tigers fired manager Phil Garner and GM Randy Smith this morning. During just over two years of service, Garner and Smith compiled a 145-185 record, a fact cited by the spokespeople who fired the tandem. Personally, I doubt that the record reflects very much on Garner, given that the Tigers have been, year in and year out, one of the least talented teams in the majors. Could it be another Bud Selig conspiracy? No, but he makes a better scapegoat than Garner.

Okay, sorry about that

Certain reliable sources have closely examined the face of Pedro Martinez and report that, contrary to the hearsay reported here last week, he does not in any way have a double chin. Other sources may have been reacting to Pedro's goatee, or possibly were looking for excuses that explained the Dominican's uncharacteristically poor performance in the Red Sox' season opener. However in Sunday's game against the Tigers, Martinez bounced back for six strong innings, allowing only one unearned run on a meager three hits, all of which goes to show once again that Pedro Martinez is indomitable, and that David Wells is still the only fat pitcher ever to be effective.