SIDE BY SIDE WITH AARON
Bonds' historic home run, dogged by controversy, is a big relief
Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Email This Article
College Hoops (M)
College Hoops (W)
(08-05) 04:00 PDT San Diego -- Throughout the pursuit, Barry Bonds' world had become suffocating. He chased Hank Aaron while allegations of steroid abuse chased him. To his left, to his right, above and below, the media and fans crowded him, watched him, questioned him, cheered him and taunted him.
When he caught Aaron on Saturday night, hitting his 755th home run in the second inning of the Giants' 3-2, 12-inning loss to the San Diego Padres, Bonds finally got his reward - a chance to run the bases in solitude, to breathe, to know that no man who ever wore a major-league uniform has hit more home runs than he has.
Thirty-three years, three months and 27 days after Aaron hit his 715th home run to surpass Babe Ruth, Bonds met Aaron with a 382-foot shot against San Diego right-hander Clay Hensley, a onetime Giants prospect who two years ago drew a 15-game suspension in the minors for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds' 755th homer went to left field, just like his first homer in 1986. It clanged off the facing of the low second deck at Petco Park, a stadium, legend holds, that was built with deep dimensions to be "Bonds-proof." A crowd of 42,497 reacted with more cheers than boos, flying in the face of yearslong fears that this feat would be greeted with embarrassing derision.
Four hours after he homered, and eight hours after he took 113 swings in an unusual, early batting-practice session inside an empty stadium, Bonds expressed his relief with getting it done.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my entire career," Bonds said. "It's a different feeling than any of the other ones. I really am lost for words at this moment."
Aaron has not embraced Bonds' pursuit of his record, but Bonds has embraced Aaron and did so again when they stood together at 755.
"We as baseball players, especially as African American ballplayers, have so much respect for Hank Aaron and all our other African American athletes as well," he said. "They have paved the road to what we are doing now. No one at any time, shape, form will ever allow me to say anything different about Hank Aaron (than) what a great person he is and what a great athlete he is."
It was fitting Bonds tied the record against the Padres. Bonds' 87 home runs against them are his most against any opponent. Hensley became the 445th pitcher to surrender one.
After homering, Bonds walked three times. When he left in the eighth for pinch-runner Rajai Davis, he received a standing ovation from a large segment of the crowd.
His next opportunity to pass Aaron is expected to be Monday, when the Giants open a seven-game homestand with the first of four games against the Washington Nationals. Even before Saturday's game, manager Bruce Bochy said Bonds probably will rest in today's series finale, and Bonds confirmed it, saying, "I am not going to be in the lineup tomorrow. I'm going to be celebrating with my family."
At 7:29 PDT, Bonds came to the plate on a warm evening, with plenty of sunlight still bathing the office buildings and hotels that compose the skyline beyond the 3-year-old stadium. As usual, flashbulbs popped incessantly as soon as he made his way to the batter's box, although their effect was muted in the dusk.
Bonds took the first three pitches, a strike and two balls, before slamming the 2-1, outside fastball to the opposite field. He had no doubt he made history. The same went for the pitcher.
"I knew it was gone when he hit it," said Hensley, who did not seem overly distraught with his infamous place in history. "I'm not going to put much stock in it. ... What I was more upset about was giving up the home run. I don't like giving up runs."
Bonds stood and watched the record-tying home run sail away. Left fielder Scott Hairston retreated as far as he could, stuck his back against the left-field wall and did not bother to look up and watch the baseball sail over the fence. A scrum for the ball ensued among the bleacher fans. It was retrieved by Adam Hughes, 33, of nearby La Jolla - a city whose Spanish name translates to "The Jewel."
Bonds dropped his bat, punched one hand with the other and clapped as he started to run. There were no histrionics, only a satisfying 360-foot trot.
The fans, already on their feet, offered a mixed reaction that symbolized the divisiveness Bonds has engendered during his chase for the record, although it was far more positive than many predicted for a road game.
The cheers, many from Giants fans in a hostile house, reflected their appreciation for Bonds' feat. The boos reflected the anger of many baseball fans who believe Bonds achieved this milestone only because he took performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds' son and batboy, Nikolai, charged out of the dugout on the third-base side of the field as the ball cleared the fence. When Bonds reached the plate he lifted Nikolai with one arm and continually slammed him on the back with the other, walking several steps along the way.
Commissioner Bud Selig was present, a reluctant spectator. As Bonds rounded the bases, ESPN cameras showed Selig standing in his box, looking indifferent, his hands appearing to be in his pants pockets. Selig later issued a statement congratulating Bonds and saying, "No matter what anybody thinks of the controversy surrounding this event, Mr. Bonds' achievement is noteworthy and remarkable."
Bonds hugged on-deck hitter Ryan Klesko then greeted the rest of his teammates, who emerged from the dugout. They stood on the field only a short time before Bonds walked to his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter Aisha, who were seated in a box behind the plate. Bonds kissed both through the protective netting of the foul-ball screen.
Bonds then hugged Sue Burns, the Giants' principal investor, tipped his helmet to the crowd, walked into the dugout, sat down and smiled, knowing that his next home run will leave him atop the all-time list.
No. 755 was rooted in his early batting-practice session. He asked batting coach Joe Lefebvre for the extra work, and Bonds said Lefebvre suggested they come out more than four hours before game time, away from the media glare of regular batting practice, and "go over some of the things my dad used to talk to me about. Joe wanted us to be by ourselves and get away from all of the attention.
"Joe wanted me to get out there and work on the things I've done for so long in my career, for 22 years, and get out there and spend time doing it like I've always done it, then take yourself away, go relax, visualize the things we did and follow through with it into the game. And it worked."
Manager Bruce Bochy threw to Bonds for 30 minutes, and Lefebvre the final 10, alternating in the cage with rookies Fred Lewis and Davis. Bochy is not one to take credit for things like this, although he did say, "I had some good stuff today."
When Bonds caught Ruth at 714 last year, he said that was far more important to him than passing Ruth. Most people will consider Bonds' next homer, No. 756, a more important event. But Bonds seemed to differ Saturday, saying, "The hardest part is over now."
In fact, Bonds already sounds resigned to losing the record to Alex Rodriguez, who hit his 500th home run earlier Saturday. Reiterating how difficult this chase has been, Bonds said, "I had rashes on my head. I felt like I was getting sick at times. It's tough to go up there and be in this situation as it is. Alex, I'm rooting for you. I'll be there for you. I'll help you through it all. I'm praying for you."
-- The Giants-Padres game was not over by press time. Go to sfgate.com for coverage.