WASHINGTON -- Prior to embarking on his first road trip of this late season, Barry Bonds was asked about the booing he was all but certain to receive at RFK Stadium and elsewhere. "Bring it on, baby," he said.
Last night, Washington Nationals fans granted the San Francisco Giants slugger his wish, making clear their disapproval of the man who has become a symbol of baseball's steroids era as the result of leaked grand jury testimony.
But, as he so often does, Bonds made sure he didn't end the night without getting in a few memorable shots of his own.
Bonds, with his home run hitter's swagger and outsized personality, practically made the game a sidelight with a prodigious blast on the field and a few verbal cannon shots -- directed at Congress and the media -- off it.
Bonds' team won the game, too. After Bonds drew a four-pitch walk, Moises Alou hit a three-run homer off starter Livan Hernandez with two outs in the ninth to send the Giants to a 4-3 victory.
It was the third game in a row that Washington, desperately trying to stay alive in the wild-card race, had blown a late lead and lost in the final inning. The Nationals scored once in the ninth to make it 4-3, but Brad Wilkerson's twisting line drive off Armando Benitez with two men aboard was caught by diving left fielder Todd Linden to end the game.
"We're losing ballgames on one swing of the bat," said Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who had made the difficult decision to try to allow Hernandez to finish the game rather than summoning closer Chad Cordero.
Even Alou's late heroics couldn't steal the spotlight from Bonds. After popping up in the second inning, Bonds belted a 1-2 pitch from Hernandez halfway up the upper deck in right to even the game at 1-1 in the fourth.
Bonds' 706th career homer -- but only the third of his injury-riddled season -- was just the first hit off Hernandez, who had seemed in control early.
The homer seemed to swing the fans, if temporarily, in Bonds' favor.
He had been booed lustily by the crowd of 32,403 from the moment he emerged from the dugout in the second inning and entered the on-deck circle to begin limbering up. A fan in the first row behind home plate held up a homemade, red asterisk the size of a small birthday cake. The fan's prop made clear his sentiment that Bonds' reputed steroid use has tainted his climb to third on the all-time home run list.
After his homer, Bonds put his finger across his lips, as a signal to quiet the asterisk-holding Bonds basher. "He was just heckling and I just told him to sit down and enjoy it. When I hit the home run, I told him, `Shhh.' It fired me up a little bit," he said.
But boos turned to cheers as soon as the home run ball began to arc toward the upper deck. It seemed that ambivalent fans were getting what they wanted -- an opportunity to taunt the slugger even as they marveled at one of his homers.
Earlier, Bonds put on a show of a different sort for the media.
With Congress continuing to investigate steroid use in baseball and other professional sports, Bonds suggested the nation should focus on more serious issues -- like the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
"There are still other issues that are more important. Right now people are losing lives and don't have homes and that's a little more serious, a lot more serious," Bonds said before the game.
Bonds also criticized the media -- saying they will always find "worse things" to write about him -- and said he still liked and respected Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.
Palmeiro tested positive for steroids and served a 10-day suspension beginning Aug. 1. Bonds told a federal grand jury that he may have unintentionally used a steroid he thought was flaxseed oil, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Raffy Palmeiro and I are good friends and we will stay continually good friends. Period. And I will always have respect for him as a person and a player regardless," Bonds said.
Note -- The Nationals yesterday suspended the clubhouse access of a prayer leader while the club investigates comments in a newspaper article about Jews. Jon Moeller was suspended "pending a further and more in-depth investigation of the facts," team president Tony Tavares said in a prepared statement. According to a Washington Post article, outfielder Ryan Church said he asked Moeller recently if Jews are "doomed" because they do not believe in Jesus. Church said in the article that Moeller "nodded."