It didn’t matter much; it brought the Giants to within one run in the ninth inning of a game they’d eventually lose, 11-10. But the sound of the ball hitting the bat. The distance. The helpless white sphere dissolving into the California mist like it had been banished to some faraway land.
It probably should’ve been worth 10 runs.
The moment that everyone remembers from the clip is, of course, Tim Salmon. His bewildered, awestruck reaction from the dugout. Seeing one ballplayer say that about another ballplayer, you know it had to be hit a long way.
“The story in that World Series was the Angels, the underdog, against Barry Bonds,” Tim Salmon told me over a recent phone call. “As much as it was the Giants, it was about Barry. That was Barry’s World Series.”
Coming off a year in which he hit a record 73 homers, Bonds may have even been better in 2002. He walked more, he struck out less and he slashed at a ridiculous .370/.582/.799 rate. He was a video game come to life. You couldn’t get him out. He had an absurd five homers in 11 postseason games entering that Game 2 at-bat.
“There was so much attention put on him and his at-bats and his home runs and the prolific-ness of the way he hit home runs,” Salmon remembered.
And then, there was Percival. At that time, it was rare for pitchers to reach 100 mph with their fastballs. The Angels’ closer was one of the few who could do it. He had one of his best seasons in ’02, compiling 40 saves and a miniscule 1.92 ERA. He struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings.
“Troy Percival was one of the premier closers in the game,” Salmon told me. “He was throwing a legitimate 97, 98. … I know Percy, I know Percy’s gonna come with everything he’s got.”
Salmon was generally the Angels’ starting right fielder, but that season, manager Mike Scioscia had begun inserting Alex Ochoa into his position late in games as a defensive replacement. So, like the rest of us at home, Salmon watched close, late-inning contests from the sidelines. Being not as directly involved in the moment allowed the slugger to become more of a fan of the moment.
“For the first time in my career, I’m watching ninth-inning things from the bench,” Salmon said. “I’m used to balls being hit over my head, now I’m watching balls from the dugout being hit.”
He felt the immense Bonds vs. Percival build-up like any of us did.
“It was power vs. power,” Salmon said. “It was one of those moments where it was like, ‘Let’s stop and watch this one.'”
And well, Percival brought it, and Bonds — as Salmon told me, laughing — “tattooed it.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen somebody turn on a ball on Percy like that,” Salmon said.
The way Salmon described the homer is like a fan, or even a baseball writer writing up a game recap from the press box.
“It was a really rare, unique moment,” he told me. “With the context of everything — it being a World Series as well. Just to have a front-row seat like I did: It’s fall in Anaheim, it was a little misty in the air, it’s not real clear where it goes, you got to really strain on the video to see. It just had all that mystic, mysterious, you know, whatever going for it. And he hit that ball, and it was like it never was going to come down.”
So when the camera randomly panned to the dugout to catch him — with all these feelings coursing through his body — of course he said what he said.
Salmon didn’t realize he was on camera or his words had gone viral until Percival came up to him in the clubhouse postgame and said, “Thanks a lot, Fish, they got a lot of mileage out of your comments.”
Percival thought his teammate had appreciated Bonds’ home run maybe a little too much, but the two friends laugh about it now. They did, of course, end up winning the World Series that year. That always helps.
So, is it still the “farthest ball he’s ever seen hit?”
“No, I mean, I’ve seen Shohei Ohtani in batting practice hit it above that tunnel,” said Salmon, who now covers the Angels for FOX Sports West. “It’s a period piece.”
Bonds’ ball went into a tunnel in right field and was estimated at 485 feet — definitely up there as one of the longest of its time.
Bonds’ response to Salmon’s dugout exclamation? As Salmon indistinctly recalled, it was very Barry-like:
“You haven’t seen a lot of my home runs. I’ve hit them farther.”