Bonds gets love, pitches, no homers
Giants slugger turns 43 and looks it despite crowd support
SAN FRANCISCO -- All hail those who hail Barry Bonds -- which is not an extremely popular thing these days, or even a remotely PC thing.By being portrayed as an outcast, the San Francisco fan appears to be miscast. San Franciscans are just great baseball fans. Giants fans, not merely Barry Bonds fans. They proved this in astonishing fashion Tuesday night in AT&T Park. The fans had a more impressive game against the Braves than did Bonds -- both of whom stayed to the bitter 13th-inning end. Bonds had a measly single in five birthday at-bats, disappointing 43,072 paying customers and his newest No. 1 shadow, Commissioner Bud Selig. His at-bats began with honorary standing ovations, and ended with moans. But get this: After he made the first out in the ninth inning, hardly anyone got up to leave -- even though the Braves led 4-0, even though that meant the Giants were two outs from their 57th loss of a collective lost season. As long as Bonds has put us in a historical mood, this was a noble act in a historical sense. During Hank Aaron's chase of Babe Ruth, it was customary to see people rush the exits after his last ups. This has long been known as the Kiner Effect -- for the phenomenon sparked by Ralph Kiner's exploits for some terrible Pirates teams in the '40s and '50s. So most fans stayed put -- as did Bonds' home run total -- to roar, root for and ultimately rejoice over a fun ninth-inning rally into a tie. However, that only delayed the Giants' defeat, only extended Bonds' night by a couple of futile plate appearances. He came across a determined and gutsy pitcher. Tim Hudson went after Bonds with remarkable ferocity, which is all he ever remembers doing in Interleague games with Oakland. "We weren't known for dancing around anyone," Hudson said. "We've always tried to get him out. Sometimes you get in trouble pitching around him. You're better off being aggressive." Hudson's last 13 pitches to Bonds -- covering four at-bats -- were strikes. Aggressive enough for you? Despite the late-evening distractions -- when Bonds' power race gave way to a pennant race, the Braves resolutely staving off a crushing defeat that would've reeled them four games behind the Mets in the National League East -- the countdown now is formally on. It had already been on officially for weeks, this solitary march by Bonds being followed by millions. But Commissioner Selig's decision to join the Bonds Watchmen pumped up the volume on the symbolic fanfare. The Commissioner has begun breathing the same air of expectancy as everyone else hooked on impending history. So, Tuesday night, the countdown ticked a little louder. Paradoxically, Bonds was also the subject of a count-up. The birthday won this conflict. His age rose to 43, his home runs stayed at 753. The sign on the chain-link fence above McCovey Cove reads, "No swimming, diving or wading." But waiting, for the chance to dive into the drink to treasure bop for a Bonds ball, is OK. A Summer of Love once had its Woodstock. Now, in the ghostly shadow of Haight-Ashbury, we've got this Waterstock, a nightly flotilla festival. The AT&T Park video board flickered with a steady diet of Bonds highlights, one quick, powerful swing after another. But life wasn't imitating this bit of filmed art. This was Dorian Gray in a parallel universe: The Bonds on the screen was still youthful, energetic, a tinder box in the batter's box. The one on the field ran around on aging legs and was a tad slow reacting to heat in on his hands. The Giants' predicament is abetting Bonds' pursuit by enabling him to see more hittable pitches than has been routine for years. The G-Men are not, you may have noticed, a very good team. At least, they haven't been performing very well, playing games out of large, early holes that are emboldening opposing pitchers. Hudson on Tuesday night was the perfect example. With a 3-0 lead, there was no motivation for the usual kid gloves when Bonds batted with two outs and none on in the fourth. So Hudson went macho-a-macho. His first heater, slightly above the knees, was fouled back to the screen on Bonds' vicious cut. He got a smaller piece of the next fastball, at the letters. When Hudson came with more speed on 0-and-2, Bonds turned on it quickly enough to line it into the right-field corner ... for a single. "I had a nice lead," Hudson conceded, "and I wanted to challenge him. I just wanted to keep mixing it up on him. If you try to pitch around him and fall behind 2-and-0 or 3-and-1, you mess up by coming in with something across the plate." Interestingly, four innings later Julio Franco -- the only one on the field able to call Bonds "Kid" -- sent a ball into the identical spot and legged it into a double. Franco will be 48 for only another month, and folks around here haven't seen so much life in a 49er since the Steve Young days. In their next meeting, with his lead up to 4-0 and again with no one on base and one out in the seventh, Hudson kept up the challenge, The last of his four fastballs caught Bonds looking at strike three -- and flashed on the FSN graphic at 99 mph. "Well," Hudson admitted, "I did reach back for something extra on that last pitch. "But," he added, "my reach-back is, at best, 95." In the coming days, Bonds will briefly reach back to '95, or maybe even 2001, and end at-bats with standing ovations. As much as he respects him, Hudson doesn't need to see that. "I pitched him as tough and as good as I possible could've," the Atlanta right-hander said. "He's a special player, and he'll soon do something special ... hopefully, after we leave."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.