Giants manager felipe Alou insisted that leftfielder Barry Bonds wasn't pressing last week despite a five-game homerless streak that kept Bonds one home run away from tying his godfather, Willie Mays, for third place on the alltime list with 660 homers. "Barry doesn't feel pressure, ever," Alou said after the Giants' season-opening six-game road trip. That may be true, but it's hard to imagine Bonds was feeling much joy, either, not after a difficult week in which pitchers painted the corners against him, fans heckled him, an outfielder robbed him, federal agents moved forward in a steroid investigation that involves him, and commissioner Bud Selig met with him for 10 minutes on Thursday, presumably about the steroid issue.
The silver lining for Bonds was that his failure to catch Mays on the road gave him the chance to do so in front of Giants fans, which he did in the fifth inning of San Francisco's home opener on Monday, smacking a 3-1 fastball from Milwaukee's Matt Kinney into McCovey Cove. Mays, who had traveled with the Giants all last week, promptly presented Bonds with the symbolic torch he's been carrying with him for the occasion.
Mays no doubt enjoyed the trip more than his godson did, joining in card games and bantering with reporters. Asked how much he would earn if he played today, Mays estimated about $45,000. Why so little? "Well, I'm 72 years old," he said. Mays has done his best to fill the void created by the death of Bonds's father, Bobby, last August but says he has offered no advice on the steroid matter—nor has Bonds asked for any. "We don't talk about things like that," Mays says, "because he knows there's nothing I could add." Speculation intensified last week when federal agents seized samples and drug-test results of several players—including Bonds and the Yankees' Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield—from the lab that administered the tests for baseball last year. It is expected that those samples will be retested for THG, the steroid for which there was no test until recently. That could determine whether Bonds or any other athlete who testified before a grand jury last fall may have committed perjury.
Meanwhile, pitchers were making life as tough for Bonds as the feds were. After going 3 for 3 with a homer off the Astros' Roy Oswalt in the opener, Bonds was 3 for 16 in his next five games, although one of those outs came when Padres centerfielder Jay Payton snared a blast that might otherwise have been number 660. The drought also included a pair of strikeouts on borderline pitches from Houston's Roger Clemens. "People are really pitching him tough right now," Alou said. "They keep changing zones, going in and out and changing speeds. I think he's also gone after a couple of bad pitches trying to get something going, not so much for himself but for us."
The fans on the road were no easier on him. As Bonds walked to the bus that would take the Giants to the airport on Sunday in San Diego, one fan yelled, "Drop him off in Tijuana!" implying he could buy steroids there. But if the harsh comments or his struggles at the plate bothered him, Bonds hid it well. He grimaced in disgust after a pop-up against the Padres last Saturday night, but he showed no frustration in the clubhouse. "It's going to come eventually," he said Sunday. "I'd like to do it at home."
He got his wish, as did Giants fans, who seemed to understand how much he needed the warmth of their welcome. When he finished his home run trot, they stood, cheered and chanted his name as he waved to them and accepted the congratulations of his teammates. After a long, trying week Bonds finally had his reward: For a few moments at least, he didn't seem quite so alone.