MILWAUKEE -- While the national, international and, for all we know, galactic attention is focused on Barry Bonds' historic home run record pursuit, the Milwaukee Brewers see themselves as something more than the backup band for this event. The Brewers are trying to reach the postseason for the first time in 25 years. They have been in first place in the National League Central every day since April 21. But life isn't getting any easier at the top. What was once an eight-game lead in the division has shrunk to 2 1/2. And two mainstays of the team, center fielder Bill Hall and rotation ace Ben Sheets, are on the disabled list. For the first two games of a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants, the Brewers have contained Bonds completely. But that has been the end of good news for the Brewers, who have dropped both games. For the rest of the baseball world, Bonds being two home runs away from tying Henry Aaron's all-time home run record is a central fact of life. For the Brewers, Bonds' appearance here is just a particularly busy intersection on the road to October. They can't look at it any other way.
"We're not playing Barry Bonds, we're playing the San Francisco Giants," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "This is not about Barry Bonds. This is about the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Francisco Giants, as far as I'm concerned. "It does add an aspect to the games. But our focus has to be on playing the games." The story for the rest of the world Saturday may have been that Bonds was 0-for-2 with two walks, one of them intentional, making him 0-for-6 with three walks and, obviously, no home runs in this series. But the story for the Brewers was that they were shut down in a brilliant pitching performance by 23-year-old Tim Lincecum, who pitched eight shutout innings. A ninth-inning meltdown by the Milwaukee bullpen turned the game from a loss to an 8-0 rout. All the Bonds hoopla aside, the Brewers have the National League's best home record (35-17) and the Giants are a fifth-place club. No matter what Bonds did or didn't do, the Brewers could have legitimately expected much happier outcomes in these two games. But they didn't pitch well enough to make that happen in the first game and they didn't hit well enough to make it happen in the second. Bonds' impact in this series may have been more subtle than the box score could reflect. Yost refers to this as "the Bonds effect." This occurs when a pitcher gears up to face Bonds, eventually retires him after a substantial effort, then breathes a sigh of relief and, at least temporarily, loses just a bit of focus. Bonds may be out, but his team goes on to score anyway. This appeared to occur twice Friday night, with relievers Carlos Villanueva and Derrick Turnbow. "Those are amplified at-bats," Yost said of Bonds' plate appearances. Right, and they've never been amplified more than they are now. In theory, the Brewers have seen the last of Bonds for this series. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that Bonds would play two of the three games here, and he seems to have filled that quota. These things are never quite certain until they actually happen or don't happen. When Yost was notified that Bonds would be in Saturday's lineup, the manager's response was: "Good. Get it over with." But outfielder Corey Hart said the Brewers would be just as happy with Bonds in the lineup, because his presence adds something to any game. "We'd all rather play against him than have him on the bench," Hart said. "But that's just us." For the Brewers, the last two games have been exceptionally frustrating. Keeping Bonds from further home run history was very slight consolation. As Saturday's starting pitcher, Dave Bush, put it: "You don't want to be the one in the highlights reel forever." But more than anything, Barry Bonds or not, these were two inadequate games for the Brewers, who need much better performances to live up to their lofty aspirations. When Yost was asked Saturday if it bothered him that, with the whole world watching, his team was missing a chance to impress the baseball public, the manager's response was both negative and blunt. "It bothers me to lose two games," Yost said. "I don't give a crap about anything else." Even with Bonds on the brink of history, the Milwaukee half of the equation is about something more basic. The Brewers need victories. Chances for two of those just went away unfulfilled.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.