Bonds hits 70th home run, ties McGwire’s record
HOUSTON (AP) – Barry Bonds took all the frustration bottled up inside him and sent No. 70 into the upper deck in right field.
With one big swing Thursday night, Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record – a feat even Big Mac thought might last a lifetime when he did it a mere three years ago.
”It was electrifying,” Bonds said.
After watching Houston pitchers work around him throughout the three-game series, Bonds finally got a chance to hit, leading off the ninth inning. He did not miss, hitting a 454-foot shot off rookie Wilfredo Rodriguez.
”I was happy I made contact. It’s hard to just take pitches all the time,” he said. ”You really don’t have an opportunity to swing.”
Bonds immediately raised both arms in the air and began a slow trot around the bases. The record crowd of 43,734, which had booed when Astros pitchers walked him, rewarded him with a standing ovation.
The Giants won 10-2, completing a sweep that kept them two games behind Arizona in the NL West race with only a weekend series left at home against Los Angeles.
Bonds’ teammates poured out to greet him at home plate along with young Nikolai Bonds, whose 37-year-old father hugged him tight at the plate. Bonds then pointed to his wife and daughters behind the third-base dugout as he returned to the bench.
”Everybody was telling me just be patient, be patient. I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad my family was here. My wife gets to sleep now,” Bonds said.
”I got frustrated when it was 8-1 and they intentionally walked me because it was not a really crucial situation. That’s when I got really frustrated,” he said.
As for the man whose record he tied, Bonds said: ”I have a lot of respect for Mark McGwire. For me, it is an honor to share this with him. He’s a great home run hitter. He’s always established power and strength. He put the record where it is.”
With fans still cheering at Enron Field, Bonds came out for two curtain calls. He took his position in left field to start the bottom of the ninth, was mobbed by teammates who were in the Giants’ bullpen, then was replaced and walked off, waving his cap to fans.
Bonds’ 70th homer marked the second big achievement of the day in the majors. Earlier, Rickey Henderson of San Diego scored his 2,246th career run and broke Ty Cobb’s record.
Bonds hit his 564th career home run, moving him past Reggie Jackson – a distant relative – for seventh place on the all-time list.
Among those cheering for Bonds was his godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who ranks third on the career list with 660 homers. Mays hit his 500th homer in Houston, at the Astrodome in 1965.
Bonds’ father, former major leaguer Bobby, was with Mays in the Giants clubhouse and watched the historic homer on TV.
Bonds connected on a 1-1 pitch from Rodriguez, a 22-year-old lefty making only his second major league appearance. Bonds took a huge cut and missed the first pitch, watched a ball up and in, then launched a 93-mph fastball into the stands.
”I feel OK. I’m happy for him. He deserves what he got,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter. ”That was my best pitch.”
The ball was caught by Charles Murphy, 38, of Houston, using his son’s glove. He bought his tickets earlier in the day.
”I’m sure there are plenty of options,” he said of the prize souvenir.
Last year, Bonds hit a 458-foot shot that ranks as the longest in the two-year history of Enron.
Bonds, a 10-time All-Star who could be headed to his record fourth MVP award, had never hit more than 49 home runs in a season before this year.
But choking up on his 34-inch, maplewood bat, he quickly put himself in position to challenge McGwire’s record, set in 1998.
McGwire’s mark captured the nation’s attention, especially because he dueled Sammy Sosa to beat the longtime standard of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
When McGwire finished with 70 home runs, it looked like it might become baseball’s new magic number.
”I think it will stand for a while. I know how grueling it is to do what I’ve done this year,” he said. ”Will it be broken someday? It could be. Will I be alive? Possibly.
”But if I’m not playing,” he said, ”I’ll definitely be there.”
Bonds, never the most likable player with fans or opponents, did not stir quite the same interest as Big Mac. Not only was Bonds’ chase not the biggest story in the country – not after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 – but it even fell behind Michael Jordan’s return on the sports pages.
The media contingent watching Bonds the last few days was only half the size of Big Mac’s following.
Many people said McGwire’s record pursuit was more difficult than Bonds’ chase.
”I agree with that to a point,” Bonds said. ”Because the Maris home run record had so much time in between it. People didn’t believe it was going to happen.”
”When something like that happens, the whole world goes, ‘Boom.’ He probably went through more than I did. Hitting 70 is harder than 61, but what he went through was harder than what I did,” he said.
Bonds came into cozy Enron on Tuesday night eager to have Houston pitchers challenge him. Instead, they all took turns working around him.
Until he homered, he had singled twice in five at-bats and gotten eight walks in the three-game series. Even so, Astros manager Larry Dierker insisted he had not told his pitchers to work around Bonds.
Bonds had gone 19 plate appearances, including 10 walks and a pair of hit by pitches, without homering since hitting No. 69 on Saturday.
It was nowhere close to his longest homerless drought, having gone 63 plate appearances and 14 games without one before the All-Star break. But it came at a most inopportune time, especially with history so close – it’s a mere 373-foot shot to the right-center field fence at Enron.
Bonds goes home to face the Giants’ longtime rival, the Dodgers.
In April, Los Angeles was furious after the Giants stopped the game at Pacific Bell Park following Bonds’ 500th home run.
”You know us and the Dodgers,” Giants manager Dusty Baker said before Thursday night’s game. ”You know what that’s about.”
Chan Ho Park is scheduled to start Friday night for the Dodgers. Bonds is 10-for-37 (.270) with five home runs against him.
Jeff Kent and Marvin Benard homered as San Francisco swept the set and sent the collapsing Astros to their sixth straight loss and eighth in nine games.
The Astros, who could have clinched a playoff spot with a win, fell out of first place for the first time since Aug. 16. They dropped one game behind St. Louis, which beat Milwaukee 10-3.
Notes: Russ Ortiz (13-7) was the winner, Dave Mlicki (7-3) the loser. … Houston, which led the Cardinals by 5d games on Sept. 24, closes the regular season with three games at St. Louis.
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