Bonds' return worth the wait

Return worth the wait

SAN FRANCISCO -- If his first at-bat was any indication of the rest of the season, Barry Bonds was worth the wait.

"That was the best at-bat I've seen this year, any team," manager Felipe Alou said after the Giants came back to win a critical game, 4-3, against the Padres on Monday night. "It was awesome. Right out of the hospital."

Bonds doubled near the top of the left-center-field wall at SBC Park on the 11th pitch from Padres right-hander Adam Eaton to lead off the second inning and trotted home a moment later on Ray Durham's single.

The drive struck near the same spot where Bonds hit the 700th homer of his career against these same Padres last Sept. 17. But that night, the big hit came off right-hander Jake Peavy. On Monday night, a fan reached below the wall to snare the ball, which was called a ground-rule double.

Bonds said he was moved by the moment and the emotional reception.

"Truthfully, I felt like I didn't want to let the city down," said Bonds, who went 1-for-4 on the night, nearly hitting two balls out before he left after seven innings. "That's the feeling that you have out there. The appreciation of the standing ovation and the cheers. They came out to see me play, and you just really, really want to put on a good performance for them."

Bonds started in left field and batted fourth in his first game back after months of rehab on his surgically repaired right knee.

Alou made it official on Sunday after a little pregame chat on the field with the left-handed slugger, who resumed his pursuit of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron for the all-time homer record. Bonds is at 703, 11 behind Ruth's 714 and 52 away from Aaron's 755.

Bonds hadn't played since Oct. 3, the final day of the 2004 season in Los Angeles. His last game at home came last Sept. 26, when he hit his 45th and final homer of the season off the Dodgers' Jeff Weaver.

He said he'll be back out there again when the Giants resume play against first-place San Diego on Tuesday night, trailing the Padres by six games in the National League West with six more to play between the two teams.

"That's my plan," Bonds said. "That's why I'm here."

The Padres have lost three in a row, are back under .500, at 71-72, and lead the Dodgers by five games.

"I saw him in the clubhouse and there was no mention of him not playing," Alou said.

Since the end of last season, Bonds has had four operations to repair his knees, beginning with a procedure to scrape debris from beneath his left kneecap on Oct. 12.

He then had surgery to remove meniscus from the problematic right knee on Jan. 31 and March 17. After a serious bacterial infection set in that threatened his lower right leg, Bonds had surgery again on May 2 to eradicate that infection.

Before the game began, Bonds strolled out to left field with Christopher Laub, a 9-year-old leukemia patient, whose comeback has coincided with Bonds'. As Bonds plugged away on his rehab under the auspices of Dr. Lewis Yocum and physical therapist Clive Brewster in the Los Angeles area, Christopher was undergoing months of chemotherapy in Marin County.

Bonds warmed up with the young Laub by playing catch with him before the game began.

When Bonds was struggling with his knee problems this past spring, the little boy sent him a letter telling him not to give in.

"Aside [from] my wife being supportive and my own kids, he inspired me to come back," Bonds said. "I got this letter and he was going through chemotherapy and it was just heartwarming to know that this young kid was rooting for me and telling me to keep my head up. What we say to young kids, this young man was saying the exact same thing to me."

As luck would have it, the top of the first inning took 20 minutes on a cold San Francisco evening, when the Padres sent nine men to the plate and scored three times against Giants pitcher Kevin Correia.

During the inning, Bonds made a skidding attempt to snare a sinking Joe Randa liner, going down to his left knee and grabbing the ball on a short hop. One run scored on the single.

Afterwards, he said he was a little disappointed in himself that he didn't make the play.

"I gave up on it a little bit," said Bonds, who caught two fly balls and chased down a few more put in play. "I was more upset at myself than anything else. Maybe in the back of my mind I was a little bit tentative."

The Giants went down in order in the first inning, but the long wait ended soon thereafter. As he strode to the plate, the near sellout crowd of 39,095 gave him a rousing ovation that didn't end until he took the first pitch from Eaton. Bonds came into the game 6-for-19 lifetime against the Padres right-hander with three homers, three RBIs, a double and four walks.

He took the first two pitches for balls, the next two for strikes and then fouled the next four pitches into the stands behind and around the plate before taking the ninth pitch to run the count full.

After fouling off another beyond the reach of Randa, the third baseman, who was positioned at shortstop on the shift, Bonds lined his first hit since last Sept. 30. Playing on his damaged knees, Bonds went 1-for-13 (a single), with no runs batted in and 10 walks in the Giants' last six games of the 2004 season.

It seems like an eternity since then, but that first time to the plate was enough of statement.

"After that at-bat I was spent," said Bonds, who ended his evening by striking out on a full count in the seventh inning with one out and runners on first and third against Padres reliever Rudy Seanez. "I got a little bit tired by the fifth inning. Your adrenaline is going so hard. I knew that was going to happen. I hung in there as long as I could."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.