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Jays, Pirates rebound in style Bonds breaks free as 4-run 1st averts elimination, 7-1


PITTSBURGH -- If the history books record that last night's fifth game of the National League Championship Series was Barry Bonds' last home game in Pittsburgh, then it also will record that he made it his own showcase.

Bonds, whose postseason history has been dreadful at best, went quite a ways toward rewriting it, as he powered the Pirates to a 7-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Three Rivers Stadium.

His first-inning RBI double broke an 0-for-15 slump with runners in scoring position, and he wasted no time celebrating the end of his slide with the 52,929 screaming faithful.

"I took my family out to the Clark Bar [a local establishment near the stadium], and the fans kept saying, 'The jinx is going to be over,' " Bonds said.

"When I hit that ball and rounded second, I just wanted to scream to the fans, 'You're right. It's over.' "

Bonds, widely considered the best player in baseball, went 2-for-5, scored two runs, drove in another, stole a base and made a fabulous back-handed catch in the gap in left-center to save another run.

Afterward, Bonds, who will be a free agent after this season, reflected on the warmth he has felt in Pittsburgh, a blue-collar town that embraces its heroes whole-heartedly.

"In baseball, you're programmed that wherever you lay your hat is your home. But these fans have been wonderful to me," Bonds said. "This is the safest place I've ever lived. My kids could be three miles down the road and somebody will bring them home. It's a wonderful place."

The Braves still lead the series, 3-2, as the teams head for Atlanta for tomorrow's sixth game, where Pittsburgh's Tim Wakefield, who won Game 3 here, will face Tom Glavine, whom Wakefield defeated Friday night.

Bob Walk, who was torched in relief in Game 2, where he gave up a grand slam to Atlanta's Ron Gant, also was dominant, giving up one run and three hits in a complete-game effort.

But the night belonged to Bonds, whose first-inning double was not only his first RBI of this series, but his first hit in 18 NL playoff games in three years with a runner in scoring position.

Bonds had not only been hitless with runners at either second or third in the postseason, he had just one hit with any runner on base in 30 playoff at-bats.

"Sometimes you get negative feelings in your head and can't understand how you can be so successful in 162 games and disappear in seven games," Bonds said.

"This has been my home, and I just didn't want it to end this the way it was ending."

The catalyst for Bonds' tumultuous day was a 90-minute, post-Game 4 chat with manager Jim Leyland.

The public's perception, fueled by a highly publicized squabble between Leyland and Bonds during spring training last year, is that the two don't get along.

Bonds, however, called Leyland a "best friend" and "the most positive person" he'd ever been around in baseball.

"Through all the adversities of my 6 1/2 years here, we've always been able to get through them because of Jim Leyland," Bonds said. Leyland told Bonds to relax and not feel that the weight of carrying the Pirates was on his shoulders.

"It was like best friends talking. It was a positive, emotional conversation. I told him to forget the past, to go out and relax," Leyland said.

Bonds and the entire Pittsburgh lineup relaxed, blasting Braves starter Steve Avery, who had shut them down in Game 2.

The Pirates strung a playoff record four doubles together for four runs in the first inning to knock out Avery in the shortest NL playoff appearance (one-third of an inning) in 20 years.

"The thing you can't figure out with Avery is that he's always ahead of you," Bonds said. "A lot of times, we're not as aggressive against him. Then, one day, you see him, and he's behind you, but he's getting you out in 2-0 situations. We were aggressive, swung the bats good and got lucky."

From there, it was up to Walk, who won Game 1 of the 1980 World Series for the Phillies as a rookie to stay in control.

Walk lost his shutout in the eighth, but stayed in to finish the 14th complete game of his career and the first of his postseason career.

Gary Redus led off the Pittsburgh first inning with a double to right. Jay Bell then singled to center to drive in Redus.

Andy Van Slyke hit a chopper to third, advancing Bell to second for the only out Avery would record.

Bonds followed and shed some of his postseason frustrations on one dramatic at-bat. With first base open, Avery elected to pitch to Bonds.

Bonds worked the count full, then drove a next pitch into the right-center field gap for a double, scoring Bell with the second run.

Jeff King, the Pirates' third baseman, who previously had been hitting .125 in the NL playoffs, hit a shot to the left-center field wall.

Otis Nixon, the hitting star of Game 4, barely missed a sensational catch. Instead, King had an RBI double, and the Pirates led, 3-0. Right fielder Lloyd McLendon then doubled down the left-field line, scoring King for the final run of the inning.

The four Pittsburgh doubles in the first inning set a playoff record for most two-base hits in one inning and came almost a year to the day after the Braves got three doubles off Pirates' pitching in Game 3 of last year's playoffs.

The Pirates scored another run in the third, again on the talents of Bonds, who led off the inning with a single, stole second, went to third on King's infield single, then scored on McLendon's sacrifice to center.

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