Bonds wallops Nos. 71, 72

Giants star becomes the king of home runs

October 06, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds insisted for months that Mark McGwire's single-season home run record was not in danger, but last night he made it his own.

Bonds launched his 71st and 72nd homers of the season off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park at Pacific Bell Park to eclipse a mark that seemed all but unbreakable when Big Mac established it in 1998.

McGwire didn't just break Roger Maris's 37-year-old record of 61 homers three years ago. He demolished it, leaving room to wonder if anyone but the bigger-than-life McGwire himself could match it.

No one is wondering anymore. Bonds broke one of baseball's most hallowed records with an incredible display of power and patience. He has hit more home runs than anyone while also shattering Babe Ruth's 78-year-old record for walks in a season.

"Tonight, Barry Bonds made history by establishing a new Major League Baseball record for home runs in a single season," said baseball Commissioner Bud Selig in a prepared statement released during the game.

"As one of only two players in Major League Baseball history to reach the 70-home run plateau, Barry has demonstrated on a national stage why he is one of the greatest players of our generation."

There was barely time for the suspense to build for the thousands of Giants fans who had to watch from afar when Bonds tied McGwire's record with a mammoth 454-foot blow off Houston Astros rookie Wilfredo Rodriguez on Thursday night in Houston. He passed McGwire in his next at-bat with another majestic drive - a shot to right-center field that traveled 442 feet and landed just a few feet from the sign that keeps count of Bonds' career home runs.

That number now stands at 566, seventh on baseball's all-time list.

Bonds' torrid pace the past few weeks had made the record seem inevitable, but there was some question whether he would get anything to hit in the final two series of the regular season. He moved within one home run of tying the record with homers last Friday and Saturday against the San Diego Padres at Pacific Bell Park, but saw just one hittable pitch in four plate appearances during the final game of that series.

The Astros, locked in a tight division race with the surging St. Louis Cardinals, walked him eight times in his first 13 plate appearances during the series at Enron Field, finally challenging him after the last game of the series had gotten out of hand.

The scene at Pac Bell was similar. Bonds circled the bases quickly and was greeted at home plate by his 11-year-old son, Nikolai, and all of his teammates. The tenor of the celebration was slightly muted, however, because the Giants had fallen behind the Dodgers by five runs in the top of the first inning and were in danger of being eliminated from playoff consideration.

Bonds took a couple of curtain calls and went into a camera well behind home plate to greet his wife and other family members. He also accepted congratulations by phone from his father, former major league outfielder Bobby Bonds, while the Dodgers waited patiently on the field for the game to continue.

So much for the theory that they would not give him a chance to hit one of baseball's most important home runs against them. The Dodgers long ago had met their quota for historic homers at the hands of their most bitter rival, when Bobby Thomson hit the famous "Shot Heard Round the World" against them 50 years ago Wednesday.

Dodgers Manager Jim Tracy said earlier in the week that everything would depend on the game situation, and he was true to his word. There was no reason for Park not to challenge Bonds with a five-run lead and no runners on in the first inning, but the 1-0 pitch was almost too good to be true.

Park would serve up another one in the third, No. 72, a towering fly ball that barely cleared the center-field fence. The ball bounced back onto the field and was retrieved by Dodgers center fielder Marquis Grissom.

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