SAN DIEGO -- Hank Aaron’s reign as baseball’s undisputed home run king came to an end Saturday, 29 minutes after 7 on a cool summer evening when Barry Bonds lined a high, outside fastball through a dark cloud of controversy and into the record books, matching the Hall of Famer with 755 career homers.
Bonds tied one of sports’ most hallowed records on his first short, compact swing of the night, lining Clay Hensley’s fourth pitch of the second inning high over the left-center-field wall. At the crack of the bat, San Diego outfielder Scott Hairston turned his back to the plate and raced toward the fence but he quickly ran out of room, with the ball bouncing off the facing of the second deck and dropping into the navy blue seats beneath Petco Park’s massive scoreboard, an estimated 382 feet from home plate.
When the ball disappeared, Bonds, who had paused a dozen or so feet up the first base line, clapped his hands, put his head down and rounded the bases as his teammates, led by Bonds’ 17-year-old batboy son Nikolai, poured out of the dugout. Bonds never smiled as he ran, but after stepping on the plate he wrapped Nikolai in a hug, lifted him off the ground and pounded him twice on the back, breaking into a wide smile as most in the sellout crowd of 42,497, which had booed Bonds when he came to the plate moments earlier, stood and applauded.
But with Bonds’ chase of Aaron clouded by suspicions of steroid use, there were also scattered boos and some fans held placards marked with asterisks. Commissioner Bud Selig, watching the game from owner John Moores’ private suite behind home plate, was more subdued, standing and putting his hands in his pockets.
After making his way through a receiving line of happy teammates, Bonds walked slowly to the first row of box seats beside the Giants dugout and kissed wife Liz and 8-year-old daughter Aisha through the protective screen.
Ryan Klesko, the Giants’ next hitter, lingered near his dugout and plate umpire Derryl Cousins also stood on the grass, far from home, giving Bonds a chance to take a curtain call. But after walking to the far end of the bench to hug Sue Burns, wife of late Giants ownership partner Harmon Burns, Bonds disappeared and the game resumed.
Selig issued a statement during the game that read: “Congratulations to Barry Bonds as he ties Major League Baseball’s home run record. No matter what anybody thinks of the controversy surrounding this event, Mr. Bonds’ achievement is noteworthy and remarkable. As I said previously, out of respect for the tradition of the game, the magnitude of the record and the fact that all citizens in this country are innocent until proven guilty, either I or a representative of my office will attend the next few games and make every attempt to observe the breaking of the all-time home run record.”
Bonds, who drew loud boos and whistles in three subsequent trips to the plate, took just two more swings the rest of the night, walking on five pitches in his next two trips against Hensley and scoring the Giants’ second run in the fourth, then walking on a full-count pitch from reliever Heath Bell in the eighth.
After that, he was replaced by pinch-runner Rajai Davis, doffing his helmet and raising both arms above his head in celebration as he walked back to the bench. The Padres won the game, 3-2, in the 12th inning.
Manager Bruce Bochy said Bonds probably will sit out the afternoon game in San Diego today before trying to pass Aaron during a seven-game homestand beginning Monday against the Washington Nationals.
Ironically, Hensley, who gave up the home run, has himself been tainted by steroid use, having served a suspension two years ago after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs while playing in the Padres’ minor league system. And though the 27-year-old right-hander, originally drafted by the Giants, had faced Bonds 16 times before Saturday without yielding a home run, he now goes into the record books as Bonds’ 445th victim -- as well as the man who allowed the Giant to catch Aaron.
The record-tying home run ball was retrieved by Adam Hughes of La Jolla, who was sitting in the front row of the lower left-field stands with a cousin.
The home run came eight days and 28 plate appearances since Bonds’ 754th and it was obvious the 43-year-old slugger was growing frustrated.
“The last few days [for] sure,” Giants hitting coach Joe Lefebvre said. “Wouldn’t you be frustrated if you’re a big hitter like that and you’re making outs the way [he’s] making them? He knows he’s a great hitter and it’s just a matter of getting back to who he is. He’s done the amazing things in his career because he’s been a good hitter first.”
In an effort to help him get his groove back, Lefebvre and Bochy were on the Petco Park field with Bonds more than five hours before Saturday’s game for an extended round of batting practice with Bonds hitting 113 pitches, driving a ball into the seats, on average, every eight swings.
“He was pleased with the session, felt good about it,” Bochy said. "[He] felt that he had found something. Sometimes, as great a hitter as he is, you do come out, get some early swings to get straightened out.
“That’s all he did. Nothing more than that.”
And clearly it worked, just as it did the last time Bonds took extra batting practice. Eight days earlier he put in some overtime in the cages beneath the grandstands at AT&T; Park, then hit a first-inning solo homer off Marlins rookie Rick VandenHurk.
Now, with one more homer, he’ll stand alone, ahead of Aaron, as the most prolific home run hitter in history.
“It’s quite a record,” Bochy said. “The greatest record of any of them.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Major league baseball’s home run leaders (* -- active):
*--* No. Player HR 1. Hank Aaron 755 Barry Bonds* 755 3. Babe Ruth 714 4. Willie Mays 660 5. Sammy Sosa* 604 6. Ken Griffey Jr.* 589 7. Frank Robinson 586 8. Mark McGwire 583 9. Harmon Killebrew 573 10. Rafael Palmeiro 569 11. Reggie Jackson 563 12. Mike Schmidt 548 13. Mickey Mantle 536 14. Jimmie Foxx 534 15. Willie McCovey 521 Ted Williams 521 17. Ernie Banks 512 Eddie Mathews 512 19. Mel Ott 511 20. Frank Thomas* 505 21. Eddie Murray 504 22. Alex Rodriguez* 500 23. Lou Gehrig 493 Fred McGriff 493 25. Jim Thome* 490 26. Manny Ramirez* 488 27. Gary Sheffield* 478 28. Stan Musial 475 Willie Stargell 475 30. Dave Winfield 465 *--*
Some of Bonds’ milestone homers with number, date, pitcher, Bonds’ team and opponent:
1 -- June 4, 1986, off Craig McMurtry, Pittsburgh at Atlanta
500 -- April 17, 2001, off Terry Adams, San Francisco vs. Dodgers
600 -- Aug. 9, 2002, off Kip Wells,
San Francisco vs. Pittsburgh
700 -- Sept. 17, 2004, off
Jake Peavy, San Francisco vs. San Diego
715 -- May 28, 2006, off Byung-Hyun Kim, San Francisco vs. Colorado, passed Babe Ruth for second place on career list.
755 -- Aug. 4, 2007, off Clay Hensley, San Francisco at San Diego
Source: Associated Press