- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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HOUSTON -- It's now eight days, 31 trips to home plate and nearly 5,000 frequent-flier miles since Barry Bonds last hit a home run. And from the way he talks, America's Anti-Idol might be more likely to nod off in mid-at-bat than he is to pass Babe Ruth anytime soon.
"I just go home and sleep," Bonds said Monday, before going 1-for-3 against the Astros, with a walk, a strikeout, a pop-up and a bad-hop double to right. "Normally, I go home and work out and train and everything else. Now I'm just exhausted all the time.
"I'm tired," Bonds said wearily. "I'm always tired. It's never been like this before. I sleep all the time, all day."
Well, not quite all day. On Monday, Bonds did awaken in time to talk manager Felipe Alou into putting him into the lineup. They talked several times, in fact, Alou said.
"The last time," Alou chuckled, "we were eating some fried chicken [in the players' lounge]. No avian flu has hit here."
Alou also deep-fried his lineup, moving Bonds back to his long-accustomed cleanup hole after two games in the No. 3 spot, because "it really looked like he's not right, he's not comfortable batting third," the manager said. "I think he'd rather bat fourth."
So back to No. 4 old No. 713 went. And the good news was, he did get his first hit in six days, breaking an 0-for-15 funk with a third-inning rope off Astros rookie Taylor Buchholz that caromed crazily over the head of right fielder Jason Lane. The bad news was, that was the only ball he got out of the infield.
Which is making it tough for him -- or anybody else -- to get excited about the sight of Babe Ruth just over the home run horizon.
"I just think about trying to get a hit," Bonds said. "Once I get that one, then I'll think about the next one."
Nevertheless, Bonds admitted, he is conscious of both Ruth and Hank Aaron, off in the distance.
"This thing, it's like chasing two ghosts, you know?" Bonds said. "I can imagine what Roger Maris went through. Babe Ruth, I think he just kind of hovers over people a lot."
After a week of cheers and friendly faces, Bonds had to take this chase back on the road to Texas. Where the boos erupted before his name could even be announced on the way to home plate. Where an entire section of fans held up asterisks when he hit. Where the most innovative sign of the night may have been: "RUTH ON ROIDS: 2,142 HRS."
It was no lovefest. That's for sure. No wonder Bonds sounded so apologetic over not hitting at least one historic homer on an entire seven-game homestand.
"That was the most important thing for me," he said. "San Francisco is my biggest supporting cast. I've been able to do it for them forever since I've been here. There's nothing more gratifying than, you know, having them be able to catch a ball, on your turf."
But Bonds' swing still looks as out of whack as it has looked since he cranked No. 713 off the facing of the third deck in Philadelphia on May 7. He hit only two home runs in batting practice. And despite a four-pitch walk in the first inning, the Astros "didn't pitch around him," said Houston catcher Brad Ausmus.
"This thing, it's like chasing two ghosts, you know? I can imagine what Roger Maris went through. ... Babe Ruth, I think he just kind of hovers over people a lot."
-- Barry Bonds
Of the 11 strikes Bonds was thrown, he put just two in play. And several times, he wobbled noticeably after finishing his mighty (or not-so-mighty) hack.
"It's harder when you get older," said Bonds, who now has started seven straight days for the first time since July 26-Aug. 1, 2004. "My knees get sore. As you go on, as the innings go on, I get tired-er and tired-er. And my legs get tired. That's just reality. That's no excuse."
But he clearly wants to play. So Tuesday, he is expected back in the lineup, even against left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. But Alou said it's no more than 50-50 he'll play Wednesday, so he can combine that day off with Thursday's scheduled off day.
Even though Bonds went homerless, though, it wasn't as if nothing historic happened in this game.
Craig Biggio moved into 41st place on the all-time hits list (with No. 2,839). Andy Pettitte pinch-hit for the first time in his storied offensive career (and struck out). And Ausmus moved to second base late in the game, slurped up a Mark Sweeney ground ball and threw him out.
It was the eighth time in Ausmus' career he'd cameoed at one of the four infield positions -- but the first time anyone had actually hit him a ground ball. Now that's history.
"I can't believe," Ausmus quipped, "they weren't marking the balls for that."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
As he remains stuck on 713 home runs, Barry Bonds admits that chasing Babe Ruth isn't an easy thing to do, writes Jayson Stark.