WASHINGTON -- The pitch to Barry Bonds was right where John Patterson wanted it, a cut fastball that dipped inside, meant to be a ball that might serve to push the San Francisco Giants slugger a tad off the plate.
And then, in a blink, Bonds whipped his bat, driving the ball over the right-field wall. The two-run shot, his 707th career homer and fourth in four games, came in the first inning Wednesday night and started the Giants on their way to a 5-1 victory over the Washington Nationals.
"I don't know how he hit it. We were all talking about it after we came into the dugout," Patterson said. "It's like fighting Ali. You make one little mistake, and he makes you pay. You realize, at some point, Barry's going to get you."
And with Bonds back in the lineup after missing the season's first 142 games, the Giants have won five straight games to cling to an outside chance of catching the NL West-leading San Diego Padres. San Diego beat Colorado 5-2 to keep its five-game lead.
"He can change the game," said Giants starter Brad Hennessey (5-8), who won for the first time in 10 outings. "We've got a shot still, I think."
The right-hander gave up one run and three hits over 7 2/3 innings, striking out four, and at one point retired 15 consecutive batters, looking little like a pitcher who was 0-5 with a 5.55 ERA since July 28.
He also doubled and homered, lining a solo shot to left on the first pitch of the seventh inning.
"He's a tough kid," manager Felipe Alou said. "We're staying with him."
The Nationals lost their fourth in a row, and manager Frank Robinson spoke before the game of wanting to avoid a last-place finish. Coupled with Houston's 12-8 win over Pittsburgh, Washington's loss dropped it six games behind the Astros in the NL wild-card standings with 10 games left.
"It would take a miracle at this point," said Patterson (9-6), who allowed five runs and 10 hits in seven innings. He had nine strikeouts, including Bonds twice.
So looking ahead to Thursday, the one bit of good news for the Nationals? Bonds won't start because it's an afternoon game.
"He was really tired," said Alou, who removed Bonds after he was intentionally walked in the seventh. "I won't change my mind. He's really sore."
San Francisco's surge has coincided with last week's return of Bonds, who had three offseason knee operations. The team is 6-1 in his starts, and Bonds is hitting .318 (7-for-22) with four homers and six RBI.
"Barry came back and really makes this whole team a lot better," Giants outfielder Moises Alou said. "It's a whole different game."
There were fewer boos and disparaging signs directed Bonds' way Wednesday than Tuesday, his first road game of the year. But he still heard plenty of jeers, including when he caught Brad Wilkerson's shallow fly leading off the bottom of the first.
Bonds, who left the stadium by the time the visiting clubhouse opened after the game, moved within seven homers of tying Babe Ruth for second on the career list behind Hank Aaron's 755.
Can Bonds reach Ruth's total of 714 this year, even though San Francisco has only 11 games left -- and he won't start all of them?
"It's not a task beyond his reach," said Robinson, sixth in history with 586 homers. "He is capable of doing that."
- Washington C Brian Schneider left after the sixth inning because he was hit on the right shoulder by a foul ball off Pedro Feliz's bat. Tendinitis in that shoulder sidelined Schneider for the team's last road trip.
- Nationals CF Preston Wilson had an adventurous game, most glaringly when he did a pratfall in the fourth, dropping to the grass when he lost his footing while picking up a ball hit by Moises Alou, who was credited with a double.