If you were old enough to really enjoy and understand baseball in the late 90’s / early 00’s, you would know a thing or two about displays of power versus power.
Before launch angle and spin rate, there was big strong dudes throwing nasty pitches and swinging big lumber along with the aid of good old steroids. Feel how you will about the era, it still was a part of baseball history — much like the days of greenies and the specially marked coffee pots in the clubhouse.
Sidebar, this is not me condoning any of these practices, they were just the climate at the time.
The early 2000s were undoubtedly rough for the Dodgers. There wasn’t much power, aside from Shawn Green (before he hurt his shoulder). Adrian Beltre was a young and inconsistent batter with a Gold Glove that had no love.
But Los Angeles had pitching.
Arguably, the anchor of that staff was none other than 2003 NL Cy Young award winner Eric Gagne. The 20-something failed starter out of Montreal, Canada became the best closer in baseball (behind New York’s Mariano Rivera… arguably).
In a three-year stretch from 2002-2004, the flame thrower appeared in 224 games, saving 152 of them with a 1.79 ERA. In a word, he was dominant.
Elsewhere in the National League western division, dominance ruled the bay that would become Max Muncy’s ocean. When the Giants and Barry Bonds would face the Dodgers during that time frame, it was honest must-watch TV.
Notably, you could actually watch those games on TV.
Bonds was close to finishing up what should have been a Hall of Fame career in 2004 when he stepped into the box against one Eric Gagne.
To even further set the stage, the 39-year-old Bonds was walked a staggering 232 times that season with 120 of those being intentional. He had just set the MLB single-season home run record with 73 three years prior, and was closing in on Hank Aaron’s career home run record of 755.
For Gagne, he was in the middle of a record run of 84 consecutive saves that started in 2002 and would end later in the 2004 season.
When Bonds stepped in against Gagne on that April evening in San Francisco, the nearly 5 minute at-bat was a thrill ride from the first pitch.
As noted in the early graphic, Gagne had kept Bonds in check over the first 15 head-to-head matchups. Pitch by pitch, the first two fastballs were absolute filth. If we’re being biased, the third pitch should have been called strike 3. Facing pitches touching 100mph, Bonds showed why he was the greatest of that generation…
He battled and got the best of Gagne for the first and only time in his career… but boy was it a doozy.
At a time where we have no baseball, it’s cool to look back and remember these moments. The best vs the best.