Bonds stage-manages Nos. 660, 661

Updated: April 14, 2004, 2:12 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

It was, by current standards, a model of minimalism. No banners, no torch, no instant bobblehead sales, no haberdashery line. It was one more home run by Barry Bonds, and that's all it was.

Call it anticlimax by design.

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Bonds turned on a 1-2 pitch from Milwaukee's Ben Ford and dropped it into the drink behind right field. It was his 661st, surpassing Willie Mays' career figure, but it looked a lot like Monday's 660th, all the way down to the fact that the same guy, Larry Ellison (the inflatable raft guy, not the Oracle guy), retrieved both balls.

It didn't even make that much difference in the game, turning a 3-2 lead into 4-2 -- a lead that held up, in case that matters to you.

But it was Bonds' almost Quaker reaction --- the trot, the double point to the sky, the water cannons on the right field walkway, a quick curtain call, and out --- that might be most memorable.

He refused to let it be a big deal. For perhaps the only time in modern, numbers-obsessed sports, tying the record meant more than beating it.

That's the way he wanted it, so it was.

"It's Willie," he said when asked why he wanted 660 to mean more, why 660 is the ball on his desk, and 661 is the one that will likely end up on eBay. "It's just Willie. That's all it is. It's all about keeping it in the family."

Well, it isn't, really. If it was about that, Bonds would have retired Monday. Trust us, he isn't. He wants it all --- Ruth, Aaron, Sadaharu Oh, Josh Gibson, the works.

But for a man with an unquestioned gift for theater, he could choreograph 661 into anything. He could be Nathan Lane, or he could be Gary Cooper, or anything in between.

So he went spare. The torch Mays passed to him Monday could not be re-passed, and Bill Russell and Wayne Gretzky, who had come on Monday to watch him get his sixth Most Valuable Player award, were gone. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom wasn't there, and neither was Carol Channing, who arm-wrestled a modified version of "Hello Dolly" into submission during Monday's seventh-inning stretch.

What was left, then, was Ford, Bonds and Ellison. Throw ball, see ball, hit ball, dive out of boat to grab ball. Simple as pie.

"It was a little more stressful for 660," Bonds admitted, "because Willie was always there. He was always with me, waiting down in the dugout at every at-bat (holding the jewel-encrusted torch the Giants pleaded with baseball to use in the post-660 ceremony). There's a little more pressure when you know he's waiting for you."

Mays was in the building Tuesday as well, but not nearly so visible. Normalcy did not reign, but Bonds was easing back into it, knowing that he has 54 to hit this year to beat Ruth, a figure he has surpassed only the one time.

He understands, and says he welcomes the relative quiet awaiting him on the mathematical front. His next milestone, in fact, will come with his bat on his shoulder, when he passes Rickey Henderson for the all-time walks figure. Expect that in the late summer, just about the time the pennant races begin in earnest.

In the meantime, he can use a little public down time, for the obvious reasons, not all of them field-related.

Six-sixty-two will have basically no meaning, 663 will have to make itself important in the context of the game around it, and so on and so forth until Bonds closes in on 700.

Baseball, you see, is very good about dealing with round numbers ... so good, in fact, that 715 has become a round number, and 939, and 2,131, and 4,190, and 511, and a ton of other numbers that seem odd except to the seamhead in all of us.

Until then, Bonds will be able to lay relatively low. At least he hopes that's how it works out this time. That isn't the way to bet, of course, because the news follows him 24/7, but a man can dream, can't he?

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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