They booed when Barry Bonds's name was introduced, booed when he moved into the on-deck circle, booed when he strolled out to left field and booed -- loudly, overwhelming the minority of fans who cheered -- when he stepped into the batter's box. But when Bonds swung his bat, the fans at RFK Stadium quieted down in order to snap pictures -- and when he connected off Livan Hernandez in the top of the fourth inning, all they could do was gasp.
As the ball fell back to earth -- seventh row, Section 468, upper deck, right field -- Bonds circled the bases slowly. And as he approached the San Francisco Giants' dugout, he put his index finger to his lips -- shhhhh -- but he wasn't admonishing the Washington Nationals' fans as much as he was reminding them of his power to launch baseballs and silence stadiums.
"Some dude popping off," Bonds said. "He was heckling. I told him to sit down and enjoy it. Shhhhhh."
A crowd of 32,403 fans booed Bonds, the third-most prolific home run hitter in baseball history, throughout last night's game -- his first road game of this season and the first regular season game of his career in the nation's capital. But more memorable than the frequent booing was the one moment of silence, which represented Bonds's revenge, and the eternal silence at the end, after the Giants completed a 4-3 victory.
Bonds's towering home run off Hernandez reached a place no other hitter has reached this season at RFK. It was the third homer this season for Bonds, who missed the first five-plus months of the season following three knee surgeries, and it was career home run No. 706 -- just eight shy of Babe Ruth's mark, and 49 shy of Hank Aaron's.
The Nationals went after Bonds three times, just as Manager Frank Robinson said they would, and retired him twice. But with two outs in the ninth, with Bonds at the plate as the potential go-ahead run, they pitched around him, walking him on four pitches -- a fateful decision. One pitch later, Moises Alou hit a three-run, game-winning homer off Hernandez.
"Livo's a great pitcher, and a really good friend of mine," Bonds said of his former teammate. "I wish he was on my team."
If Bonds, 41, was uncomfortable playing virtually in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, whose denizens tend to have a strong preoccupation with steroid use in baseball, he did not show it. He may be linked in the minds of the media and fans to the sport's steroids scandal, which exploded over the past 10 months, but he seemed to take comfort in the knowledge that nobody -- including Congress -- has the goods on him.
Bonds scoffed at the notion he might cooperate willingly with a congressional investigation -- "They'd have to contact my attorney first," he said -- and suggested that both Congress and the media find something more useful to obsess about.
"I think we have other issues in this country to worry about that are a lot more serious," Bonds said. "I think you guys should direct your efforts into taking care of that."
The booing was perhaps a preview of what Bonds can expect the rest of his career. But when he was asked before the game about the damage that has been done to his reputation by the constant steroid suspicion, he sounded not upset, but resigned.
"It's been tarnished for me for years," he said. "There's nothing I can do to bring that back. There's nothing I can say. As nice as I am, or try to be, you guys [in the media] make up more worse things. . . . I've accepted it. I just live my life."