- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

That was a heck of a game they played Sunday night in Anaheim, and it was certainly a dramatic moment when Tim Salmon hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Angels a two-run lead against the San Francisco Giants in Game2 of the World Series.

Salmon's home run gave the Angels an 11-9 lead, and they went on to win the game 11-10, as the Giants added a meaningless run in the top of the ninth.

It was one heck of a meaningless run, though. Long after everyone forgets about Tim Salmon's game-winner, they'll be talking about the Troy Percival fastball that Barry Bonds sent up into the California night sky. It's a good thing that federal officials rejected the request by baseball officials to restrict air space over the ballpark. They might have shot Bonds' home run down.

Since they weren't playing in San Francisco, it didn't land in McCovey Cove, though I think it would have bypassed that body of water and went on to the Straits of Gibraltar. Since they were playing in Anaheim, maybe it landed in the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland if it ever landed. It was supposedly measured at 485 feet, but light years seemed like a more appropriate measurement when it was hit.

Barry Bonds' home run in the ninth inning was electric, and it came right through the screen if you were watching it at home. If you were in Edison Field, you may have stopped breathing for a brief moment, or, as Salmon himself, who had an MVP night, with four hits and two two-run homers, mouthed as he watched the ball take off, you may have said, "That's the farthest ball I've ever seen." If you missed the moment, the "SportsCenter" highlight won't do it justice. It was spontaneous combustion, a Percival fastball challenging the power of Bonds.

"I haven't seen a ball hit that far here," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It was launched."

It was such an exciting moment that it made me forget for a moment the doubts that have to accompany any Bonds home run. You know those doubts, the ones that the players union is going to fix by their bogus testing plan for steroids.

Now, when I write about Barry Bonds and his remarkable power hitting display at the age of 37 last year, when he hit 73 home runs, and his 46 home runs this year, I am torn between two schools of thought on this issue that one nagging little notion that someone is innocent until proved guilty, and the other concept that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck.

Every time I see Barry Bonds now, with his linebacker build, compared to the Bonds of 10 years ago, I keep hearing, "Quack, Quack." But in deference to the bedrock of American law and, of course, Bonds' own denials (and why would Barry lie, right?), I will chalk up Bonds' remarkable batting accomplishments and changed physique simply to performance-enhancing knowledge.

Percival suggested something was juiced after he gave up the home run the ball. "As soon as I picked up the ball in this series, I knew there would be a lot of homers," he told reporters after Game2. "They're twice as hard as any ball I've played with. They're different from any ball I've ever seen. The seams are nice, there's a good grip on it, but when it's hit, it's gonna go."

Balls, bodies, something is juiced, and now that the labor issue is settled for a while, juice is going to continue to be a controversial issue in baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, because statistics are the lifeblood of the game. The entire sport revolved around the number 61 in 1998, one of the great years the game has seen recently. And now here we are, four years later, and what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did that year in their home run battle means absolutely nothing. McGwire's single season home run record of 70 lasted just three years, one hollow number replaced by another.

All of baseball will now be fixated on Bond's march toward Hank Aaron's 755 career home run mark. He has 613, and next on the list is his godfather, Willie Mays, at 660, followed by the Babe at 714 and then Aaron. Bond is 38, but based on these past two seasons, is at the top of his game, and could conceivably slug enough home runs over the next four years to pass Aaron. But what will that mean? Can anyone who knows what a duck looks and sounds like look at Bonds passing these home run figures without wondering if it is all based on performance-enhancing knowledge? Have you ever seen Hank Aaron up close? He is about the size of one of Barry Bonds' shoulders. Can you imagine if Aaron had been able to take advantage of performance-enhancing knowledge? Or Ruth, who relied on performance-debilitating knowledge and still hit 714 home runs?

Maybe by then we won't care how Bonds is doing it. Maybe it will be like the mammoth home run he hit Sunday night such an impressive display that we simply ignore all the possibilities that went into creating that moment. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss.

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