Bonds' Sad March Towards Ruth-Land

Low and away.

One Rich Hill, owner of an earned run average north of 11 runs, would do well to keep those words in mind as he takes the mound tonight for the Chicago Cubs. That is the location of the vast majority of pitches thrown to San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

Most of those offerings are well out of the strike zone, as if they are fleeing the plate and Bonds' powerful bat.

Baseball history has selected Hill, a rookie pitcher, to face Bonds in the first of a three-game series here in San Francisco. So if Hill is smart and has a streak of self-preservation to go with it, he will try to locate his tosses in the low and away area.

Bonds, one home run shy of Babe Ruth's career total of 714, sat out last night's game with the Houston Astros. And why not? The Cubs have dropped seven straight with pitching that has resided at the intersection of bad and worse.

Hill is a recent call-up from the Cubs farm system and if there has ever been a bigger mismatch between pitcher and batter it does not come immediately to mind.

Yet Hill, in remarks to the Chicago Tribune, says he intends to "go right after" Bonds.

As Hill put it to the Tribune, "I'll just attack him like it's any other hitter in there." Sure.

The other thing about tonight's game is that Bonds will be hearing cheers after a steady diet of boos and catcalls from fans in Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

At Miller Park in Milwaukee last week, lots of locals were holding huge "asterisk" signs aloft when Bonds came to the plate. He got the same treatment in Philadelphia, even though he hit a home run on Sunday night that carried some 450 feet and shut up his most diehard foes, at least momentarily.

But here in San Francisco, Bonds is idolized. "He may be a bastard, but he's our bastard," seems to be the prevailing view. As I write this, Bonds was taking some batting practice, taking care not to stand too close to the batting cage.

Last week in Milwaukee he was smacked in the face by a ball during BP and lay writhing on the ground in pain for several minutes in what must be something of a metaphor for his unhappy season to date.

And that is really the overwhelming feeling one gets covering Barry Bonds: how sad this journey to Ruth- and Aaron-land is for this 41-year-old guy. This should be a victory lap for him. The whole baseball world would, ordinarily, be pulling for a guy as he climbs one of sports' steepest ascents. But not now.

Bonds has been too surly, too mean-spirited. His ego has subsumed his accomplishments. Not to mention all the kerfafal about Balco and flaxseed oil and "the clear," and on and on.

He may be the Hero by the Bay, but everywhere else, Bonds is a Bum. Go Cubs.