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Bonds knocks out No. 754

After first-inning blast, he walks four times as the Giants owner admits the record chase is distracting.

July 28, 2007|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A breeze was blowing out in AT&T Park. A 22-year-old right-hander with a 6.53 earned-run average, a rookie from the Netherlands who last year was pitching at Class-A Jupiter, Fla., was on the mound.

Conditions were ripe for Barry Bonds on Friday night, and the San Francisco slugger took advantage, blasting home run No. 754 to center field in the first inning to move to within one of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record and set the tone for a 12-10 victory over Florida in which the Giants slugged four homers.

Marlins pitcher Rick Vanden Hurk, who was 1 year old when Bonds hit his first big league homer in 1986, became Bonds' 444th home run victim when he floated a 2-and-1 changeup toward the plate in the first.

Bonds swatted it into the bleachers an estimated 420 feet away, jogging toward first and pumping his left fist when the ball cleared the wall, ending a weeklong home run drought. A sellout crowd of 42,831 gave Bonds a standing ovation and greeted him with chants of "Barry! Barry!"

"That felt good, real good," said Bonds, who hadn't homered in a Giants victory since June 11. "And getting a win made it feel even better. It was like a good ballgame out there. Whoever got within 10 yards [of the end zone] punched the ball in. I've never seen that many home runs here."

The shot gave Bonds 20 homers for the 19th time -- the only player with more 20-homer seasons is Aaron, with 20. When Bonds took left field for the second inning, the stadium message board played a video of Michael Jordan congratulating Bonds, who was greeted by a similar video from Joe Montana on Monday night.

The homer also gives Bonds a shot at breaking the record in the next two games at home, where Bonds, dogged for years by steroids allegations, would bask in the adulation of his hometown fans.

On the road? Put it this way: Bonds was roundly booed at Angel Stadium when his homer was shown on the video board Friday night. You can only imagine how he will be greeted in Dodger Stadium Tuesday night.

Giants fans gave the Marlins the same treatment when, after his home run, Bonds was walked -- unintentionally -- in his next four at-bats.

Did Vanden Hurk approach Bonds differently after the home run?

"The only thing different was he was trying to throw his arm out of its socket," Bonds said. "His velocity went from one extreme to the other. He turned up the dial every time I came up. But it's not how hard you throw it, it's where you throw it."

Before the game, Giants owner Peter Magowan admitted the home run chase has become a distraction for the struggling Giants, who are in last place in the National League West, 12 games behind the Dodgers.

"We all thought we could handle this because we've been through a lot of pressure situations over the last four or five years," Magowan said. "We've been able to handle it. But I do think that, in this case, it's affected us. The sooner it gets over, the better.... The whole thing has been frustrating for everybody.

"If anyone can handle pressure, Barry can. But this is an extraordinary amount of pressure, and I think if you go back to [Roger] Maris or [Mark] McGwire or anybody who has broken a record -- Barry the year he hit 73 -- it's hard to hit a home run under any circumstances. So when everyone's coming to the ballpark waiting to see you hit one, that makes it all the harder, I think."

Magowan was perturbed by a recent comment by Giants pitcher Matt Morris, who said, "I don't know what the goal is here anymore. To win games? Or is it? I don't even want to say it." Morris also used the word "dismal" to describe the clubhouse atmosphere surrounding Bonds' pursuit of the record.

"I think the only thing that bothered me about that comment would be if Matt Morris thought the organization was not as interested in winning as he is," Magowan said. "That would not be true. That's bull

Some players have expressed frustration, on and off the record, that the large media contingent on hand to cover the home run chase cares only about Bonds and not about the Giants, and that Bonds' singular pursuit of the record is overshadowing the club and the importance of winning.

"It doesn't bother me that the players would feel that way; it's a natural way to feel," Magowan said. "I think they don't mean that in a negative way toward Barry Bonds. I think they want to see him set this record. They know they are a part of history, and they want to be there to congratulate him. They just know the sooner it's done, we'll all be able to focus on winning baseball games."

San Francisco was criticized for re-signing Bonds, 43, to a one-year, $15.8-million contract -- many thought the Giants were more interested in reaping the marketing and turnstile benefits of the home run chase instead of rebuilding the team.

But Magowan looks at Bonds' numbers -- a .281 average, 20 home runs, 49 runs batted in, 104 walks, 53 runs -- and begs to differ.

"He's on pace for, what, 35 home runs?" Magowan said. "He's still a decent outfielder.... I think Barry has done all we could have reasonably expected.... We brought Barry back because we thought he gave us the best chance to win. We didn't bring him back because of the home run record."

Magowan wouldn't speculate about whether Bonds will be back in 2008, but Bonds did.

"My last season is every last year of every contract I've had," he said. "I don't think this will be my last season, as a player or a Giant, but that's their question to answer."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

CHASING AARON

Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth's home run record of 714 in 1974, and finished with 755. Barry Bonds is closing in on Aaron's record:

* Home runs: 754.

* Friday: 1 for 1, 1 home run, 4 walks.

* Projected date to break record: Aug. 7, vs. Wash.

* Next for Giants: vs. Florida tonight (Dontrelle Willis).

* Bonds vs. Willis: .333 (1 for 3), 0 home runs.

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