SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds, the greatest home run hitter of his generation, became the second-greatest home run hitter of all time yesterday afternoon when he hit the 715th home run of his long and often controversial career.
Bonds, who remains at the epicenter of a controversy about whether he used steroids, put himself on a different plateau in the hierarchy of sluggers when he swung on a full-count pitch from Byung Hyun Kim of the Colorado Rockies, and sent the ball soaring over the fence just right of straightaway center field, an estimated 445 feet from home plate.
Bonds' two-run home run came in the fourth inning of a 6-3 loss to the Rockies, broke a tie with Babe Ruth and moved Bonds, 41, into second place on baseball's career home run list, 40 behind Hank Aaron's record total of 755.
"It can't get any better than this," Bonds said later, wearing a black T-shirt with 715 in orange numbers on the front. Bonds said his teammates toasted him with champagne in the clubhouse.
"I've made everyone wait longer than I have in the past, but there's no greater place for it to happen than San Francisco."
Bonds said it's possible to catch Aaron, given enough time, and also noted passing Ruth.
"It's a great honor, it's an unbelievable honor, but Hank Aaron is the home run king. I have a lot of respect for Babe Ruth and what he did for baseball, but Hank Aaron is the home run king."
The span between Bonds' first home run and his 715th covered 19 years, 358 days.
Bonds' son, Nikolai, the Giants bat boy, jumped on home plate as he waited for his father. They hugged, then the celebration began.
A sellout crowd of 42,935 at AT&T Park coaxed Bonds to come out of the dugout twice to acknowledge their cheers, applause and standing ovations. He saluted the fans with his batting helmet.
Two banners, one picturing Bonds and the other Aaron, were unfurled from the light towers in center field. Another small one, which showed the number 715 trailing a baseball framed by two towers of the Golden Gate bridge, was draped over the wall in left field, next to another permanent banner that featured likenesses of Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and Willie Mays.
Orange and black streamers were shot into the sky and the scoreboard displayed only three numerals: "715." Home runs may be his signature, but they have been hard to come by for Bonds lately. Bonds had 24 plate appearances between his 714th and 715th home runs. He was stuck on 714 for eight days, since May 20, when he homered off left-hander Brad Halsey of the Athletics at Oakland. His 713th was May 7 at Philadelphia.
The home run race has been far from a carefree task for Bonds, whose achievements are under scrutiny since his appearance in 2003 before a federal grand jury in which he denied using steroids. Federal prosecutors have indicated they are looking into the possibility that Bonds committed perjury during his testimony.
Bonds' blast off Kim was his first home run in the past seven games and only his second in his past 18.
"Steroids, no steroids, who knows who's taking them," Kim said. "They don't hit the home runs. He's a good hitter."
As it turns out, 715 had a lot going for it, right at the intersection of baseball history and numerology. Ruth smacked his 126th home run, on June 14, 1921, to tie Sam Thompson for the most home runs in the major leagues. So Bonds' 715th homer ended a stretch of 84 years and 348 days that Ruth had been either first or second on the all-time home run list.
Ruth had been alone in second place since Aaron hit his 715th home run, April 4, 1974.
Kim is the 421st pitcher to give up a home run to Bonds.
The baseball that Bonds hit for his 715th was retrieved by Andrew Morbitzer, 38, of San Francisco, a marketing director for a software company. He was standing in line at a concession stand under the bleachers and looked up and saw the baseball falling toward him. He caught it with one hand.
Morbitzer, a Giants fan, said it was his first game this year. He has not decided what to do with the baseball.
"I get to be a small part of a big day," Morbitzer said.
Thomas Bonk writes for the Los Angeles Times.