LOS ANGELES -- While the Dodgers claim their approach in facing Barry Bonds is precise and planned, the steroids awareness clinic they held for 100 Little Leaguers in center field before last night's game against Bonds and the Giants was a "complete coincidence," according to Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch.
The clinic, which included former Red Sox third baseman and current Dodgers hitting coach Bill Mueller and center fielder Juan Pierre outlining the dangers of steroid use, was supposed to take place in late June, but a conflict with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, a sponsor, meant it fell on the same day Bonds, who is suspected of using steroids, was in the ballpark.
A couple of Giants players noted the "coincidence" and rolled their eyes. Bonds, who didn't arrive at the ballpark until about 5 p.m. Pacific time, did not speak to the media before the game.
None of the Dodgers would elaborate on the subject, Pierre saying, "Staying away from that one." But they were certainly proud of how they were able to deny Bonds career home run No. 755, which would tie Hank Aaron for the all-time lead.
"To be honest, we pitch to him," said Dodgers manager Grady Little before a 4-2 loss to the Giants. "We treat him with the respect that he deserves as one of the greatest players to play in the game. We really go at-bat to at-bat. We go matchup to matchup and you hope your pitchers are pitching him according to the plan.
"We've done a very good job with him. But the secret to pitching to Barry is you've got to get the hitters around him out because you don't want him coming up with runners on base. Look at what happened [Wednesday] night -- [Omar] Vizquel killed us [with three hits]."
Last night, there was more frustration for Bonds. He went 1 for 2 with a walk in his first three plate appearances. He walked against Brett Tomko in the first inning, when the Giants scored three times, singled to right field in the second, and fouled out to the catcher in the fifth. In the seventh inning, the ultimate frustration. With newly acquired fastball pitcher Scott Proctor on the mound and Vizquel at second, Little ordered an intentional walk. That ended Bonds's night, Fred Lewis entering the game as a pinch runner.
Bonds is 5 for his last 37 (with one homer and four RBIs), and 1 for 20 in his last six games against the Dodgers. Over his career, Bonds has hit 64 home runs against the Giants' fiercest rivals.
On Wednesday night, 6-foot-10-inch lefthander Mark Hendrickson threw an array of breaking pitches to Bonds, which is normally a sign he is not being challenged. But that's Hendrickson's style.
"To do well against Barry, you have throw all of your pitches," said Dodgers bench coach Dave Jauss. "He's a great hitter, so you have to pitch. You just can't challenge him with fastballs and hope to blow it by him. We're talking about a great hitter here. But you have to pitch him like you would anyone else. You have to attack his holes and weaknesses and even then there's a chance he's going to beat you because he's such a great player."
In Bonds's last at-bat Wednesday night, Little elected hard-throwing righthander Jonathan Broxton to pitch to Bonds with a runner at third base. Broxton fell behind on the count, 2 and 0. At that point, Little ordered an intentional walk. The move backfired when Bengie Molina followed with a single, but the Dodgers won the game anyway, 6-4, thanks to Nomar Garciaparra's two-run homer in the eighth.
"I didn't want him to beat my big boy on the mound at that point," Little explained. "So we tried to make a couple of pitches. I didn't like the way it looked so I decided I'd take my chances with the righthanded hitter. You've got to be smart about it, too. You don't want him to get the hitter's count because then he can do some damage on you. We're trying to win ballgames right now. I know the record is on everyone's mind, but from our point of view we're trying to pitch to him so he won't beat us."
Derek Lowe feels the key is to forget that he's Barry Bonds and attack him as you would any other power hitter. He said Dodger pitchers have followed the scouting reports.
"Listen, he's a dangerous guy. We all know that," said Lowe. "But we can't just focus on one guy. He'll hurt you more if you get guys on base and then he's up there in a big spot. That's what you want to avoid."
Bonds is hitting .273 with 20 homers and 49 RBIs. He is 1 for 7 on the road trip. He has been taking a lot of pitches and getting few swings.
One Giants coach seemed irked of talk Bonds was in a slump. He said, "He's not in a slump. Can you imagine what it's like for him and the pressure that's on him right now to hit a home run every time he steps to the plate? I think that's lost in all of this. You're expected to perform at a high level every time you go out there. That's a given. But then add the fact that everyone wants you to hit a home run."
Perhaps not everyone.
Dodgers fans had derived great pleasure from Bonds not going deep yet in the series. Lowe feels the fans are sending mixed signals. "They boo when he comes up but then they boo us when we walk him," he said. "Maybe they should just admit they want to see him hit a home run."
There is truth in Lowe's words. Ballparks have been sold out at every stop during the Bonds watch. While fans like to give Bonds grief, they also want to be able to tell everyone they were there when Bonds broke the home run record.
The Dodgers avoided the real "clinic" -- Bonds tying or breaking the record on their soil. That's another clinic they were glad to reschedule.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.