SAN DIEGO – By late Sunday morning, hours after he'd drawn to career-long, numeric equality with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds had obtained not profound truths, but the earthly consequences of the fight.
He crossed his arms and leaned wearily against his locker wall, his eyes sleep-swollen, his voice not ready to carry the room.
"I'm tired," he confirmed.
He would not play against the San Diego Padres on another blue-skied afternoon, the plan all along, gathering himself for seven games in seven days in San Francisco. He seemed destined and determined to play it out there, maybe take a warning-track lap one of these nights amongst his indulgent people.
In the hours after he hit his 755th career home run, he'd heard from Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez, but not Aaron or Bud Selig. He returned to the hotel, put his 8-year-old to bed, awoken and packed for the uncharted ahead.
Perspective, he said, remained elusive.
"It just feels weird," he said. "Alex is going through it right now. Each time gets tougher. I don't know what to think right now. I just don't. It's just a weird thing right now."
As elusive, apparently, as the legitimacy of 755, the last of which arrived by fastball from Clay Hensley, who as a minor-leaguer served a 15-game suspension after a positive steroids test, and you couldn't carry that much irony in Bonds' sizable helmet. It wouldn't be the first boosted fastball someone threw at Bonds, nor would it be the last.
Hensley went back to the minor leagues Sunday.
"Did he?" Bonds said. "That sucks."
But, along with the demotion, he received an autographed bat from Bonds.
"I felt like I played the game the right way last night," Hensley said. "I challenged him."
Asked if he would speak to his suspension two years ago, Hensley, built short and reedy but strong, shook his head.
"No," he said. "No. Not at all."
As to the record that will be Bonds', Hensley could not – would not – call it tainted.
"I don't know," he said. "Whatever's happened, happened."
So, Aaron fell into the tie, dragged down from behind by the massive man with the perfect swing who embodied a period baseball would sooner forget.
Aaron, for the moment, is the co-home-run king, that slight and significant modifier arriving at the time Bonds' tracer-shot to left field landed in a sea of asterisks held aloft by taunting fans, the same critics who for the few seconds that followed dove and dug for the record-tying baseball.
The line-drive appeared not to destroy any of the cameras also trained on Bonds, some held in hands opposite the asterisks.
There is our obsession, our infatuation, our disgust.
The commissioner had stood but left his hands in his pockets.
And there is our conflict.
Honor the feat, deny the man? Defend the game? Accept the consequences of an every-player-for-himself era that led Bonds to Aaron and beyond, others to fleeting glory, others to ignominy, some to a few big-league paychecks?
But – and here's the thing – on a Saturday night when Bonds broadened the target on his back, they kept playing. The sport did not fall in on itself. Selig did not turn to dust, leaving only a couple tasseled loafers and a creeping conscience. The next morning, they lined the field, opened the gates, and played another. In a 5-4 Padres win, Barry Zito even pitched the seventh inning for the arm-weary Giants, his first relief appearance after 244 starts to begin his career. The game perseveres, same as Bonds.
Fairly soon now, Aaron will stand in second place alone, and then by more and more home runs. Perhaps that is your celebration. Perhaps it is your revulsion.
Presumably, Bonds will have his seven- or eight-year run, honored and vilified, just as he was Saturday night, when he once stared vacantly at signs that belittled him and later lifted his helmet to recognize the people's approval.
Getting there, he said, was more difficult than anything he'd attempted, finding that one fastball and reincarnating that faultless swing and then going ahead and pushing history. It arrived at the end of 100-and-some batting-practice swings and a return to the fundamentals once preached by his father, the truth of basic mechanics in a swirl of emotions and stress.
Whatever he carried in the weeks leading to 755, he said, was gone.
"Not like a weight," he said. "It's not like a weight. I can't explain that."
It's just, he said, "The reality that you're there."
All leaving him one swing away, starting Monday in San Francisco against the Washington Nationals and rookie left-hander John Lannan. Selig won't be there until Wednesday or Thursday. Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations, will take his place.
Sunday's game ended with Bonds in the shadows of the visitors' dugout at Petco Park, leaning on a bat, batting gloves on, the pitcher's spot in the hole. Randy Winn struck out against Trevor Hoffman, and the Giants packed for home.
"I'm just going to go out there," Bonds said, "and do my best."