|Monday, September 12
Updated: September 13, 1:12 PM ET
Bonds' return a definite positive
By Jim Caple
SAN FRANCISCO -- Children sang in the outfield, septuagenarians smiled in the dugout and fans floated in the bay, buoyed as much by hope as their kayaks. After 11 months, one week and countless medical updates, Barry Bonds finally returned from his Fortress of Solitude to rally his team to victory Monday night. As the Giants awoke this morning, one game closer to first place but still six frustrating games behind, they are united by a single thought:
Why the %#@& can't this be April instead of September?
After one of the longest offseasons in baseball history -- and certainly the only one that included an update on the size of his skull and testicles -- Bonds hit a ball over the fence (well, sort of) in his first at-bat, survived an attempted sliding catch and sparked his Giants to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory. Although he did not stop Lex Luthor from destroying California, far more important, his knee remained intact to play another day -- perhaps as soon as tonight -- though you'll have to consult your local gypsy for specific dates and times.
"That was more than I wanted to do,'' Bonds said of his first game in 344 days. "Hopefully I can come out [Tuesday] feeling really good. ... I have no doubt in my mind that I can still play at a high level.''
Remember how that little knee surgery last winter was going to keep Bonds out of spring training for only a couple weeks at the very most? Amid repeated knee-drainings and conspiracy theories, those weeks turned into months and nearly an entire season, but Bonds was back batting cleanup in the Giants' lineup at long last Monday and San Francisco was back to normal. Vendors sold rubber chickens in case the Padres intentionally walked Bonds and kayakers gathered in McCovey Cove in case they pitched to him. When the PA announcer read off Bonds' name in the lineup before the game, the less-than-capacity crowd roared and gave high-fives, shouting, "Finally!''
And after a children's choir sang the national anthem, Bonds took his place in left field, the position he has anchored as surely as the support towers on the Golden Gate Bridge.
"I felt that I didn't want to let the city down, that's the feeling you have out there,'' Bonds said of his first game since Oct. 3 of last year. "The appreciation of the standing ovation and the cheers and you don't want to let them down. They've come out to see you play and you really don't want to let them down. You want to get them excited and keep them excited.''
In his first at-bat since the end of last season, Bonds fouled off five two-strike pitches from Padres starter Adam Eaton, worked the count to 3-2 and then bludgeoned a pitch into the gap in left-center. He missed a "Can You Believe This?'' home run by mere inches, but still got the ball over the fence when a fan reached out and deflected it into the seats for a double.
"I don't know how many people could do that,'' Giants manager Felipe Alou said of the at-bat, alluding to Ted Williams' home run in his first at-bat after missing three seasons to World War II. "But you're talking about going all the way back to the era of Ted Willams.''
Bonds flied out his next two at-bats, including a long drive to the warning track in center field. In his final at-bat, he mostly looked like a guy who hasn't played in nearly a year, striking out in the seventh inning with several awful hacks.
"It's like spring training,'' he said. "I was off-balance in that last at-bat. I got burned out, but I didn't want to come out in a situation like that [with runners on first and second].
"After that last at-bat, I was spent. I got a little tired by the fifth inning. The adrenaline is going and everyone is cheering so hard. ... But I knew that was going to happen.''
With The Return out of the way, the question now is how many games Bonds will be able to play the rest of the season. The Giants have 19 games remaining, including five day games following night games, which probably will limit him to no more than 14 starts. Bonds said he plans to play tonight, but the Giants might have to consult his Web site, weather forecasts, celestial charts, Ouija boards, Magic 8 balls and the Homeland Security color scheme for his availability for other games.
"I don't think he will play every game, that's one thing,'' Alou said. "I have an idea how they will pitch to him, that they won't pitch to him, especially teams like the Dodgers he's been hurting over the years. ... How many at-bats will he get, 50-60? And then how many at-bats will he walk? You might be looking at 40 [official] at-bats.''
While he risks reinjuring his right knee by playing, had Bonds not come back this month, he would have had to sit through another winter, making it 18 months between games. That's a long time for any player, especially long for a 41-year-old. "I think it's important to him to get back out there,'' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. "In some ways, it's as much mental as physical.''
The Giants also would like to find out a few things about their resident icon -- such as whether he'll be able to play left field on a regular basis next season -- though Sabean downplayed that angle. "I don't know how he'll respond to day games after night games, travel, etc., and I don't know that 20 games will be able to answer those questions.''
The victory moved the Giants to six games behind San Diego and left fans wondering how the division would look had Bonds been healthy. It also left them wondering who else will get hurt. Moises Alou strained his groin Sunday and J.T. Snow strained his left hamstring in the seventh inning Monday.
But at least Bonds is back. "It's a big lift,'' Alou said. "It was like the old days.''
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.