Yanks ready for Bonds matchup
Manager Torre discusses slugger's chase of home run record
DENVER -- Just one of Barry Bonds' 748 career home runs has come against the Yankees, but even that footnote stands out in what has become a historic and much-scrutinized career.
Digging in for his second-ever game at Yankee Stadium on June 8, 2002, Bonds turned on an offering from left-hander Ted Lilly and punished a ball into the heights of the Bronx, depositing a three-run souvenir into Section 31 of the upper deck in right field.
It is that moment that sticks out in Yankees manager Joe Torre's mind when he is asked about Bonds, though he is quick to separate that version of the power-hitting outfielder from the lithe speedster who tormented his St. Louis Cardinals clubs in the early 1990s.
"You can't emphasize enough what a great player this kid was when he was young, before there were any questions about how he was doing it," Torre said Thursday.
"He's got a short stroke, he's got a very quick bat and he's one of the few guys who can choke up on the bat a little bit and still hit the thing 400 feet. He's still a threat. You still want to be in a position not to have him be the important guy for them."
Bonds and the Yankees will collide again this weekend on the West Coast, a scheduling point of interest that once appeared as though it might have historical implications, especially given Bonds' hot April in which he slugged eight home runs.
While the nation looked on, some Yankees took to amateur statistical projections, wondering how often Bonds would need to continue going deep to make this weekend's series a challenge for the record books.
The torrid pace slowed, however, as Bonds homered four times in May and has slugged just two so far this month heading into the tilt. Sitting eight home runs shy of passing Henry Aaron on the all-time home run list, the Yankees are unlikely to be witnesses to history.
Having such focus embroiled on each pitch to Bonds, a will-he-or-won't-he scenario, could have been an unwelcome distraction for a Yankees club that -- after spending much of the season under .500 and coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies -- has plenty to handle just within its own house.
"We deal with a lot of hoopla," said right-hander Mike Mussina, who pitches Sunday against the Giants. "We deal with a lot of stuff around here.
"It's part of the game and it's part of what we do. People are achieving milestones all the time, whether it's wins or strikeouts or homers or hits. Somebody's going to be out there competing against you when it happens."
Perhaps it's just as well that the Yankees aren't involved. A teammate of Aaron's for eight seasons with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, Torre admits to having mixed feelings regarding Bonds' pursuit of 755 and the allegations that surround his journey toward that vaunted number.
Torre may not have been outwardly upset had the Yankees been in attendance for Bonds' near-inevitable passing of Aaron, but like the home run king, Torre isn't likely to go out of his way to celebrate Bonds' eventual accomplishment.
"It's going to be a part of history, no matter how we look at it -- whether it's going to be looked down upon or up to," Torre said.
" ... Knowing Henry as I do, the proud individual that he is, you hate to see him having to be faced with something at this time in his life. He certainly deserves to be acclaimed for what he's done and what he represents."
As Bonds plods on toward Aaron, Torre said that situational left-hander Mike Myers is already well aware of how he'll be spending his weekend.
Myers, a submarining left-hander, hasn't been exceptional in his career against Bonds. The slugger is hitting .320 (8-for-25) with a home run and five RBIs against Myers, but Torre believes that Myers represents the Yankees' best threat to throw Bonds off and stall his pursuit.
"It's important to try to upset his timing, and I think Myers has enough of a variety to do that," Torre said. "He pitches in and out, and you want to rely on Barry being a little anxious too -- not wanting to walk. He's walked so many times that I think he's obviously tired of that stuff."
It may not involve a Yankee, but somewhere down the line, someone will wind up giving up the big hit to Bonds -- the one that carries the same replay value of Al Downing's April 1974 offering that boosted Aaron past Babe Ruth.
Presented with that hypothetical situation, Myers said he couldn't see himself shying away from challenging Bonds on an ultimate date with history.
"You've got to have your mind clear enough to get him out, whether he's going for the all-time record or not," Myers said. "I love the game of baseball and I'm a huge fan of baseball, and you don't want a teammate to give up the home run.
"Personally for me, I would want to be there when he hits it. I wouldn't want to be the one that gives it up, because that means I [couldn't get the out] and the team doesn't have a good chance to win that day. I'll see it on TV."
For as many times as the Cubs' Jason Marquis was shown jerking his neck around to watch the trail of Sammy Sosa's 600th home run on Wednesday night, the exposure of the unfortunate pitcher who serves up No. 756 to Bonds will be comparatively infinite.
"Somebody has to throw the pitches," Mussina said. "You're going to be remembered for a long time, because it's going to be shown four million times on television for the next 25 years. That's how it ends up being remembered."
The Yankees are just satisfied that it won't be one of their backs on the screen, delivering a pitch toward Cooperstown.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.