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Archive for Sunday, May 21, 2006

At last, Bonds gets Babe-tying blast

San Francisco slugger hits career homer No. 714 to match Ruth

May 21, 2006

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— The agonizing wait is over for Barry Bonds. He and the Babe are even at 714.

Bonds tied Babe Ruth for second place on the career home run list Saturday, ending a nine-game homerless stretch with a shot into the first deck of the elevated stands in right-center during San Francisco's 4-2, 10-inning victory over the Oakland Athletics.

"This is a great accomplishment because of Babe Ruth and what he brought to the game of baseball and his legacy in the game of baseball," Bonds said. "This and a World Series ring to me would be the ultimate. He changed the game of baseball. ... It's just great to be in the same class."

The second-inning drive landed about eight rows up in the seats overlooking the high fence just to the left of the out-of-town scoreboard. Though the A's don't provide estimated distances on home runs, this one appeared to travel about 400 feet - far from being one of Bonds' trademark behemoth drives.

Booed when he was introduced before the game, the Giants' star received a long standing ovation after his home run, and the game was delayed about 90 seconds.

Next up is Hank Aaron's record of 755.

"This took a lot off me. It's good," Bonds said. "A lot of relief. Well, until something else comes up."

Giants slugger Barry Bonds connects on career home run No. 714 off Oakland pitcher Brad Halsey. Saturday's bomb in Oakland, Calif., moved Bonds into a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career chart.

Giants slugger Barry Bonds connects on career home run No. 714 off Oakland pitcher Brad Halsey. Saturday's bomb in Oakland, Calif., moved Bonds into a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career chart.

Bonds, dogged by allegations of steroid use and repeated taunts on the road, was immediately greeted by his teammates after circling the bases. They surrounded him at the top of the dugout as Bonds tipped his cap and blew a kiss to his wife and two daughters sitting in the first row.

Bonds had gone 29 at-bats without a homer since hitting No. 713 with a 450-foot shot May 7 in Philadelphia. His 16-year-old son, Nikolai, a Giants bat boy, was waiting for him at home plate and they embraced.

"I like the fact that ball was hit, that ball was crushed," San Francisco manager Felipe Alou said.

The Giants plan to commemorate No. 715 in their own ballpark. Major League Baseball has said it won't do anything special to celebrate Bonds moving into second place, and a commissioner's office spokesman said baseball had no comment Saturday.

The ball was caught on the fly by 19-year-old Tyler Snyder of nearby Pleasanton, who was cheered by fans around him and quickly left the Coliseum with his souvenir. When Bonds was told Snyder is an A's fan, he quipped: "I, um, forgive you. If he doesn't like me, give me the ball."

Left-hander Brad Halsey became the 420th pitcher to allow a homer to Bonds, who was San Francisco's designated hitter in an interleague series against the A's.

The seven-time NL MVP was booed when his name was announced before the game and again the moment he began walking to the batter's box. He connected on a 1-1 pitch from Halsey, making history with his sixth home run this season.

Babe Ruth watches a homer to Yankee Stadium's upper deck in this 1927 photo.

Babe Ruth watches a homer to Yankee Stadium's upper deck in this 1927 photo.

"It's a pretty unbelievable thing," Astros reliever Brad Lidge said in Houston, where the Giants swept a three-game series earlier in the week. "No matter what kind of controversy surrounds him and no matter what side of the fence you are on as far as what he did or didn't do with performance-enhancing drugs, you've got to admit that it's a pretty impressive number."

Bonds came to the plate in the third to chants of "Barry! Barry!" and struck out looking. He flied out to left leading off the sixth and was intentionally walked in the eighth and again in the 10th with none out and runners on second and third.

Bonds had hoped to reach his latest milestone home run at home in San Francisco, where he hit Nos. 500, 600 and 700 along with 660 and 661 to tie and pass his godfather, Willie Mays. In 2001, Bonds hit the final three of his 73 homers at home to break Mark McGwire's single-season record of 70.

"I'm just glad it happened in the Bay," Bonds said. "East Bay, West Bay. I'm just glad it happened here."

Still, the slugger had to be happy to hit No. 714 back in the Bay Area in front of his family and friends. Only six days earlier, Bonds suggested he was being haunted by "two ghosts" - a reference to Ruth and Aaron.

