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Bonds smacks No. 659
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04/05/2004 9:46 PM ET
Bonds smacks No. 659
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Barry Bonds looks to the sky after hitting homer No. 659 in the eighth. (Amy Conn-Gutierrez/AP)
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HOUSTON -- On Monday night as he crossed home plate after his eighth-inning, three-run homer, Barry Bonds looked up toward the heavens to tell his late father that No. 659 was for him.

When the record-tying 660 is hit, perhaps sometime during the next few days, Bonds will be thinking about Bobby again as he points his fingers skyward. But as he crosses the plate, a symbolic torch will be passed to him from his godfather, Willie Mays, who was in the ballpark Monday night and will remain by Bonds' side throughout the epic run.

"I want [Willie] to be a part of it. He's been the key to my whole success," Bonds said after the Giants came from behind to win the season opener for both teams, 5-4, at Minute Maid Park. "It's great to have Willie around because Willie has been my biggest mentor. But no one takes the place of your own father."

These are days of sadness and exhilaration for Bonds, whose next homer will tie him for third on the all-time list and put him only 55 behind Babe Ruth, in second place. Hank Aaron leads with 755.

Bobby Bonds, a former Giant and teammate of Mays, died last year after a long battle with cancer. Mays has been by his godson's side all through Spring Training. He is trying to fill an empty void.

"I had to be there because I think he felt a little lonely," Mays said. "I think he felt that when his dad wasn't there, I needed to be there. So I was there from January to March 30 to make sure that if something went wrong I would try to be there for him. Sometimes your kid just wants you to be there. You may not be able to help him, but you're there in case something happens."

It was Mays' idea to pass along to Bonds an Olympic torch he ran with through the streets of San Francisco prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. With the Giants' blessing, Mays plans to hand the torch to Bonds as he crosses home plate after hitting No. 660.

Bonds all along has had mixed feeling about roaring past the Mays record. But Mays made it clear to Bonds that the record was meant to be broken and he was more than happy about the symmetry of his own godson doing it.

"But it's easier said than done," Bonds said. "What he wants and the emotions I feel doing it are two different things. I just always wanted his approval of how I did as a baseball player. That was it. That's the greatest achievement for me, having my godfather say, 'Hey, I think you're a pretty good player.'"

And now Bonds is on the precipice. No. 659 came in the eighth inning with two runners on and one out on the first pitch served to him by Houston starter Roy Oswalt. It was Oswalt's last pitch of the game and the three-run homer tied the score at 4-4.

Oswalt opened the eighth leading, 4-1. Ray Durham led off with a single and after J.T. Snow struck out, Michael Tucker singled, moving Durham to second and setting the table for the left-handed slugger.

Astros manager Jimy Williams went to the mound to talk to Oswalt before the fateful at-bat, but elected to leave the right-hander in the game.

"Roy, for me, was throwing the ball good," Williams said about the decision. "Bonds caught a ball and hit a line drive out of the park. I hung with [Oswalt], Bonds got him."

Bonds didn't waste a moment, jumping on the first pitch and sending it on a low line a couple of rows into the right-field seats.

"The hardest ball I've ever seen hit," said A.J. Pierzynski, who caught his first game for the Giants, but played with Bonds on the Major League Baseball All-Star team that toured Japan after the 2002 season.

"I don't know about that. He hasn't seen me play much," said Bonds, who hit four homers in those eight Japan games that year.

For Bonds, it was the sixth season-opening homer of his career, placing him only one behind Ken Griffey Jr. on the active list in that category. Griffey has hit seven homers in season openers.

Oswalt had easily breezed through the first six innings, allowing only a run on six hits, but Bonds had already had a game for ages. He doubled twice -- in the second and fourth innings -- both of them hit to left field with the infield shifted around toward the right side -- and scored the Giants' first run. He also walked in the sixth on five pitches.

Oswalt had throw 97 pitches when Bonds came up to hit in the eighth. Pitch No. 98 -- a flat fastball -- was his unraveling.

"I didn't want to give in to him, that's for sure," Oswalt said. "I felt like I could get him to put the ball on the ground, but it wasn't down like I wanted it to be. It was a dumb pitch. You go into the eighth with the lead, you can't get beat that way."

Mays, now 72 years old, hit his 659th and 660th homers 31 years ago as he finished his 22-year career with the New York Mets.

In 1973, he hit only six homers. No. 659 came off St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Diego Segui on Aug. 3 at Shea Stadium, a three-run shot in the seventh inning. Two weeks later -- Aug. 17, 1973, to be exact -- Mays hit his last homer. It was a solo shot leading off the fourth inning against Cincinnati right-hander Don Gullet, also at Shea.

So many years later, the 5-year-old kid, who used to shag fly balls with Mays in center field at Candlestick Park, is now about to tie and surpass his record. And Bonds will continue to look toward the heavens.

"Before it was my grandfather, who passed away -- he was the backbone of our family -- now it's my father," Bonds said. "I've got 161 more games. I'll get past it one way or the other."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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