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BONDS CATCHES RUTH

714. . .

Bonds reaches one of baseball's magic numbers with second-inning homer against A's Halsey

May 21, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Seven-fourteen came with a home-plate hug for his son, blown kisses for his wife and daughter, and a curtain-call ovation in a rival ballpark from adversarial fans.

Barry Bonds, a controversial figure whose alleged steroid use has raised debate over the legitimacy of the latter part of his career, homered into the right-field seats Saturday afternoon at McAfee Coliseum and tied Babe Ruth for second place all-time.

His 714th career home run placed him behind only Hank Aaron, who hit 755 home runs from 1954 to '76. Ruth, the New York Yankees icon, held the record from 1921 until Aaron passed him on April 8, 1974.

In a postgame news conference, in which he sat beside his young daughter and had his son standing nearby, Bonds called reaching Ruth "a lot of relief. Well, until something else comes up."

In Bonds' 41st plate appearance since No. 713, the Bambino decided he had squirmed long enough.

On the third pitch of the second inning from Oakland A's left-hander Brad Halsey, at 1:32 p.m. PDT, Bonds turned on a fastball and sent a baseball marked B-71 -- for the purpose of authenticity -- soaring toward right field. The pro-A's crowd roared in delight as Bonds dropped his bat and pointed to family members seated behind the first base dugout.

"It's just overwhelming," he said. "It really is overwhelming."

He added that the home run that matched Ruth would be more meaningful than the next.

"Once you tie," he said, "everything after is just passing. Trying to get there is harder."

Bonds, 41, playing on an arthritic right knee and with bone spurs in his left elbow, has hit six home runs this season. The latest came as the San Francisco Giants' designated hitter, the ninth of his career as a DH, and while batting cleanup. The ball was caught in the right-field seats by Tyler Snyder, 19, of nearby Pleasanton.

Bonds arrived at the plate and kissed his 16-year-old son, Nikolai, a team batboy who was holding his father's bat, on the cheek. He would not allow a question to be addressed to Nikolai, saying, "He's not onstage."

Seven weeks into his 21st big-league season, Bonds had matched Ruth, and his relief was evident. While he had once been dismissive of Ruth and those who admire him, in recent months he'd lauded Ruth and his accomplishments.

Nearly three years ago, Bonds had said, "Seven-fifty-five isn't a number that's always caught my eye. The only number I'm concerned with is Babe Ruth's. As a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out. That's it. And in the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his [single-season] slugging percentage, I got him on on-base, I got him on walks and then I'll take his [lifetime] home run record and that's it. Don't talk about him no more."

He'd since softened that view, praising Ruth for "what he brought to the game of baseball.... He changed the game of baseball. We've all had the opportunity to add our two cents and all."

Reminded of his previous opinion, Bonds asked to hear taped proof of the comment. When it was read back to him instead, he said, "I don't recall that."

Aaron is 41 home runs away.

"I don't have to worry about that right now," he said. "It's far away. So I can have fun again."

Bonds, who will be 42 in July, hit his first home run on June 4, 1986, as a wiry rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a year after being drafted out of Arizona State. He played seven seasons in Pittsburgh, where he established himself as a gifted five-tool player, won two of his seven most valuable player awards and began a run of 13 All-Star games and eight Gold Glove awards.

He did not hit more than 34 home runs in a season, however, until 1993, his first in San Francisco, when he hit 46, drove in 123 runs, batted .336 and again was the league MVP.

And so began the affair between Bonds -- the son of former Giants favorite Bobby Bonds, raised in the Candlestick Park clubhouse and schooled in nearby San Mateo -- and San Francisco.

He hit at least 40 home runs four times in his first eight seasons in San Francisco, and in 2001 he hit 73, breaking the single-season record of 70 set by Mark McGwire three years before. Having attached perhaps 40 pounds of muscle to his previously slender build, Bonds followed that with seasons of 46, 45 and 45 home runs, for four consecutive MVP seasons.

In that time, Bonds set the standard for combining power and speed, becoming the first player with 500 or more home runs and 500 or more stolen bases. He entered the 2006 season ranked third all-time in home runs and 33rd in steals.

It was in that period, however, when Bonds was first linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

As baseball took its first steps toward adopting its current anti-steroids program, beginning with survey testing after the 2002 season, federal and local authorities were gathering evidence against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Run by Victor Conte, BALCO was suspected of supplying conventional and designer steroids to dozens of top athletes.

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