Barry's Return: A Half-Dead Season Alive

How the resident deity of 3rd and King reassured us all, if only for an evening

Last week, toward the end of the series against the Dodgers, our San Francisco Giants resembled the walking dead.

We endured a week of zombie bites that no team can overcome. Jeff Kent shocked away the 6-game winning streak with a flick of his ghoulish mustache. The next night, a vampiric Ricky Ledee, the blood still dribbling down his chin, drew a walk that contributed to the game-winning rally. A rally that Kent guffawed in, like the half-donkey centaur he’s become.

Even Jose Cruz Jr., previously banished by this column to the land of ghosts and wind (a place we realize, now, to be near Irvine) joined in the macabre revelry, slapping home runs from both sides of the plate.

So by the ninth inning of the last game of the series, when we saw poor, still-living Jeremy Accardo--the teenage-haired rookie who’d probably missed most of the game text-messaging with Scott Eyre in the bullpen--there was no chance of resuscitation. If Cesar Izturis’ doppelganger, the diminutive Oscar Robles, can hit a game-tying two-run shot off bear-man Armando Benitez, no amount of awe-shucks youth can keep the Dodgers from feasting, further, on the heads of the orange and black.

The Giants were dead before the double-play ball in that inning, the one Accardo threw into centerfield. Dead before the screamer to right that officially ended the series. Check it out on Mlb.com. Watch the game again. Look for patches of zombie-colored skin on the neck of Benitez, for the leering, brain-hungry glint in the eyes of Omar Vizquel.

Not snakebit. That’s old news, for this team. They were zombie-bit by former Giants.

And it continued against the Cubs, when the Ghoul-King, Dusty Baker, brought along the scrappiest demon of all, Neifi Perez, to do his bidding.

By Sunday, the Giants had lost five games out of six, their only win coming from the freshly-alive Matt Cain, who probably sliced seven years off his career after pitching in the presence of so many winged monsters.

But then something funny happened. The oldest Giant of all descended on the field like wind, as if Pedro Feliz had spent hours beckoning him with dance (as Ray Ray Durham slapped out a drum beat, of course). And for a single night, the players ran and hit as if vigor and youth had been forced, unbelievably, down their inanimate throats.

*

Barry Bonds is like a great nature god, one who commands harvests, procreation cycles, and, let us say, the vagaries of deer and rodents.

When any of these resources dry up, when the fields dust over and the babies stop coming, those who worship in the god’s limited realm enter into stages of grief.

First, they defend their failed deity to other, mocking tribes, especially those that dye their garments blue and arrange facial hair in patches beneath the nose.

Then they blame their other gods, minor ones like Tomko the Consigner and LaTroy the Feckless, whose mediocre production is laid bare by the absence of the greater spirit.

And finally, as they disappear in droves, unable to imagine a future season of dearth, they throw their palms at the sky and question why they have been forsaken, wondering if their cherished god really did all he could, really gave them everything, before he disappearing altogether.

I am not one to ululate whimsically. But when my favorite player of all-time, the guy I’ve defended to bottle-wielding drunks and the snakes of academe alike, refuses to pinch-hit during a week of zombied losses, well, I’m going to tear at my hair and beat my chest. And utter some five-letter curses. The letters being B-O-N-D-S.

*

Then he returned. It really is a cliche: “bringing new life to a ballclub.” But how did you feel, in the moment Barry Bonds stepped to the plate after a year’s absence? After our pitcher, Kevin Correia, looked like a teenager who’d swallowed his first lump of chewing tobacco before taking the mound? After the 1-2-3 hitters went 1-2-3 in the first?

And then Big Poppa tips his hat. And the stadium jostles to life. And our deity looks human, unsure whether to swing or take. He’s fouling off pitches, lunging at the ball, lacking the steely balance and discipline.

He is almost retired on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, on a lazy pop-up that falls in because of the shift.

And then an outside fastball. His toe-tap. An extra dip in the shoulders, keeping the barrel of the bat compact, purposeful, as the ball shoots over 400 feet into left-center, so that once again, all we see of the outfielders is their turned backs.

Those of us at the game and watching on TV, we were lucky. For a brief shining moment, we believed that Barry Bonds had homered in his first plate-appearance off the yearlong disabled list.

A moment of such sublime reverie, I could only do one thing: giggle like a schoolgirl.

*
It didn’t matter that Bonds had only hit a double. Ray Ray Durham returned to the realm of the living with a base hit. Even Edgardo Alfonzo, the biggest ghoul of all, swung back to life.

The Giants overcame a three-run deficit. The bullpen pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings. Armando Benitez recorded a perfect ninth.

Bonds nearly hit another home run in his third at-bat. But that was an extra jolt. All you have to do is compare the action before Barry’s double to what followed. This is a microcosm of his divinity. No, Big Poppa didn’t bless Ray Ray’s already-hot bat, didn’t burnish the arm of reliever Matt Kinney. Didn’t soak the Padres bats in flubber, especially when LaTroy Hawkins skulked to the mound.

But he breathed new life into a team that was all but dead. And we, the peasant-fans of such a divine drama, can do nothing but thank him. No matter how long he’s been gone. Even the criticism-priests in the media couldn’t help but choke on their own awe.

What this means for the rest of the season remains unclear. But that doesn’t matter, not now. This has become a year of chained failures. And for a shining moment to break that chain is about all we can ask for. And more than we had any right to expect.

But that’s the beauty of Barry Bonds. We wanted him to put on a show for the ages. And he did what he always does amidst the highest expectations—he surpassed them.

And he infused this season of painful memories with one that will outshine them all.



Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can't decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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