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ON BASEBALL

High-pressure system changes course

You could see it in his face and the way he spoke: Barry Bonds had a good time in Boston.

Maybe Boston fans didn't want him to have a good time. Maybe they wanted him to skip out of town and hope he would never have to return. Maybe Sox fans wish they were even tougher on him than they were, so he would remember how nasty it was. But it wasn't anything Bonds hadn't heard before and it wasn't as bad as the reception he received both on and off the field in New York.

Bonds's pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record has often been joyless. He hit his 748th against Tim Wakefield in the sixth inning yesterday, his first at Fenway Park, and even though the Red Sox swept the weekend series, you could tell Bonds enjoyed his time here.

It was clear his perception of the city, the fans, and all of the things negative about Boston, which he once referred to as a racist city, changed over this weekend.

"He genuinely enjoyed himself here," said one teammate. "He walked around the city a lot and people were really nice to him. They weren't yelling at him, or yelling stuff at him or anything like that. People were very respectful of him. I think for a lot of us, this was kind of a test because we heard Boston would be rough on him. In the ballpark, sure there were the asterisks that people were holding up, and the "Steroids!" chants and all the things he's seen and heard before. So that part wasn't any different. The part that was different is the reception he got on the streets. And even the reception he got when he hit the home run."

It is true, we all looked forward to this series when we thought of Bonds playing in Boston, where the fans would surely be brutal. I had predicted long ago that Bonds would skip this series. When he was hot early in the season, the Boston series was projected as a possible place where he could break the record. Many felt he would never break it anywhere but San Francisco, where most fans have supported him.

But he showed up, did the normal first-day news conference that he's done in every city (which is a requirement in his contract) and he also did two post game interviews. He left here feeling a lot different about Boston than when he arrived.

He heard boos, but he also heard cheers.

That's because there's a segment of the population that doesn't care about steroids. While fans don't approve of players taking substances to enhance their performance, they also know that hitting a baseball that well for that long has to be about more than ingesting a steroid.

Even before the allegations, Bonds was a five-tool player and arguably the greatest player of his generation. Many believe he had earned a place in the Hall of Fame even before he allegedly started taking steroids.

David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Manny Ramírez are huge fans of Bonds and over the course of the weekend all of them exchanged greetings and shared a few laughs with him.

Bonds, 42, reiterated yesterday that he will not retire after this season. He's clearly, however, a designated hitter and perhaps as he goes through interleague play he'll realize more and more that he will be a DH somewhere and that this is likely his final season in San Francisco.

If he continues to say nice things wherever he goes, there will be a team out there who will want him to be its DH. His on-base percentage, approaching .500, is clearly a sign he still reaches base and that he's still an offensive threat.

In the seventh inning with runners at second and third, the Red Sox appeared ready to pitch to Bonds before lefty Javier Lopez came on and threw him four straight balls to load the bases. Playing it safe worked, because Bengie Molina came up next and knocked into an inning-ending double play against Joel Piñeiro.

Bonds took his time after the game as he made reporters wait by his locker for a while, but once he spoke he did it with a smile. On many occasions over the past two years he always spoke defensively and with a scowl. He seemed happy yesterday.

Asked about his homer at Fenway Bonds said, "I believe I had two." He was referring, of course, to a ball that was called foul Friday night. "I think it was [fair]," Bonds said.

"But I tip my hat to Wakefield. He came after me in every at-bat and gave me an opportunity. I didn't get walked. I tip my hat to him. As good as he was in Pittsburgh, he's still pretty tough. I just wished he pitched that last game for us [in the 1992 NLCS]. We would have gone to the World Series . . . when we were in Pittsburgh we loved him. He's 40 now and he's still good."

Wakefield said he had talked to manager Terry Francona earlier in the week about his approach to Bonds and the decision was made that Wakefield would have more leeway in pitching to him than another pitcher because of the uniqueness of the knuckleball.

"I was fortunate enough to pitch to him in situations where a homer really didn't bother us too much," Wakefield said. "He led off the second inning with a base hit and on his [second] at-bat I think he popped up, hit a fly ball to center. Again, he's a good hitter and you have to tip your cap to him sometimes."

Bonds had joked this weekend he didn't think he'd be able to hit a long ball against Wakefield because he throws so slowly and he wouldn't be able to generate the power. He was wrong.

Even though he's a pull hitter, he said he liked hitting at Fenway and he loved the city.

"This is a beautiful ballpark. This is a beautiful city. San Francisco's streets are a little bit dirty and stuff like that. Being around here and walking around town, it's very clean and a nice town," he said.

He was asked why he thought people booed him and with a smile he said, "How can I answer that question?"

It was another notch on his belt. Another ballpark. Another pitcher he has victimized in his quest. Fenway became the 36th ballpark in which he's hit a home run , while Wakefield was the 441st pitcher to allow one to him.

"It's just been nice to play in all the ballparks," he said. "I've just missed a couple of them. I never played in the one in Minnesota. I haven't played in Detroit due to injuries and stuff like that. I wish I had the opportunity to play there. I'm not retiring so . . ."

Every day there's a new projection of when the magic moment will come and who will be there and who won't. The projections are such a fruitless effort because he gets hot and he hits them in bunches and then he gets cold and there's a dry spell.

"It was never gone," said Bonds of his home run stroke. "It's the person. It's me. Sometimes you don't have it. Sometimes you do."

The joyless pursuit had a little joy this weekend. In Boston, of all places.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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