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ON BASEBALL

Bonds market takes dip -- even in SF

SAN FRANCISCO -- For those offended by Barry Bonds's temperature reading of Boston's racial climate -- and apparently there was no end to the grief he took from announcers Steve Lyons and Thom Brennaman during yesterday afternoon's nationally televised broadcast -- his sole utterance after the Giants' 6-4 win over the Red Sox came a day or two late. "I have no comment," Bonds said to one reporter before walking silently past a cluster of inquisitors presumably waiting to hear the game's marquee slugger explain a second straight subpar effort. He is now hitless in seven at-bats against a Sox team unafraid to pitch to him, while exposing him as a poor imitation of the Gold Glove outfielder he has been for much of his 19-year career.

Even a home crowd inclined to overlook the more egregious aspects of Bonds's personality and play took exception to his jog down the first base line yesterday in the eighth inning of a game freshly tied by the Red Sox in the top of the inning. Bonds, swinging at a 2-and-0 pitch from Sox reliever Alan Embree, rolled the ball off the end of his bat toward shortstop Cesar Crespo (who had shifted behind second) and made a halfhearted exit from the batter's box. Too late, he reacted when Bellhorn booted the ball, and there were boos from the sellout crowd of 42,499 in SBC Park. Some of those boos no doubt were also giving vent to their displeasure over Bonds's misplay of Trot Nixon's blooper in the top of the inning, which glanced off his hand for an error and enabled a hustling Gabe Kapler to score from first with the last of three runs on the play.

A second straight defeat to the Sox might have kept Bonds on the hot seat a trifle longer, but Edgardo Alfonzo spared him further discomfort by trumping the Sox at their own game here, coming off the bench to launch a pinch-hit, two-run home run off Embree.

"Edgardo was getting the day off because he doesn't hit Pedro [Martinez]," said Giants manager Felipe Alou, who had granted the infielder permission to leave the premises a mere hour or so before the game to pick up his wife at the airport. "But we saw the lefty in the bullpen and no righty and said it's time for him to go up there."

For exquisite timing in employing hitters off the bench, Terry Francona had been rolling only sevens at Willie Mays Plaza.

In Friday's 14-9 win over the Giants, Francona used three pinch hitters. Kevin Millar hit a three-run home run, Kapler walked and scored, and Jason Varitek singled and scored.

Yesterday, Nixon was pinch hitting for Pokey Reese. Alou replaced one righty, Jim Brower, with another, his closer, Matt Herges, to face Nixon, knowing that had he gone to his lefthander, Jason Christiansen, Francona would have countered with Nomar Garciaparra, who like Nixon was not in the starting lineup in this day game after an evening exercise.

"It's not a matter of matchup," Alou said. "It's a matter of logic. When I have a lead, I want to pitch my closer. I like my closer."

His affection for his closer grew proportionately after Herges wriggled out of a recent bases-loaded, no-out jam in Baltimore without allowing a run to score. "He made a tremendous pitch to Nixon, too," Alou said. "He got him to hit a little pop fly to left field."

But with the outfield playing deep to keep the tying run from scoring from first, the ball dropped in, and Kapler scored from first anyway when Bonds missed the ball. Time for another pinch hitter, Dave McCarty, who rolled a single through the left side, making Sox benchmen 2 for 3 yesterday (Johnny Damon pinch hit for Martinez and whiffed in the seventh).

But the Giants, who had scored four in the first off Martinez on five hits, including Ray Durham's leadoff home run and two doubles, then managed only one hit thereafter, got to Embree with two outs and nobody on in the eighth. A.J. Pierzynski lined a single and Alfonzo cracked his home run, the first pinch homer of his career.

"That's a hard job to do," he said of pinch hitting.

The Sox came into the game leading the majors in pinch hitting with a .349 average (15 for 43); the Giants were second at .337 (28 for 83). Alfonzo's hit, Alou said, was especially meaningful because, "it showed that we can beat Boston and some of the big teams that some people talk about."

It looked like the Giants in a walk when they went home run, single, double, Bonds's whiff, single, and double against Martinez, who has been smacked around in the first inning all spring. "We got our pitches and didn't miss 'em," said the veteran Durham, who launched a full-count fastball into the right-field seats. "A guy like Pedro, you've got to jump on him early and often before he gets settled in. After we got our four runs, that was it.

"His stuff still has great movement. He's still a fighter. He's still a warrior."

But on this day, the biggest bouquet belonged to the rookie who opposed him, lefthander Noah Lowry, who held the Sox to five hits and a run in 5 2/3 innings and might have come away with his first big-league win if not for Nixon's hit and Bonds's misplay. Instead, Lowry learned after the game that he was being sent down to Triple A Fresno, the Giants in need of a reliever (David Aardsma) instead.

But Lowry can go back knowing he'd already made an impression on Alou, way back in the spring.

"I didn't know a lot of these kids," Alou said. "I ran into him at a grocery store, and he was buying beautiful flowers. I said, `Who are you buying those for,' and he told me, `My wife.' You don't see players, especially young ones, buying flowers at the grocery store. Usually, it's beer and stuff.

"So I said, `I have to keep my eye on this kid.' "

This afternoon, no doubt, all eyes will shift back to Bonds. The Sox may well lament not being able to put the Giants away while he has been quiet.

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