Happy B-Day, Barry

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

SAN FRANCISCO – When Barry Bonds batted in the first inning Monday night against John Smoltz, the people wedged into AT&T Park rose to their feet and cleared their throats.

For a moment, they applauded and chanted his name and pressed the buttons on their cameras. Bonds is their man, the local character, the source of their resolve.

As Smoltz turned to the plate and began his delivery, the clamor ceased, so one could practically hear the ripples lapping against the bobbing crafts beyond the right-field bricks.

The people just stood and watched, quietly, transfixed.

The scene repeated itself through four plate appearances in Bonds' first home game in eight days, his first since drawing within two home runs of Hank Aaron, at 753.

Bonds didn't hit one last night, and really didn't come close. He walked and grounded twice to the right side against a right-leaning shift and Smoltz, and grounded a single to center field in the eighth against Rafael Soriano.

A handful of seats near the dugout, reserved for the commissioner, you know, just in case, were unclaimed, and so the San Francisco Giants sold them just before game time. Presumably, some other nice family got them. And it, too, stood and stared and hoped.

Funny thing, today is Bonds' 43rd birthday. On its eve, Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who only several months ago signed up for this, was asked what he might present to the man who has everything.

Bochy grinned.

"I don't know what he needs," he said finally. "Maybe a little peace."

So it was granted, by both the crowd of more than 42,000 and Bonds himself. At 4:40 p.m., more than an hour after most of his teammates were dressed and headed to the field and as Giants officials shooed reporters from the clubhouse, Bonds was arriving.

Bochy said he was fine by it.

"When you're approaching 43, I don't want Barry out there standing on his legs during BP," he said. "You do get to a point of diminishing returns when you're asking him to do what the younger players do. I don't want him out there running down balls. … I mean, he'll hit with his group. Barry's always hit in his group. He's always been on time."

Later, club officials announced Bonds would not address reporters unless he homered. More peace.

Smoltz, and later Soriano, ensured he wouldn't. In his second start back after resting his aching right shoulder, Smoltz found a 96 mph. fastball, just for Bonds. In the sixth inning, he cleared Bonds' legs with an inside fastball, before going to sliders, and then another fastball.

"Facing a guy like that," Smoltz said, "it's like the playoffs for me."

As they crossed on the infield after the knee-seeking pitch in the sixth, Bonds muttered something into Smoltz's ear, and they shared a laugh.

"Yeah, well, I can't divulge what he was saying," Smoltz said. "But, we have a lot of respect for each other. He's a huge threat. He stands up there, he's very intimidating. And I can't imagine the anxiety he's dealing with."

Bonds sat out most of three games last week in Chicago and another in Milwaukee to rest his sore legs. He has three hits, all on the same day (Thursday in Chicago), two of them home runs, since July 5.

So, two more to tie Aaron, and three to become the career home-run leader, and the Giants are prepared. They save a few seats for Bud Selig, who didn't show, they extend an open invitation to Aaron. A spokesman for Selig said Monday, "He will announce his plans at the appropriate time," and Giants officials said they haven't a clue about either.

Executive Vice President Larry Baer said the Giants will hold their party, of course, no matter who attends, and Giants fans were ready, leaning into every pitch to Bonds.

"He has to make the right gesture as the current holder of the record," Baer said of Aaron, without judgment. "Bud has to make the right gesture as the commissioner of baseball.

"We're going to do it the right way. Let's just see what happens. I'm not going to pre-judge. They clearly don't have to check with me.

"You know what? We're happy to do what we're doing. We're experienced at it. We're here, on the ground. It's fine … Hopefully, it'll be appropriate. You can't script the moment."

It did not arrive Monday. And when Bonds singled in the eighth, hundreds of his fans chose not to sit down. They turned and filled the aisles of the ballpark, leaving a two-run game to the die-hards, filing into the China Basin streets.

Leaving fewer people, along with more peace.

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