The "wow" moment for Joel Piñeiro came last June in Seattle, when Barry Bonds was in town. Piñeiro's teammate, then-rookie fireballer Felix Hernandez, was the victim.
"I see him turn on a Felix Hernandez fastball last year, it was like 96 [miles per hour]," Piñeiro said. "And he just pulled it like it was an 88-m.p.h. fastball. That guy, you just tip your cap to him because he's so good."
The Safeco Field blast was the 718th of Bonds's career, and he is in Boston today boasting 747, good for second all time. Among Red Sox pitchers there is a reverence for the Giants slugger's skill and accomplishments, despite the steroid allegations that have hounded him for years.
"I think we have an appreciation for how hard it is to hit a baseball," said Kyle Snyder . "Having to deal with the speculation over the last few years, day in and day out. I'm sure it's very difficult on him, and I think, if anything, some players sympathize with that."
There will be no sympathy for Bonds from Sox hurlers when they face him in this weekend's three-game set, though perhaps a bit of awe.
"He's pretty much the greatest hitter I've seen growing up," said Javier Lopez .
"I've been able to see him pretty much his entire career. I relish in the fact that I get to face him. I go from watching him on TV growing up to getting on the mound and be 60 feet away from him and battling him, and that's fun."
"Yeah, it's fun," Piñeiro said. "As long as you get him out."
Closer Jonathan Papelbon was less reverent toward the single-season home run king.
"It's nothing that I dream about or nothing, it's just a challenge that you come across in your career that you enjoy, if it comes up," said Papelbon, who never has faced Bonds. "I'm not going to give in to him. I'm not going to pitch around him unless I have to. That's it, man."
Several Sox pitchers agreed they were excited about the challenge of facing Bonds.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Daisuke Matsuzaka, tomorrow's starter, through a translator. "In the rare opportunities that I get to face such hitters, I like to display a powerful style of pitching. It would be nice to find a little more velocity, though."
Matsuzaka said he would go over video and scouting reports with catcher Jason Varitek , but he also could take tips from several Boston pitchers who have had the chance to face the legendary lefthanded hitter.
Bonds is 3 for 8 lifetime against Lopez, and the lefthanded reliever didn't have too much advice to offer.
"He's an intimidating guy when he comes to the plate because he stands right on top of the plate," Lopez said. "[Bonds] has total command of the strike zone. Usually if he's taking a pitch, it's going to be a ball . . . You can pitch to him just like anybody else, but obviously he does a little more damage than the average bear."
Sunday's scheduled starter, Tim Wakefield , has had success against Bonds, holding him to 0 for 8 with a pair of strikeouts. Julian Tavarez, tonight's starter, also has shut down Bonds (0 for 4), and played with Bonds for three years in San Francisco in the late '90s.
"Three years, I never talked to him," Tavarez said. "Never did. Just a high-five when he'd score home runs."
Tavarez insisted, though, that he was "proud of Barry," and Bonds's quiet, serious manner was part of his success.
"He don't say much. But the good thing is, he's always working hard, always helping his pitcher when he hits home runs," Tavarez said. "He's a good teammate, shows up and plays every day. He plays hard."
Bonds is scheduled to show up tonight, and Piñeiro hopes he doesn't witness a replay of last June's awe-inspiring swing.
"I wouldn't be scared," Piñeiro said of the prospect of facing Bonds. "If he hits it, he hits it. If he does, hopefully he hits it hard at somebody and makes an out."
Daniel Malloy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.