Ruth passed Sam Thompson to move into second place on June 20, 1921, when he hit his 127th home run. Aaron passed Ruth in April 1974 - and now Hammerin' Hank's mark is the only one left for Bonds to chase.

Yet Bonds has said that could be a long shot considering he turns 42 on July 24, is playing on a surgically repaired right knee and with bone chips floating around in his left elbow.

In his 21st major league season, Bonds has hit nine career home runs as a designated hitter - and realizes his future could be in the American League as a DH if he returns in 2007.

Bonds had 40 plate appearances between Nos. 713 and 714. He had been 4-for-29 (.138) with 10 walks, three intentional, six runs scored, two RBIs and four strikeouts since his last homer.

"He finally hit it? It's about time," Ken Griffey Jr., who entered the night with 539 career homers, said in the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse in Detroit. "Now I don't have to keep watching TV to see him do it."

Bonds was destined for greatness at an early age. The son of three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds and the godson of one of the game's greatest players in Mays, Bonds spent his childhood years roaming the clubhouse at Candlestick Park, getting tips from Mays and other Giants.

In a matter of years, Bonds went from a wiry leadoff hitter when he broke into the big leagues with Pittsburgh in 1986 to the most feared slugger of his generation and possibly ever.

It was a transformation many - including federal prosecutors in the BALCO case - believe was fueled by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds has long denied ever knowingly taking steroids, though the new book "Game of Shadows" reveals his alleged longtime doping regimen the authors say began after the 1998 season when Bonds saw the attention McGwire and Sammy Sosa generated in their race for the single-season home run record.

Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, pleaded guilty to his role in a steroid distribution ring, and a federal grand jury is looking into whether Bonds perjured himself when he testified to the separate grand jury that indicted Anderson and three others in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative scandal.

One fan in the front row behind home plate Saturday sported a No. 25 Bonds jersey with BALCO on the back where Bonds' name should be.

Partly because of his prickly relationship with fans and the media, Bonds was never a beloved superstar even before the steroid allegations. He was not voted by fans onto baseball's All-Century team, losing out to Griffey, among others.

But the latest accusations have hurt his reputation even more, and the anticipation as he neared Ruth's mark was tempered for that reason. Just as when Aaron passed the Babe in 1974, there is resentment among those who believe Ruth is the greatest player ever, although this time it's more because of steroids than racism.

The allegations of cheating have put a cloud over Bonds' rapid rise up the home run chart. He hit his 500th homer on April 17, 2001, on the way to a record 73 that season, and reached 700 on Sept. 17, 2004, a stretch unmatched by any player at the end of his career.

"He's the greatest hitter I've played against and one of the best of this era," Oakland's Jay Payton said. "It's part of history and it's exciting to be part of that."

Before the bottom of the 11th inning in the Yankees' 5-4, 11-inning win over the Mets at Shea Stadium, a message on the scoreboard announced Bonds' 714th homer, and the crowd booed.

"I still remember Barry Bonds as a great player, regardless of steroids or what," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "How many home runs would he have hit without whatever people are saying is going on? I don't know. I know one thing: That player-wise, he's pretty good."

Bonds has said his many milestones won't mean as much later if he doesn't win a World Series ring, the only thing missing from a decorated resume featuring the record seven NL MVP awards, 13 All-Star selections and eight Gold Gloves in left field.

The Giants fell six outs short of winning it all in 2002 when they blew their lead in Game 6 and lost in the deciding seventh game to the Angels. While Bonds was at his best that postseason, with eight homers and 27 walks, it was his struggles in his first five trips to the playoffs with Pittsburgh and San Francisco that characterized his career before he became a record-setting home run hitter.

No matter the controversy, his home fans still adore him, chanting his name when he comes to bat and waving yellow rubber chickens whenever an opposing manager makes the most unpopular choice to intentionally walk him.

It is Bonds, after all, who is the biggest reason 3 million fans a year pack the seats at the Giants' sparkling waterfront ballpark, which opened in 2000.

Ray Durham hit a go-ahead RBI single to score Omar Vizquel in the 10th, Steve Finley added a sacrifice fly in the inning and Mike Matheny homered in the seventh as the Giants ended a four-game losing streak in the Bay Bridge Series.

Jason Schmidt pitched into the ninth before missing his chance to win a fourth straight decision. Armando Benitez (3-0) blew his second save but recovered for the win, while Kiko Calero (0-1) loaded the bases in the 10th on the way to the loss.

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