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End of Story
With interest in his march to 715 waning, Barry Bonds finally finishes the job in front of the only fans who revere him
Andrew Morbitzer, a 38-year-old marketing director from San Francisco, stood in line for beer and peanuts at a centerfield concession stand at AT&T Park on Sunday as Barry Bonds took another shot at becoming only the second man in major league history to hit more home runs than Babe Ruth. This was four days after ESPN pulled the plug on its show Bonds on Bonds, largely because Bonds had been hitting home runs too infrequently for enough people to care. And it was just moments before the microphone of KNBR radio play-by-play man Dave Flemming mysteriously malfunctioned.
Bonds, with one home run in his previous 66 plate appearances, could no longer keep people in their seats or in front of the TV or tuned in to a broadcast the way he used to, but he proved with one more flash of that familiar swing that he still has a sense of timing. In the final game of a Giants home stand before a trip to Florida and New York, where more ambivalence and hostility would await, Bonds gave his loyal fans in San Francisco just what they wanted: career home run number 715.
It was 2:14 p.m. PDT when Bonds connected on a 90-mph fastball from righthander Byung-Hyun Kim of the Colorado Rockies (entry number 421 in Bonds's book of victimized pitchers, for those of you scoring at home). The baseball glanced off a fan's hands about 15 rows up in a section of centerfield seats and fell onto a platform beyond the centerfield wall, eventually rolling off and into the hands of the thirsty Morbitzer. For the first time since June 20, 1921, Ruth was third on the alltime home run list.
KNBR listeners did not hear Flemming's entire call of the historic blast, his mike having cut out with the ball in midair. Bonds's teammates did not pour from the dugout to greet him as Hank Aaron's Atlanta Braves teammates had done when Aaron passed Ruth in 1974. Giants principal owner Peter Magowan, who was out of the country, was not at the ballpark to shake his slugger's hand. But the applause and cheers of 42,935 brought Bonds out of the dugout for two curtain calls, and in the clubhouse after the game the Giants did give Bonds a champagne toast and posed for pictures with him.
"With all their support behind me and the fans of San Francisco, it can't get any better than this," Bonds said. "And I want to thank all of them, too, for supporting me even though I made them wait longer than I have in the past."
Bonds, 41, entered this season needing only seven home runs to pass Ruth. In the four most recent seasons that he began on the active roster (2001 through '04), Bonds reached seven homers in the 14th, 11th, 26th and 12th games on the Giants' schedule; this season he took until game 50. The home run on Sunday pulled Bonds into a tie for 71st among major leaguers this year.
Bonds's pursuit of 715 was marked more by tedium than anticipation, largely because of the fallout from revelations of his alleged steroid use (Bonds has denied knowingly taking steroids) and because his home run rate (one every 16.3 at bats) was double what it had been in his glory years of 1999 through 2003--the years when, according to the book Game of Shadows, he engaged in a massive doping regimen. Said Giants manager Felipe Alou, "It looked like there was a lack of interest for 715. Even here, we didn't feel the same way. There was a lot of stuff going on that disappeared after 714."
The spotlight retracts further now that the only person left for Bonds to chase, Aaron, is 40 homers ahead of him. At his current rate Bonds would end this season with 731 home runs and the '07 season with 754, one behind Aaron. "If you keep playing long enough, anything is possible," Bonds said of future achievements. "I'd like to win a World Series and be home run king. I'd like to do both."