by Joshua Worley
He still scares me. Even now, hobbled, ancient, years removed from his terrifying peak, he scares me whenever he comes up to the plate against the Dodgers.
When he came up to the plate in last Saturday's game in the eleventh inning against Mark Hendrickson, I feared the worst. Deep down I knew the worst was coming. Hendrickson would fall behind, maybe get to 2-1, then serve up a soft offering that got too much of the plate, and Barry would turn on it and destroy it. Over the wall and into the bay. And then the fans, the fans ... they would be ecstatic. That would have to be like winning the World Series for Giants fans, right? Almost, anyway. What bliss for them to see Barry hit a home run to beat the Dodgers, to cap an incredible comeback win, and after the Dodgers had blown multiple chances of their own to take the lead. And then, in the post home run cheering that was already deafening, the chant would rise, this time triumphant instead of hopeful ... Beat LA ... Beat LA ... BEAT LA!
Overall Hendrickson is not a good pitcher, as anyone who watches the Dodgers regularly knows. As anyone who watched last night's dog meat performance knows. He had not looked particularly good in the tenth inning of Saturday's game, when the Giants got a man to second with one out but failed to get him home. But suddenly, in the eleventh inning, he was good. He was great even, from my vantage high up in the oxygen mask seats. And maybe, also, Barry was not great. Barry was not just mortal ... he was less that mortal. Slumping. Hurt, or confused, perhaps? Confused because his body could no longer cooperate with his steel conviction and discipline as a hitter? And certainly, viewed from safely after the fact, not worth being feared. But how could I know that? How could I unlearn all those years of terror?
Hendrickson got Barry to ground out to second, or maybe it would be better to say Barry allowed Hendrickson to receive the ground ball out. Then Hendrickson struck out the next two batters, and they looked silly on those strikeouts. Off-balance, lunging. Maybe the perspective was fooling me, but it sure seemed to me that Hendrickson had found his confident stuff, and for that brief inning he was a good pitcher. I was so thankful to be spared the defeat then. No long bus ride back to the hotel in my Dodgers gear, in the jersey and hat of the team that had blown a 7-2 lead.
Barry had no hits in the series. I personally saw him ground into three double plays. By Saturday's game, Giants fans were beginning to fear the worst when Barry came up, just as I feared the worst as a Dodger fan. The occasion of Barry coming up to bat with runners on in Friday's game when the Giants trailed 3-0 in the eighth inning had sparked a reverberating chant of "Beat LA". When he came up in a similar situation in Saturday's game, there were nervous shouts imploring him not to ground into a double play.
Barry is still a good hitter. He still walks a lot, gets on base a lot. But I have to point out that it's not even a sure thing anymore that he'll even get to 756 career home runs this year. The overwhelming likelihood is that he will, of course. But his body seems to be breaking down. If he can play even half the Giants remaining games, he should get the 5 home runs he needs, and then some. But what if he can't play? He's already missed two games since the Dodger series. He doesn't have a hit since the All-Star break. I think there is an outside chance that Barry's body will betray him and prevent him from getting the record this year, and then what? Will he be back with the Giants next year? Surely not, but who knows?
I have to admit to a thrill when watching Barry hit. It's more than a thrill of dread ... it's a thrill beyond being a Dodger fan, beyond steroid suspicions ... it's the thrill of seeing a pure, disclined power hitter. Have any been better than Barry at his peak? I don't want to see Barry hit a home run against the Dodgers ever, especially not a record breaking one. And yet, when I'm at the August 2 game against the Giants, I won't miss any of Barry's at bats for anything, especially if he's sitting on 755 home runs.