I have had this particular post in mind all summer, waiting for August to roll around on the calendar, to recall what I consider to be the most exciting three-game series in AT&T Park history, all fifteen seasons of it, purely from the perspective of climactic endings.
The year was 2003, and the Atlanta Braves, sporting the best record in the National League, were in town to play the team with the second-best record in the NL, the San Francisco Giants. The previous season had seen San Francisco suffer a crushing defeat in the World Series to the Angels, and the Giants were determined to return to the Show in 2003.
The venerable Bobby Cox was at the helm for Atlanta, and Barry Bonds was the big iron for San Francisco. On August 21 of that season, Bonds hit his 652nd career home run, giving the Giants a tenth-inning, walk-off victory over the Braves, the third consecutive game that the Giants had accomplished the feat of strolling off the field in the final inning of play with a win.
In the finale, the Braves, obviously frustrated at the result of the first two games, had clawed back in the ninth with three runs to tie it. When Bonds came to bat in the tenth with one out, Cox refused to follow conventional baseball wisdom-again-by walking him. Instead he ordered pitcher Trey Hodges to keep the ball down, nowhere near the plate. Hodges’ sinker was belt-high, a decidedly poor location when facing the sizzling Bonds.
The win in the finale followed two consecutive games in which the Giants had defeated the Braves in their final at-bat. In the first game, Bonds hit a 2-1 pitch from Ray King, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, to give the Giants a 5-4 win, snapping a six-game losing streak. The game featured Russ Ortiz, star of the Giants’ 2002 season, pitching for Atlanta.
In the second game, Edgardo Alfonzo, pretty much a disappointment for much of the first-half of the season, hit a bases-loaded single up the middle of drawn-in infield, to knock in the winning run, after the Giants had rallied in the eighth to tie the game at one.
The run in the eighth was unique in itself, because it followed a rare triple by catcher Benito Santiago, who hit a ball off the left field wall that ricochetted back onto the field, causing the Giants’ manage, Felipe Alou, to argue that the ball was actually a home run. Alou was ejected from the game, and Santiago scored moments later when right fielder Mark DeRosa fell down on the wet grass trying to field a pop fly by Andres Galarraga.
The theme of the series was Cox’s refusal to have Bonds walked intentionally in tough situations, and the results of the series proved that conventional baseball wisdom might have been a better route to pursue.