Bonds, however, was reminded that he batted .370 in 2002. He was just a dozen hits short of .400—two hits per month. "That was an accident," he said. "I screwed up and hit a lot of balls the other way by accident is basically what happened."
He can build .400 with 1-for-2 and 2-for-3 nights as his bricks. The walks limit his chances to make outs. "Sure he can," New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza says of the possibility of Bonds's hitting .400. "I don't think there's anything he can't do at the plate. He has that confidence. He belongs in a different league."
Says Giants catcher A.J. Pierzynski, "I think he can. I'm just glad I get to watch this show every day. I asked him once how he can wait through all the pitches and all the walks and not miss a pitch when he gets it. He told me he makes sure he's ready to hit every single pitch. That kind of focus is amazing."
There is not a shred of anecdotal evidence that his involvement in the BALCO case has weighed on Bonds. (His trainer, Greg Anderson, was one of four people indicted in the alleged steroid ring.) "You couldn't get me if you tried," Bonds told reporters in New York on May 4.
In the nonbinding court of public opinion, the issue remains muddled. What does it mean, for instance, if Bonds chases .400 in the first year of baseball's full-blown steroid testing program? Supporters will contend that it must not be the juice. Detractors will note that the enormous loopholes in the testing plan make nothing certain. It allows players to use performance-enhancing drugs all winter without fear of tests (the benefits of such use carry into the season) and human growth hormone (for which baseball does not test) at any time without risk of detection.
The calculus of Bonds's season is much clearer than the chemistry: Umpires had dared call a strike on 58 of those first 444 pitches to Bonds, or an average of once every two times he came to the plate. In the first 100 times he batted, only nine times did a pitcher get an 0-and-2 count against him. Of the 25 times Bonds batted in the seventh inning or later in close games (with the Giants tied, ahead or behind by one run, or with the tying run on base, at the plate or on deck), pitchers walked him 15 times. On those 10 occasions when they dared pitch to him, Bonds rapped five hits: a single, a double and three home runs.
His teammates give opposing managers good reason to avoid him. After Bonds had been intentionally walked, the next batter was 5 for 25 with one walk and two extra-base hits. Overall, San Francisco's number 5 hitters (usually third basemen Edgardo Alfonzo and Pedro Feliz) ranked 26th among 30 teams with a .214 batting average.
"That has a lot to do with it," Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon says. "With Jeff Kent behind him [1997 through 2002], it was different. You had to pick your poison. If you walked Barry, Kent would beat you. I know the fans come to see Bonds, but after the game I want to be able to say we won because we didn't just give in to what the fans want."
After a May 1 game in which McKeon had ordered his pitchers to intentionally walk Bonds four times, the manager was walking from San Francisco's SBC Park to his hotel when people on the street began shouting at him.