Over, out! Bonds ties HR record

454-foot shot in 9th brings Giants slugger level with McGwire

Astros' Rodriguez is victim

Giants cap sweep

Bonds goes for 71st in 3 against Dodgers

Baseball

October 05, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - Barry Bonds waited.

He waited nearly four games for someone to throw him a pitch that was worthy of his prodigious swing. He waited and walked and waited some more and, finally, he got one last night in his final at-bat of a three-game series at Enron Field.

Houston Astros left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez challenged Bonds with a 93-mph fastball, and Bonds responded with a mammoth home run to right center field in the ninth inning of a 10-2 victory.

Step aside, Mark McGwire. Bonds now owns a share of your single-season home run record with 70 in 159 games. He has three games to try to make the record his own this weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco.

The sellout crowd of 43,734 seemed to know what was coming. The fans stood as he strolled to the plate in the ninth and began chanting, "Barry! Barry!" as if they were in San Francisco instead of Houston.

It was the first time that the Astros' faithful had paid him that honor, though the fans had booed their own team heavily on several of the occasions that Bonds did not get a pitch to hit during the series.

He finally got that fat fastball up in the strike zone and launched a typical Barry Bonds home run that landed 454 feet from home plate. He pumped his fist in the air as he rounded first base and was mobbed by his teammates when he arrived at home plate.

"I just felt grateful to share something with someone [McGwire] I have a lot of respect for," Bonds said afterward. "I feel really proud to be at the same level with Mark."

What a moment, especially in the aftermath of a season in which his supposedly strained relationship with his teammates was laid bare in the national media. Even the sometimes taciturn Jeff Kent, considered Bonds' rival in the Giants' clubhouse, celebrated openly at his side.

Bonds must have wondered if No. 70 would ever come. He hit his 68th and 69th home runs in the first two games of a weekend series against the San Diego Padres, but that team decided in the final game of the series that it was better to walk him than to walk with him into baseball history.

The Astros obviously were watching, because they spent most of a crucial three-game series avoiding him ... very much to their peril. Every time he walked, it seemed, Kent made Houston pay. And, as it turned out, the Giants swept the critical series largely because the Astros chose not to let Bonds hurt them.

"It's tough being that patient," Bonds said. "I have my father [former major leaguer Bobby Bonds] and my godfather [Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays] in my ear, telling me, `Don't come out of your game period. Stay patient. Stay patient. If they're not going to do one thing for you, do something else. The main thing is keep winning. Keep winning and keep rolling and if Jeff Kent and the rest of them keep doing their jobs, eventually they're going to have to come at you.' "

Finally, when the game was out of hand and the series a lost cause for the Astros, Rodriguez was let loose to tempt fate. His 1-1 pitch landed in the hands of Houston fan Charles Murphy, who undoubtedly is aware that McGwire's 70th home run ball sold for more than $3 million.

"God bless America," Murphy said, and who can blame him.

Bonds took a big cut at the first fastball from Rodriguez. The next pitch was out of the strike zone. Then history.

"I was just happy to make contact," Bonds said. "It's hard to take pitches all the time. It's hard to keep your swing. When I got it, I was just happy we won, that it came in a victory so that everybody on our team could enjoy it."

To that point, the Astros were preoccupied with Bonds and his attempt to break the record, putting their own postseason possibilities in danger.

They could have clinched at least a wild-card berth with just one victory, but instead will head into a crucial final series against St. Louis with six straight losses and a bad case of second-guess-ability.

The Giants completed a crucial sweep, reviving their own wild-card hopes at the same time that their chances of winning the National League West title are fading with each victory by Arizona.

It's difficult to say whether the Giants are better off than they were when they arrived in Houston earlier this week, but their dominating performance certainly beat the alternative. If they had lost any of the three games, they would have been all but eliminated from playoff contention.

Here's where they stand now. The Giants are two games back in both the division race and the wild-card derby with three games left.

They again face a must-win-every-game situation this weekend against the Dodgers, but they can put themselves into the postseason with some help from either the Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers, who can play spoilers to the D'backs in Milwaukee.

The situation for the Astros: They need to win two of three games against the surging Cardinals to finish in a tie for the NL Central title. Houston needs to win at least one game in the series to assure itself of at least a tie with the Giants for the wild-card berth.

70 -- Most homer, single season

1. Barry Bonds, 2001 ............... 70

Mark McGwire, 1998 ............ 70

2. Sammy Sosa, 1998 ............... 66

4. Mark McGwire, 1999 ............ 65

5. Sammy Sosa, 1999 ................ 63

6. Roger Maris, 1961 ................ 61

Sammy Sosa, 2001 ................ 61

8. Babe Ruth, 1927 ................... 60

9. Babe Ruth, 1921.................... 59

10. Mark McGwire, 1997 .......... 58

Jimmie Foxx, 1932 .............. 58

Hank Greenberg, 1938 ....... 58

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