Long after his single, two doubles and a walk had helped the San Francisco Giants win Game 5 of the World Series, 16-4, over the dumb-struck Anaheim Angels on Thursday, Barry Bonds did something far more unusual for him than hitting a home run. He sat and talked about how he felt. Or, rather, about what he has not allowed himself to feel until his Giants win one more game and become world champions.
"I won't feel anything until it's over. It's hard enough for me to come in here and just talk. I want to do my talking on the field. That's where it counts."
If deeds were words, Bonds would have written an encyclopedia this month. In 15 postseason games, he has gone 14 for 40 (.350) with two doubles, a triple and seven home runs. That is a .975 slugging percentage -- something a player can achieve for perhaps a three-game series but not for three entire playoff series.
"To keep analyzing each and every day, to me, is just draining. I just want to go home and rest from today. Every day, every game [against the Angels] is just a see-saw back and forth," Bonds said. "By the sixth inning, you're digging down deep inside your gut to keep yourself going. Because they're draining us and I'm pretty sure we're draining them."
Never has a ballplayer who claims to be so drained been so full to the brim with performance. What Bonds has done since Oct. 2 is preposterous. In those 15 games, he has scored 17 runs and driven in 15 despite the fact that he is so feared and avoided that he has been walked 24 times.
Every team has the same mantra: Don't let Bonds beat you. Don't give him anything to hit. Foes put on variations of the Williams Shift, begging him to bunt or slap singles to the opposite field. Yet he beats them with long blasts anyway. Against the Angels, he has doubled off the left and right field walls and hit home runs of 418, 437 and 485 feet to right field, center field and right-center field. Don't worry, left field is probably coming soon.
As the Angels slugger Tim Salmon said, perhaps accidentally giving away his team's true mind-set, "These two teams are a lot alike, except that we don't have a Barry Bonds."
Nobody has a Barry Bonds. At least not the Bonds of 2002.
Once upon a time, Bonds did formidable deeds during the regular season, yet was perhaps the most conspicuous postseason failure of his generation. In his first 27 postseason games in five series, he had one home run and hit .196. Pitchers teased him and he chased bad balls. Or, after teasing him, they suddenly challenged him when he didn't expect it and he choked, mis-hitting pitches he would have crushed from April to September.
Now, all that is different. When you've failed in October in '90, '91, '92, '97 and '00, always getting eliminated in the first round, you either crumble or get even stronger.
At the moment, he feels invincible. Over the years, the Braves -- and their staff full of future Hall of Famers -- were his nemesis. In the Division Series, he homered off of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood.
Asked about all the noise that's generated at Edison Field by the so-called ThunderSticks and the exhortations of the Rally Monkey, Bonds almost smirked. "No noise bothers me after I got past Atlanta," he said after Game 5. Then he added, ominously, "Nothing can bother me."
Just so we get this straight, so we know what we're watching, Bonds in this postseason is now performing at as high a level in his sport as any athlete of the last 30 years. He's gone where Tiger Woods was during his Slam, where Michael Jordan lingered during his peak and where very few others have ever been for a day.
Bonds, who's reached base an almost insane 16 times in 22 Series plate appearances, makes us say the same words now which Woods and Jordan did then: "That's impossible."
We watch a sport for a lifetime and learn the limits, or what we suppose to be the limits, of human performance. No one can play golf significantly better than Jack Nicklaus. No one can play basketball on a higher plain that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. No one can impact a baseball game more than Willie Mays.
Then, suddenly, someone does. And, most important, does it for the highest stakes and with the whole sports world watching.
When Woods won the 2000 U.S. and British opens by 15 and eight strokes, shattering the old records for both score and margin of victory, he took golf to a place that had never been imagined. And to which even Tiger himself has not yet entirely returned.
Right now, during the past 23 days, Bonds has done the same thing for baseball. What Woods did in his youth, the 38-year-old Bonds has done thanks to a professional lifetime of technical self-improvement, psychological toughening and, finally, an utter confidence that intimidates opponents like Tiger's "A" Game.
"I chose to play baseball because I want to be the best at it," said Bonds late Thursday night -- meaning, we should understand, the best ever. "I don't like to talk about it really. I'd rather just show it on the field."
Bonds still carries old family grudges, collected over a career, like twisted badges of honor. But so did Ted Williams. Bonds saw his controversial father change teams seven times in seven seasons when he was 11 to 17 years old. Perhaps as a result, he distrusts the entire institution of baseball. It can hurt you, misjudge you, betray you and, given enough time, even extract much of your joy.
But baseball -- the pure sport, properly played -- is another issue. There, Bonds drops his chip on the shoulder, his childlike defensiveness. The game itself has been Bonds's ferocious and studious life's work since childhood, always under the tutelage of his father and his godfather Mays.
On Thursday night, Bonds came out with one of those jaw-dropping quotes that makes you rework your image of a public figure. He tried to find an image to explain how much he loved the game itself, but was indifferent to everything else around it. (That, of course, would include any responsibility to promote it or interact with its fans.) "I'm like that surfer boy," said Bonds. "I just want to surf, dude. I don't want to own the store."
Make no mistake, this entire postseason is turning into one long Barry Bonds ride to shore. He's locked on the board, in that quiet exalted place at the heart of the wave about which surfers rhapsodize. A place where, for a while, "Nothing can bother me."
Bonds is so focused, so obsessed, he claims he barely sleeps. "It's been difficult [to sleep] ever since I've been in this playoff. Just playing at-bats over in my head, pitches, everything," he said. "I mean, it's an all-day thing. I'd rather sleep when it's over."
The Angels' Salmon is right -- more correct than he probably wants to be. Anaheim and the Giants are very similar teams -- except for Barry Bonds. And because of that difference, sometime this weekend, Bonds may finally break his silence, say how he feels and what it all means to him after so many years.
Why, he might even smile.