On Aug. 19, four days before his father, Bobby, would succumb to lung cancer and a variety of other ailments, San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds called a team meeting. He had just returned to the Giants after spending five days with his ailing dad, and San Francisco had not won a game in his absence. According to his manager, Felipe Alou, "He talked to all of us to explain how he wants to help the team during his sadness."
A subdued Bonds told reporters after batting practice that evening, "It was important for me to be there with my dad at this time. It's also important for me to be here, too. I'll do the best I can to do both. I just hope everyone understands."
Later that night, in the 10th inning of a tie game against Atlanta, Bonds walloped a long home run into McCovey Cove at Pac Bell Park to beat the Braves 5-4. "I've seen 500, 600, 650, 70, 71 and 73," Giants assistant general manager Ned Colletti said of Bonds's milestone home runs, "and I'm telling you, that one was bigger and more special than all of them. It gave you chills. The guy doesn't pick up a bat for a week, he's spending time with his ill father, and the first day he comes back, he wins the game for us. He is special." Bonds rushed out of the ballpark after the game to be at his father's side.
Two nights later, and one night after Bobby, in a wheelchair at Pac Bell, had watched him play, Barry did it again. He hit another 10th-inning walkoff homer to beat Atlanta 4-3 and complete a three-game sweep of the team with the best record in baseball. It was the 652nd home run of his career.
Even for a player who has made extraordinary feats routine, Bonds's week was an epic one—containing both heartbreaking poignance and the definitive testament to his greatness as a hitter. Ever patient for the rare pitch to hit, Bonds kept his focus despite his anguish. And when he connected, the Giants, who at week's end held a 10�-game lead in the National League West, were whole once again.
"The guy doesn't miss," marveled Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon, whose pitchers walked Bonds three times and yielded a single to him last Friday. (Bonds left the Giants on Saturday and, as of Monday, the team was unsure when he would return.) "You don't see him hit dribblers. Every swing is a line drive, a bullet somewhere or out of the park."
If Bonds didn't lock up the National League's Most Valuable Player Award last week, he made sure the hardware is his to lose. He is so important to his team that even St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Albert Pujols, who is chasing the Triple Crown, plays in his shadow. Through Sunday, Pujols led the league in hitting (.362), trailed Bonds by five home runs (39-34) and was just 13 RBIs behind the Colorado Rockies' Preston Wilson (121-108), yet even a flirtation with the Triple Crown, last accomplished in the National League by the Cards' Joe Medwick in 1937, may not be enough to keep Pujols from finishing second to Bonds in the MVP voting for the second straight year.
With a .523 on-base percentage (thanks in part to 119 walks) and a .755 slugging percentage, Bonds is on pace to lead the league in both categories for the third consecutive season. If he does win the MVP award again, it will be his sixth, including his third straight after turning 37. By getting on base in more than half of his plate appearances once again, Bonds has flipped the game's established order. No longer does the pitcher—the one who initiates the action and has the ability to change the speed and spin of the ball—have the advantage over the hitter. At bat and in the MVP race, Bonds is the one in charge.