Bonds adds new twist to familiar story

New twist to familiar story

SAN FRANCISCO -- We'd seen it all before, yet this was a whole new ballgame, a fresh twist on one of baseball's most dominant storylines of the last decade.

We'd felt the electric surge one man can bring into SBC Park. We'd seen the ball jump off his bat like it came off the head of a golf club. We'd heard the gasps with each swath that black bat cuts through the thick air alongside McCovey Cove.

We'd seen 71, 72 and 73. We'd seen 660. We'd seen 700.

We'd seen Barry Bonds do his thing, time and time again.

But never quite like this. This was different. This was special.

This was The Comeback of Barry Bonds, and there's really never been anything like it.

First of all, on a crisp Monday night next to San Francisco Bay, Bonds was making his 2005 debut -- in the second week of September, for crying out loud. That's weird on many levels, starting with the fact he'd only been on the DL two other times in his career and including the notion that his comeback might not have happened if the Giants weren't amazingly, inexplicably still in contention.

On top of all that, he was returning to the field as a 41-year-old recovering from three procedures on his right knee in the last calendar year, and he was doing it when most everyone had counted him out for the season.

Throw in the fact that the name "Gigantes" was across his chest as part of a Giants promotion, and you've got a scene completely separate from any other in the vast vault of Barry Bonds memories.

Giants GM Brian Sabean absolutely nailed it before the game, when he summed up his view of Bonds' return.

"It's almost surreal that he's going to be back out there, we've been without his services for so long," Sabean said.

Surreal, indeed. And the first episode of baseball's biggest surreality show for the fall season hadn't even begun.

As for the star, he was clearly drained from the whole day by the end of it, but when it came to assessing his readiness to be himself on the field again, he mustered some of his trademark confidence and blurted in the affirmative.

"I have no doubt in my mind in my playing ability," Bonds said. "There's no doubt in my mind I can play this game at a high level."

That became clear very early on Monday, when surreal came within a foot from totally ridiculous. The first ball Bonds put in play came that close to a homer, and after an 11-pitch at-bat, no less. It wound up in the stands, but it wasn't No. 704, just a ground-rule double with an assist from a fan who reached over to bring it in.

Bonds took the Padres' Adam Eaton to the warning track in the deepest part of the park later, and in between he showed in the field and running the bases that his legs are in fact underneath him -- a whole lot more than they were a year ago at this time.

Hey, you really want surreal? Check the NL West standings. After the Giants beat the Padres with Bonds' help (though certainly not only because he was there), the division-leading Padres are back below .500 and the Giants are just six games out, one game behind the second-place Dodgers.

Make no mistake: Even if the Giants who got them here deserve all the credit in the world for doing so, it'll take Bonds being Bonds for the Giants to make it all the way -- and even then it's a huge task.

But Bonds definitely is back. You could tell that hours before the game.

The media circus was out in force for Bonds' arrival on the field before the game, with cameras trained on the steps leading out of the Giants' dugout to the field, and Bonds slowly sashaying his way out to work.

Every member of the swollen media contingent ogled and absorbed the scene as Bonds played catch with teammate Jason Ellison ... and hung out with Omar Vizquel at shortstop during batting practice ... and came in the dugout and grabbed a bat ... and sashayed back out to the field to take his swings in the cage.

But the attention focused on Bonds certainly wasn't reserved for the media. It was clear from the time the "Gigantes" took the field that the good folks of San Francisco -- not quite enough of them for a sellout, but a lot more than usual these days -- were there to welcome Bonds back home.

The crowd rose to its feet when he took to left field -- warming up with 9-year-old Christopher Laub, a leukemia patient whose letter imploring Bonds to stay positive through his health problems touched the slugger so deeply he had to have Christopher there for his big return.

The crowd rose again when Bonds came to the plate in the second inning, and the near sellout heaved gasps with each cut, oohed and ahhed at two towering foul balls and went crazy when Bonds sent that ball to the fence.

The crowd was there to see Bonds do his thing, and nobody left disappointed.

Including Bonds.

"Just seeing everybody, all the fans out there, it was just an incredible feeling, absolutely incredible," he said.

He might not be the Comeback Player of the Year. But there's little question that this was the comeback event of the year.

We'd seen a lot out of Barry Bonds over the years, but we hadn't seen anything quite like this.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.