In familiar locale, Marlins' Willis to face Bonds, weight of history
After hitting his 754th home run Friday night, Bonds gets set to face Willis and the Florida Marlins on Saturday needing one big swing to tie Hank Aaron's career record.
"I'm a big fan of him,'' Willis said before Friday's game. "He's given me a lot of advice about the game. He's a great athlete. I always like the way he's played. I was lucky to see a bunch of games at Candlestick when he first came here. He's doing the same thing he was doing then. He made me want to get to the big leagues.''
Willis will try to avoid joining pitchers like Jack Billingham and Al Downing as those who gave up milestone homers to Aaron in 1974. Willis' teammates wanted little to do with Bonds after he homered in the first inning off Rick Vanden Hurk, walking him the next four times he came to the plate.
This was the first time that Vanden Hurk, a native of Holland, had ever seen Bonds in person, but he said his friends back home are very aware of what the slugger is doing.
"Obviously he's got that record going on,'' Vanden Hurk said. "Everybody back home knows about it. Probably everybody in the world knows about it.''
Bonds swung at three pitches in his final four plate appearances -- missing two and fouling off one -- and twice went to full counts. In his final plate appearance in the eighth inning, Taylor Tankersley got in front 0-2 but was unable to put Bonds away.
"I wanted to go right at him,'' Tankersley said. "I was trying to make him swing the bat and I was trying to punch his ticket. But I didn't make it all the way to three strikes. He's the best ever. It's a privilege to be able to climb the bump and get to challenge him. He's writing history right now and we get to witness it. We get to throw it in there and see if you can get him out. It's cool to me. It's not anything I want to shy away from.''
Willis said he plans a similar approach Saturday.
"I've thrown fastballs to him,'' Willis said. "You also don't want to tell him what your plan of attack is. I'm just going out there and have fun. And whatever happens happens. I just hope my family isn't here to see me give up a homer to him.''
Willis, who grew up just across San Francisco Bay in Alameda, remembers sitting in the right-field seats on cold nights at Candlestick watching how Bonds transformed this city that almost lost its baseball team before he arrived in 1993.
The two have become friends during the times they have interacted. Willis said Bonds always seeks him out when their teams play and the two have great respect for each other.
"He's one of the few players that can see three pitches in a weekend and hit three home runs,'' Willis said. "I was always a big fan of his even when he was in Pittsburgh. Everyone gave me a hard time for being fans of him. When he came here he electrified the city and he didn't let us down.''
Bonds has won five MVP awards since joining the Giants, hit 578 homers and led the Giants to the postseason four times. But he has never gone deep against Willis.
In seven career plate appearances against Willis, Bonds has singled once and walked four times. Willis struck out Bonds the last time they faced each other on Aug. 25, 2004. Willis said he hopes he doesn't become the 445th pitcher to give up a homer to Bonds.
Willis has another worry other than Bonds on Saturday night. The two-time All-Star has lost a career-high seven straight decisions and has not won in 10 appearances since beating the Cubs on May 29.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press