|Thursday, October 4
Bonds ties Big Mac with 70th home run
By Jim Caple
HOUSTON -- Move over, Big Mac. You've got company. Finally.
Leading off the ninth inning Thursday night, Barry Bonds slammed a mammoth home run into the upper deck of right-center at Enron Field off Astros left-handed rookie Wilfredo Rodriguez, matching Mark McGwire's home run record of 70 just three years after Big Mac set it.
Of course, it seemed as if it might be another three years before pitchers threw Bonds another strike.
Houston walked Bonds three times before the home run, including an intentional walk in the sixth inning when the Astros trailed 8-1. That's right -- an intentional walk with a seven-run deficit. It was the eighth time the Astros walked Bonds in this three-game series; they also hit him once. Since hitting his 69th home run Saturday, Bonds had been walked 10 times and hit twice, seeing only 14 strikes out of 64 pitches until facing Rodriguez in the ninth.
Bonds exacted some revenge, however, with his final at-bat in Houston, drilling a 1-1 mid-90s fastball far into the night. He dropped his bat and raised his arms as soon as he connect, smiled broadly as he circled the bases, pointed exuberantly skyward when he crossed home place where he was greeted by his teammates and kissed his son, Nikolai, who was serving as Giants batboy.
Despite watching their team lose for the sixth consecutiveg ame and fall out of first place, the Houston fans applauded long and loud, drawing Bonds out of the dugout twice for curtain calls. When he took his position in left field in the bottom of the inning, San Francisco relievers left the bullpen to greet him. Giants manager Dusty Baker removed Bonds at that point, allowing him to trot off the field to another loud ovation.
"Everybody was telling me just be patient, be patient. I'm glad it's over. I'm glad my family was here. My wife gets to sleep now," Bonds said.
The Giants won 10-2, completing a three-game sweep that kept them two games behind Arizona in the NL West race with three games remaining at home, against age-old rival Los Angeles. The Astros fell one game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central and lead the Giants by two games in the wild-card standings.
He said he was "honored" to share the record with McGwire. "He's a great baseball player," Bonds said.
In addition to being his 70th home run of the season, the home run was the 564th of his career, moving him past Reggie Jackson into seventh place on the all-time list.
Bonds said that Jackson is a cousin, and he wouldn't be the only member of Bonds' vast baseball tree. He is the son, of course, of Bobby Bonds and the nephew of Reggie Smith, both longtime and very successful major leaguers. His godfather is Willie Mays.
"I'm just blessed," Bonds has said. "My father is a gifted athlete. I get a lot of information from someone I consider the best all-around baseball player, Willie Mays. So I get a lot of information from a lot of great athletes."
Mays had advised Bonds not to change his approach -- not to start swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Bonds has done that and now has 175 walks, breaking Babe Ruth's single-season record of 170 set in 1923.
The three-time MVP also has a quick, compact swing that impresses his peers as much as his home runs impress fans. "The one thing about Barry Bonds that really hasn't since he came up is his stroke," Tony Gwynn said. "He's got the most efficient stroke in the game."
Bonds said he hasn't talked to McGwire about breaking the record, "Because I didn't think that it was realistic that I would be here today, and that's the honest truth. I think everyone needs to understand, Mark set a table. He's the first one, and it's his record and he needs to be recognized for his record."
He said that before Tuesday's series-opening game, two days before he joined McGwire.
When McGwire passed Roger Maris and broke the record in 1998, not only did the entire nation follow the chase closely, so did the Dominican Republic, home country for Sammy Sosa, who pushed McGwire all the way. That hasn't been the case this time. With McGwire's record still so recent, with no one else in the hunt and with September 11 still in everyone's minds, fans never got as excited about the chase this year.
Indeed, there was a mixture of cheers and jeers when Bonds stepped to the plate for the first time tonight.
Like Shane Reynolds and Tim Redding in the first two games of the series, Mlicki worked Bonds carefully. In the first inning, he threw four pitches off the plate; catcher Brad Ausmus slammed his glove into the dirt when home-plate Alfonso Marquez ruled the 3-0 pitch was just off the plate. However, Mlicki paid the price for walking Bonds when Jeff Kent belted the first pitch to him over the left-field fence for a 2-0 lead.
Mlicki did challenge Bonds in the third, when he again came up with the two outs and the bases empty. He got ahead 0-2 on a foul ball and swinging strike and Bonds eventually grounded out to second baseman Craig Biggio, who was playing in shallow right field with an extreme shift on.
In the fifth, Bonds came up with runners at first and second and one out, but Mlicki threw him a high fastball and then three pitches in the dirt.
The crowd at Enron Field booed lustily when Bonds was intentionally walked by Stone in the sixth, an unprecendented move considering the Astros were losing 8-1 at the time.
"I got frustrated when it was 8-1 and they intentionally walked me because it was not a really crucial situation. That's when I got really frustrated," Bonds said.
And then came the top of the ninth. Bonds connected on a 1-1 pitch from Rodriguez, a 22-year-old making only his second major-league appearance. Bonds took a huge cut and missed the first pitch, watched a ball up and in, then launched a 93-mph fastball into the stands.
The ball was caught by Charles Murphy of Houston.
With pitchers hitting him and otherwise avoiding throwing him a strike, it's been a wonder that Bonds ever saw enough pitches to hit. Yet he has. "He's probably getting, two, three, four pitches to hit, all night," Gwynn said. "And when he hits it, it goes out of the ballpark. It's amazing. It really is. His stroke is so good, he doesn’t have to hit strikes."
The 70 home runs are by far the most for Bonds, who's career high had been 49. But he has 564 in his career and could finish with more than Mays, who hit 660.
Bonds said he never dreamed of hitting more than 30 home runs in a season. "Thirty home runs every year was my goal and I just wanted to stay consistent," he said. "I also wanted to steal 30 bases every year, too, but I didn't know that I was going to get older and slow down."