Will Bonds get willies against Clemens?

Updated: April 7, 2004, 11:22 AM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

The pitch could come in neck-high and cranium-directed, sure. What, you think Roger Clemens wouldn't do it? The man who once chunked half a bat at Mike Piazza in the middle of a play?

The man who, now that we're on the subject, already plunked Barry Bonds once after saying he'd do it?

There is this great discussion around baseball already, the one about what to do with Bonds. In the San Francisco Giants' first game of the season, Houston manager Jimy Williams saw Bonds go double, double, walk against Roy Oswalt, then allowed his tiring pitcher to remain in the game to face Bonds with two on and one out in the eighth inning.

We'll go ahead and file that under What Not To Do.

What Roger Clemens might do against Bonds in his National League debut, on the other hand, is a different bucket of suds. Bonds vs. Clemens, tonight at Yon Maid in Houston, carries with it at least the possibility of some new history -- but if not that, then, listen, the old history ought to do fine.

The only other time Clemens faced Bonds, two seasons ago, the pitcher jokingly said beforehand that he planned to introduce himself to that Gladiators-themed elbow guard Bonds drags with him up to the plate. And then, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Clemens did just that, dinking Bonds on the left arm.

To this day, Clemens declares the thing almost trivial -- "They were comments meant in fun," he said earlier this week -- and says he and Bonds have had a few chuckles about the exchange.

"I told him I hit him in that chest protector he wears," Clemens said. "He said, 'You hit me on the hand.' I said, 'I hit you in that big ol' piece of plastic that you wear.' "

Yup, two wacky guys, yukking it up. But Clemens knows what his choices are with Bonds. He's a power pitcher (even now) facing a power hitter (especially now), and it seems a fairly safe bet that Williams won't take Clemens aside before his first official start with the Astros and try to instruct him on which hitters to attack and which to avoid.

And that's the beauty of the thing. You pitch to Barry Bonds, you're simply taking your chances. Clemens against Bonds isn't just power on power, it's challenge upon challenge.

The only upset here would be if Clemens didn't come in high and tight to Bonds. Everything in the man's pitching history suggests chin music at Minute Maid on Wednesday -- and if that doesn't, Clemens will be happy to fill in the blanks himself.

"He's a warrior," Clemens said of Bonds. "He knows that when I get on the mound, if I've got to get up in there (inside), I'm going there."

It's the smart play if it only succeeds in backing up Bonds a couple of inches. Watching Bonds work against Oswalt the other night, the overriding feeling was of the hitter slowly moving things into position for home run No. 659, at-bat by at-bat.

Bonds went with Oswalt's outside fastball in the second inning and poked it down the left field line for a double, moved his double to left-center field by the fourth, accepted the walk in the sixth and then sized up Oswalt's first-pitch, 94-mph offering in the eighth for the three-run shot that tied a game the Giants went on to win, 5-4. It was a performance, yes, but it was also a clinic. As Williams later asked rhetorically, "How do you pitch to him? Low? Low and behind him?"

Both possible. But count on Clemens for a little up and in, if only to say a formal Howdy to Bonds as a fellow National Leaguer.

Bonds isn't fazed by the whole Clemens to-do -- not because he doesn't recognize Clemens, but because Bonds makes his living in large measure by declining to be fazed by much of anything. When it was mentioned to the slugger that he'd be facing former Yankees Andy Pettitte and Clemens in back-to-back games, Bonds acknowledged the quality of the two pitchers, then added with a little smile, "Don't put it in the wrong spot." The pitch, of course.

Pettitte didn't. In an otherwise desultory debut with the Astros (he gave up 11 hits and six runs in 5 1/3 innings), the left-hander wasn't beaten by Bonds, inducing a double-play grounder and a foul-out before intentionally walking Bonds in the fifth with a runner on second and one out.

Bonds' best shot on Tuesday, in fact, came in the eighth against reliever Brandon Duckworth, who got Bonds to pop out to left field with the bases loaded and two out, a situation in which he had to pitch to the batter. If it's Roger Clemens in that spot Wednesday evening, expect Clemens to come loaded for bear.

"Whatever I have to do, I'm going to try to get him out, and he's going to try to hit the ball 500 feet," Clemens said. "I think the fans, when he's up -- don't make a trip to the restroom or the concession stands, because hopefully something's going to happen."

Roger Clemens vs. Barry Bonds, with a little whiff of either new or old history in the air? Something's going to happen. It's the best bet on the board.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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