With 69th homer, Bonds 1 short of McGwire mark

Ex-Oriole McElroy serves it up in 6th

No. 563 ties Jackson

Baseball

September 30, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - What once seemed inconceivable now appears all but inevitable.

Barry Bonds smashed his 69th home run yesterday to propel the San Francisco Giants to a 3-1 victory over the San Diego Padres at Pacific Bell Park and move to the threshold of Mark McGwire's single-season home run record.

How unlikely this would have seemed three years ago, when McGwire shattered Roger Maris' 37-year-old record of 61 homers by so much that the new mark looked almost unbreakable.

Now, Bonds is one homer away from becoming the second player to reach 70 and two big swings from knocking Big Mac's big 1998 performance out of the record book altogether.

No. 69 was a no-doubt line drive off former Orioles left-hander Chuck McElroy in the sixth inning that easily cleared the right-field concourse and splashed down in McCovey Cove, sending a number of souvenir hunters into the drink to retrieve the valuable ball. Bonds circled the bases to a standing ovation and returned from the dugout to acknowledge the sellout crowd of 41,383.

The home run was the 563rd of his career, tying him with distant cousin Reggie Jackson for seventh place on the all-time home run list. He also tied Jackson for second place among left-handed hitters, behind only the legendary Babe Ruth (714).

"Things are just going my way right now," said Bonds, who has five home runs in his past six games.

They must be. Bonds' head-to-head career record against McElroy was so bad that he didn't hold out much hope of getting on base - much less hitting a home run - when Padres manager Bruce Bochy summoned the veteran left-hander to the mound to start the sixth inning.

In 32 previous at-bats against McElroy, Bonds had managed two hits, so what was he thinking when he saw McElroy on the mound?

"That my day was over, to be honest with you," Bonds said. "He's always given me problems. He has always pitched me well. Even when he made a mistake against me, I haven't been able to take advantage of it."

This time was different. McElroy tried to work Bonds outside with a 2-1 fastball, but the pitch tailed over the plate and quickly became part of the beautiful view beyond the brick wall in right field.

"It wasn't where I wanted it," McElroy said. "It was a pitch I wanted away and it came right back. When I heard it, I knew it was gone. I just walked over and asked the umpire for a new ball."

Bonds said he has joked with McElroy over the years about the surprisingly lopsided competition between them, but "he's always had the better side of the joke, and still does."

McElroy isn't sure that's true.

"I've got the worst part right now," McElroy said, "because I've got to look at it on TV all night."

The home run broke a 1-1 tie and helped the Giants keep pace with the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks in the tight National League West race. They stand two games behind the D'Backs and three behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card hunt with seven regular-season games to play.

"It's nice to see Barry one step closer, and it's nice to keep winning," said Giants manager Dusty Baker. "He's done that all along - most of his home runs have put us ahead. We're greedy. We want both. We want him to get the record and we want to win games and gain ground on the Diamondbacks. It's getting closer to the finish line each day."

Bonds has experienced a range of emotions during the first two games of the weekend series against the Padres. He struggled with his composure Friday after close friend Franklin Bradley died during surgery on Thursday, but still managed to hit No. 68 in the series opener and dedicate it to his buddy.

He seemed more at peace with himself yesterday, managing a big smile as he reached the dugout after No. 69.

"Yesterday, I did something for a friend, and I let it go after that," Bonds said. "Like I said yesterday, I was OK with it after that. Today, you know, you go back to work and try to win."

Pac Bell Park will be packed again today, the fans undoubtedly hoping that he can make history in a hurry with a two-homer performance. Bonds would love to get it over with, but he said he doesn't feel extra pressure to make history in his home ballpark."[But] you always want to do things at home," he said. "You know, our fans deserve that and you get to enjoy it a little bit more at home."

The Giants travel to Houston for three games at homer-friendly Enron Field after today's series finale, but finish the season with three games against the Los Angeles Dodgers at home next weekend.

"It would make a lot of difference to everybody ... the fans, the team," Baker said. "The fans deserve to see it here, but sometimes things don't go the way you want."

All-time HR leaders

(x-active)

No. Player Homers

1. Hank Aaron 755

2. Babe Ruth 714

3. Willie Mays 660

4. Frank Robinson 586

5. x-Mark McGwire 582

6. Harmon Killebrew 573

7. Reggie Jackson 563

7. x-Barry Bonds 563

9. Mike Schmidt 548

10. Mickey Mantle 536

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