Despite his previous experience in the role, he looked poised for a meltdown early on. Seven of the first twelve Houston batters reached base, picking up three singles, a double, and three walks against Rueter in the first two innings.
But Rueter battled hard, following a miraculous bases-loaded first-inning escape with another Houdini act in the second and somehow managing to limit the damage to a run.
After the second inning, Rueter settled down considerably, looking like a different pitcher as he easily retired ten Astros in a row. He held the opposition in check long enough for the Giants to tie the game at one apiece with a two-out fourth-inning rally against Houston ace Roy Oswalt.
Right fielder Richard Hidalgo untied it in the sixth, clobbering Rueter's 2-0 offering into the left field seats to put Houston up 2-1. After Rueter retired the next three Astros, Oswalt silenced the San Francisco bats in the seventh with an economic 1-2-3.
Leo Estrella, in a forgettable San Francisco debut, took the hill in the bottom of the inning and promptly gave up two runs, allowing three straight singles after retiring Oswalt to begin the inning. After a Jeff Kent sacrifice fly, Hidalgo singled in Adam Everett from third to give the Astros a 4-1 lead.
With Oswalt dominating on the mound and Houston closer Octavio Dotel looming in the bullpen, the Giants entered the eighth at a deficit of three runs. To get Bonds up to bat in the inning, the Giants needed at least one man to reach base. Leadoff man Ray Durham did his job, sending a hanging 2-2 pitch into the gap in right center field for a long single. After fouling off two high fastballs, JT Snow looked at a called third from Oswalt for the first out of the inning. Michael Tucker then singled Durham to second, bringing up Bonds.
Houston manager Jimy Williams went out to the mound, but left Oswalt in the game and returned to the bench after a lengthy meeting with his infield. He barely had time to sit down in the dugout before Bonds smoked Oswalt's first pitch out of the park on a line, the ball barely clearing the right field wall for a game-tying three-run homer. Brad Lidge came on in relief of Oswalt to retire the side, but the damage had been done.
Right-hander Felix Rodriguez took care of the Astros in the bottom of the eighth with a tidy 1-2-3 to send the Giants into the ninth still locked in a 4-4 tie with Houston.
Enter Octavio Dotel. Dotel, entrusted with keeping the Giants at bay, hit pinch hitter Tony Torcato to begin the ninth. After Torcato was bunted to second base, Dotel wild-pitched him over to third. JT Snow, at that point 0-4 on the night, took advantage of the RBI opportunity and golfed a 1-1 pitch into deep right field for Richard Hidalgo. Hidalgo, with one of the premier throwing arms in either league, cocked and threw, but could not prevent speedy pinch runner Cody Ransom from scoring the go-ahead run for the Giants.
Matt Herges, temporarily adopting the closing role in Robb Nen's stead (à la Tim Worrell), entered the bottom of the ninth trying to protect a one-run lead. He did not disappoint, breezing through the top of the order on ten pitches for an impressive shutdown ninth. He ended the game in climactic fashion, punching out right-handed slugger Jeff Bagwell on three pitches to pick up his first save of the season.
SFDugout Player of the Game: Who else? With every at-bat, Barry Bonds is rewriting the rules, the records, and the history of the game of baseball. He continues to amaze even at age 40. The man is fearless, faultless, and ageless, and you can expect big things from the big guy this season.
Stephanie Moy is a diehard Giants fan, born and raised in the city by the bay. She welcomes comments, questions, criticism and praise at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the site's publisher, writers, or other staff members. The content on this site may not be redistributed without the expressed consent of SFDugout.com.