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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Barry Bond's 709th Home Run Ends 2006 Drought - SF Chronicle

Finally! It's about time and a good sign of things to come. The investigations will reveal nothing and the witch hunt will fail. Bonds will prevail.

Bonds' 709th Ends drought

Slugger's 1st of 2006, strong bullpen help silence Rockies
Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Denver -- The rite usually is reserved for a rookie who hits his first home run in the Show, not a 41-year-old man close to catching Babe Ruth. When Barry Bonds finally hit his first homer of 2006 Saturday night, the 709th of his career, his teammates gave him the silent treatment. When he returned to the dugout, they just sat on the bench, stone-faced.

"That took me back quite a few years," Bonds said. "It was fun."

It was more than fun, Mark Sweeney said, after Armando Benitez struck out Clint Barmes with two outs in the ninth inning to save the Giants' 6-4 victory over Colorado.

"It was beautiful," Sweeney said. "We all wanted him to do it, hit the home run and break the ice. We all know he has the ability. It's pretty funny to hear people say he doesn't have it anymore."

Bonds' opposite-field drive in the first inning came three batters after Omar Vizquel opened the game with his first of the season. When Bonds was asked if he will be happy to see the rusty tote board in San Francisco changed from 708 to 709, he said, "It just felt good not to be behind Omar. That's about it."

Bonds' troubles did not disappear with the baseball, which landed in a tunnel adjacent to the left-field foul pole at Coors Field. Outside the feel-good Giants' clubhouse and the Bay Area, the resumption of Bonds' chase for the all-time home-run record will be viewed by many as a minus, not a plus, and the federal grand jury investigating him for alleged perjury is not going to stop its work.

However, at least one Bonds story -- the Drought -- can be written in past tense.

He homered in his 14th game of 2006, the most games it ever took him to hit his first. Also, it was his first homer in 35 at-bats, dating to Sept. 27, his driest stretch since he went 44 at-bats from July 24 through July 8, 2001. Ironically, that was the year he hit 73 to break the single-season record.

Aaron Cook joined Bonds' "life list" of pitchers to surrender his home runs. He is No. 417. It was Bonds' 25th at Coors Field.

Bonds took Cook's first pitch for a ball, then skied the next one out. He walked a few steps as he watched it clear the fence and for the first time in 207 days broke into a home-run trot in a regular-season game. Asked what he was thinking as he rounded the bases, he said, " 'Just hurry up,' because my leg was hurting."

Asked if his physical condition makes it harder for him to hit, Bonds said, "It's tough, but the later innings get harder than the beginning. I've never really been a first-at-bat home run hitter. I've got to try to put everything I can in that first at-bat, that first opportunity. It just worked out that way."

And the game worked out for the Giants, who assured they will do no worse than split their 10-game trip when it concludes today.

Brad Hennessey earned the victory with seven solid innings. He allowed four runs, three on a fifth-inning homer by Matt Holliday, but he never let the Rockies catch up from a 5-1 deficit. Nor did Scott Munter, who pitched the eighth, and nor did Benitez, who blew a ridiculously tough save try in his season debut Friday, still looked rusty Saturday but made a great strikeout pitch, a sinker, to strand the tying runs for the save.

The Giants built their lead on the solo homers by Vizquel, Bonds and Ray Durham, plus two unearned runs in the fifth and an insurance run in the ninth that scored after Bonds opened the inning with a walk. The Giants have scored 24 of their 84 runs this season following Bonds walks.

In the eighth, Jose Mesa renewed an old feud with Vizquel by drilling him in the back. Vizquel said Mesa has hit him all three times they have met since Mesa publicly said he wanted to "kill" Vizquel because his former Indians teammate wrote in an autobiography that Mesa choked while trying to save the deciding game of the 1997 World Series against Florida.

Manager Felipe Alou ran to home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson after Vizquel was hit to remind him about Mesa's comments, which were rehashed in a Denver newspaper Friday. Vizquel calmly jogged to first but admitted he is getting tired of Mesa's plunkings.

"It's stupid because he can still remember and still holds me that grudge," Vizquel said.

The Giants could not retaliate in a one-run game after Nelson warned the benches. However, today is another day and another game, in which Bonds will rest. But as he sits, the talk of baseball will be his 709th home run.

"It's good for the (ESPN) show," Bonds said. "They finally get to show a highlight of a home run."

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