Smoltz's 'how-to' guide

July, 24, 2007
07/24/07
2:28
AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- After two decades of facing Barry Bonds, both as a starter and a closer, in the regular season and in October, John Smoltz has figured out the secret to pitching to the Man Who Will Be Home Run King. It's pretty simple. Be aggressive, make good pitches and have a Hall of Fame arm.

Smoltz has allowed eight home runs against Bonds in his career (not including a rather infamous home run in the 2002 playoffs), tied for the most all time. But the last two of those home runs were in one game in August 1998, back when Smoltz had more hair and Bonds had a smaller batting helmet. Bonds has hit 356 home runs since then, none off Smoltz.

"I learned that you can't set him up, and that's been the difference," Smoltz said Monday night after holding Bonds to two groundouts and a walk in the opener of a seven-game homestand for the Giants. "You don't have to knock him down. You don't have to hit him because you can't get him out. You just have to make good pitches."

Smoltz walked Bonds on a 3-2 pitch in the first inning, got him to ground out on an 0-2 pitch in the fourth and got another grounder on a 3-2 pitch in the sixth (Bonds singled off reliever Rafael Soriano in the eighth inning). "These are pretty good fans here, and I didn't want them following me back to my hotel if I walked him three times," he said. "These fans deserve to see him hit it here."

If Smoltz worried about walking Bonds, just imagine what the reaction would have been had an errant inside slider on a 1-1 pitch in the sixth inning hit Barry in his tender knee and knocked him out of the lineup two home runs shy of Aaron's record.

"You have to get yourself away from thinking like that," Smoltz said with a smile. "You have to pitch to him."

Bonds celebrates his 43rd birthday today and is still in a fairly deep slump. He hit two home runs Thursday at Wrigley Field but has just a single in nine at-bats since then and is 4-for-36 since the Fourth of July. He has hit two home runs on his birthday in the past, including a dramatic walk-off homer in 2003. This will be the first time he has played on his birthday since 2004.

Bonds arrived at the ballpark just before batting practice when his teammates were going out to stretch. "I don't want Barry on his legs during batting practice," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I don't want him out there running down balls -- that's the last thing you want."

Smoltz said there is an aura to pitching to Bonds as he closes in on the record. "Facing him is like being in the playoffs -- I couldn't face every batter like that," he said. "When you're facing Barry, it's like you're pitching in a tunnel and focused completely on him. That's no disrespect for anyone else, but you just can't face everyone like that in a game."

Of course, the biggest secret to success against Bonds is not facing him in the first place. Barry has 17 plate appearances against Smoltz in the past decade, compared to 70 in the previous 11 seasons.

"The biggest thing I'm proud of is that I've been smart pitching to him, but that I've also challenged him," Smoltz said.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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