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O's ready for Bonds' best shot

As the rain puddled on the infield tarp today at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Barry Bonds remembered his days playing with an outfielder named Lee Mazzilli during his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The first experience the San Francisco Giants slugger recalled was a road trip in 1986 when Mazzilli sent Bonds to the airport's baggage claim to pick up his suitcase. Unaware that all of the players' bags were sent straight to the hotel, Bonds waited in the terminal for a few hours before catching on to the prank and hailing a cab.

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"He played some nasty tricks on me," Bonds said of the Orioles' first-year manager, "but, he did take care of me." Eighteen years and 674 home runs later, Bonds will finally get his chance for payback as the Giants and Orioles play the first of a three-game interleague series in Baltimore tomorrow at 3:15. Tonight's 7:35 p.m. contest will be played at 8:30 p.m. Saturday following the 3:15 start. Bonds hasn't played at Camden Yards since the 1993 All-Star game.

While Bonds may have been an unknown rookie when he first crossed paths with Mazzilli, the Orioles manager now must contend with one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen. Bonds is batting.369 with 16 home runs in 122 at-bats.

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"The game will dictate what [we're] going to do," Mazzilli said. "When there's a battle out there, you go after it."

Orioles ace Sidney Ponson takes the mound Sunday against his former teammate. Bonds and Ponson played together for the last three months of the 2003 season, when the Giants reached the National League Divisional Series before falling in four games to the Florida Marlins.

Ponson and Bonds saw each other tonight in the gym before batting practice, and the burly right-hander let the reigning Most Valuable Player know that he isn't scared to face him on Sunday afternoon.

"I'm looking forward to it," Ponson said. "My mental preparation is to pitch to him unless the manager says to walk him. I'm not going to walk him just to walk him. Other people have hit home runs off me, so if he hits me, I'm one in his book."

Bonds says he's up to the challenge.

"I can't wait," he said. "Bring it on. [Ponson]'s a good guy. He's real. I like him."

While Oriole pitchers are all aware of they must be careful in pitching to Bonds, Mazzilli said he's not too concerned with obsessing over the scouting report.

"You could sit here for a week thinking how you want to pitch to him," he said. "It hasn't worked for [674] home runs."

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Should all else fail, the manager may have some new tricks up his sleeve.

"If you flip it to him underhand, maybe you've got more of a chance," he joked. "I've thought of that too."


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