SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds put to rest all the talk about his postseason failures last October. Now, there's only one thing left for baseball's most feared slugger to do: Win it all.
Last year's near miss ate at Bonds all offseason, and he showed up at spring training vowing that the San Francisco Giants would play for another World Series title if he had anything to do with it.
He's done plenty to make that a possibility.
The NL West champion Giants will begin their mission Tuesday when they open the best-of-five division series against the wild-card Florida Marlins at Pacific Bell Park. Jason Schmidt, a 17-game winner with the league's lowest ERA, starts Game 1 for San Francisco against Florida's Josh Beckett, who's making his playoff debut.
When Bonds began the postseason a year ago, there were all kinds of questions about whether he was capable of carrying his team in the playoffs - he had never been to a World Series, had never even won a playoff series in five tries, and was hitting only .196 with one home run and six RBIs in 97 at-bats.
Then the five-time MVP went out and batted .356 with eight homers, 16 RBIs and 27 walks as San Francisco reached the World Series for the first time since 1989.
Marlins manager Jack McKeon plans to pitch around Bonds, saying "He's one of the most outstanding players in the history of the game."
"If Barry was hitting behind himself he wouldn't get pitched to," Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia said. "Saying you're not going to pitch to him is fine. It means more times that he's on base for us to get him home."
The 39-year-old Bonds has had another remarkable year, hitting .341 with 45 homers and finishing two shy of tying his godfather, Willie Mays, for third on the career homer list at 660. Bonds' father, Bobby, died Aug. 23 and the slugger spent a night in a Phoenix hospital afterward to be treated for exhaustion and an accelerated heartbeat.
"I feel fine," Bonds said during the season's final weekend.
The Giants lost the World Series to Anaheim in seven games last year after coming within six outs from the title in Game 6. After an offseason that saw many key players leave and manager Dusty Baker take over the Chicago Cubs, the Giants have done just fine with all the new additions to their lineup - center fielder Marquis Grissom, right fielder Jose Cruz Jr., third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo and second baseman Ray Durham.
"It's a scary team," Durham said. "They bring guys in for a reason - not only to get back to the World Series, but to win it. They bring you in because they know you have what it takes to get them there."
Former Giants outfielder Felipe Alou replaced the popular Baker and San Francisco finished with 100 wins for the first time in 10 years.
The 68-year-old Alou is managing in the playoffs for the first time, and oddly enough so is the 72-year-old McKeon. The Marlins just took a different route getting here - the Giants led their division from day one. McKeon took over when Jeff Torborg was fired May 11 and the Marlins are only the ninth team to come from at least 10 games below .500 and reach the postseason.
What do the decades-long baseball men have in common?
"Baseball, a lot of baseball. Plenty," Alou said.
The Marlins' are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997, when they swept the Giants in the opening round on the way to winning the World Series, then sold off their team and rebuilt the franchise.
The Giants went 5-1 against Florida this year, sweeping three games in Miami in May - 4-2, 3-2 and 3-2 -and winning two of three at San Francisco in August.
"It's the playoffs, anything can happen," Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre said. "We're real confident in the fact they haven't seen us at our best this year. We've been pretty much the underdogs all year. It's a role we've accepted and we've thrived off it. We know we've got a team that can beat the Giants. Hopefully we can go out and prove it."
Alou compares the Marlins to the team he had in Montreal in 1994, when the strike cut the Expos' successful season short with them leading the NL East by six games over Atlanta.
Marlins team president David Samson predicted 91 wins for his team on opening day.
"My real prediction in my own head was 102 - 91 plus 11," he said.
The Giants have a clubhouse full of veterans and solid depth that they have depended on often during an injury-plagued season.
"I don't care, we're going to beat them no matter what happens," 38-year-old Giants catcher Benito Santiago said.
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