© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
SAN FRANCISCO -- And now only the Hammer remains.
Barry Bonds' long journey toward Major League Baseball's all-time home run mark became a race against one man Sunday as he sailed past Babe Ruth into second on the all-time list with the 715th of his 21-year career.
Bonds, 41 years old, is now 40 behind the righty-swinging Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer, who is the all-time leader with 755.
"It's a great honor, but Hank Aaron, to me, is the home run king and I won't disrespect that ever," Bonds said on a day when the Giants' 6-3 loss to the Rockies at AT&T Park provided only a minor subtext. "Babe Ruth has 714 home runs, but Hank has 755. Hank Aaron is the home run leader. I have a lot of respect for Babe Ruth. I have a lot of respect for what he did for the game of baseball. But I have to give the heads up to Hank Aaron because he is the home run king."
Sunday's homer was Bonds' seventh of the season, making him the top left-handed home run hitter in MLB history. Aaron's 733 with the Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves is next up for Bonds, who will become the all-time National League leader when and if he passes that mark. Aaron hit his final 22 homers as the designated hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers when they still resided in the American League.
Asked if he wanted to reach Aaron, Bonds said: "I'd like to win a World Series and be the all-time home run king. I'll take both, but I'll take the World Series first."
Bonds passed the Babe with a two-run shot to center field in the fourth inning off Colorado right-hander Byung-Hyun Kim, coming after a leadoff walk to Steve Finley. The milestone homer, on a full-count pitch, landed halfway up the bleachers, 445 feet away, and was fumbled by a fan into the batting eye.
The historic ball was retrieved by Andrew Morbitzer, a 38-year-old fan from San Francisco, who was waiting on line below the bleachers to purchase a beer. Morbitzer said he didn't even know Bonds was batting that inning.
"As I was walking down, I heard the roar [of the crowd]," he said. "I looked up and saw everybody reaching into the air and I snagged it. And the brilliant men of the San Francisco Police Department got around me and took me away."
It was Bonds' first homer off Kim, who became the 421st pitcher to allow at least one of Bonds' homers. Including a first-inning walk, Bonds was 0-for-9 against Kim with six walks going into the historic at-bat.
Kim said afterward that his teammate, Sun-Woo Kim, had suggested giving up the milestone homer to take the pressure off the rest of the Colorado pitching staff. The Rockies were already leading, 6-0, at the time.
"He said, 'Hey, B.K., it's just one home run, and we win,'" Byung-Hyun Kim said. "'All the [relief] pitchers have no pressure.' He owes me dinner, 10 times. He said, 'Oh, I didn't mean it.' Well, then 20 times."
Kim, of course, is best known for allowing homers that lost Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series to the Yankees' Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius when the sidearmer was with the Diamondbacks. Now add Bonds.
"My children, my grandchildren, will be like, 'Daddy, you're on the TV,'" Kim said about allowing the Bonds homer. "And I'll be like, 'OK.'"
The home run caused a euphoric reaction among the sellout crowd of 42,935 in the six-year-old park where Bonds has hit most of his milestone homers. The cheering began almost the minute the ball left his black bat and rose to a crescendo as it landed in the stands. Bonds reached home plate, where he was met by a wall of teammates, getting a bear hug from reserve catcher Todd Greene, who trotted in from the bullpen.
His mother, wife, both daughters, Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan and Bonds' godfather, Willie Mays, were not at the ballpark. KNBR, the Giants' flagship radio station, lost the call at the moment Bonds hit the homer when the microphone of Dave Flemming, the play-by-play man, cut out. But Bonds' 16-year-old son, Nikolai, batboy again for the game, was standing at home plate just as he was for 714 when his father crossed it after the big hit.
Bonds then took two curtain calls, doffing his helmet both times before the game resumed. As he strode into left field to another ovation, a sign commemorating the feat was unveiled on the outfield fence.
In another ironic twist, the homer came 55 years to the date that Mays, a rookie in 1951 for the New York Giants, collected his first homer on his first Major League hit.
"Might as well just keep it in the family," said Bonds, who was already wearing a No. 715 commemorative T-shirt that had been lying in dry storage for days.
In the clubhouse after the game, his teammates broke out a bottle of champagne that also had been sitting on ice since Bonds hit No. 714 on May 20 against Oakland left-hander Brad Halsey, a towering drive into the right-field bleachers at McAfee Coliseum.
The boys drank a toast to the new No. 2 all-time home run hitter and Bonds said he was touched.
"I want to thank all my teammates," Bonds said. "This is the best group of guys I've ever played with in my entire life."
Bonds hadn't hit a homer in San Francisco since May 2 when he smacked No. 712 against Padres reliever Scott Linebrink. Still, four of his seven homers have been hit this season in the ballpark on McCovey Cove, where he hit homers numbers 500, 600, 660 and 661 (to pass Mays into third on the all-time list), 71-73 in 2001 to break Mark McGwire's three-year-old single-season record, and now his Ruth-passing 715.
It was his second of the year against Colorado, No. 709 coming at Coors Field in the first inning on April 22.
"It was kind of nice to be here when it happened," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a pretty huge moment within the game of baseball. I don't think you'll see another guy hit 715 -- maybe [Albert] Pujols, but that's so far down the road. It's just an incredible number."
Ruth hit No. 714, the last homer of his illustrious career, on May 25, 1935, as a member of the Boston Braves. The homer, coming at Pittsburgh's old Forbes Field, was his last of a three-homer, six-RBI outburst that day. Ruth's career ended after he twisted his knee during a game against the Phillies at Philadelphia's Shibe Park five days later.
Aaron passed Ruth nearly 39 years later -- on April 8, 1974, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium during the home opener, a 7-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. No. 715 was whacked four days after Aaron knotted Ruth on Opening Day of that baseball season at Cincinnati's old Riverfront Stadium.
Bonds hit homer No. 700 against San Diego Padres right-hander Jake Peavy on Sept. 17, 2004, at AT&T Park. It has been an odyssey, but it has taken Bonds nearly 19 months to pass the Great Bambino.
Three surgeries on his right knee kept him out of all except 14 games last season and limited him to five home runs, the low figures in both categories of his career.
Still, Larry Baer, the club's executive vice president, said Aaron's record isn't completely out of reach. If Bonds hits a mere 25 homers this year, he'll be 22 behind the Hammer heading into the 2007 season.
"Barry has surprised a lot of people over the years," Baer said. "He's been able to realize achievements that a lot of people didn't think he could reach. Aaron is another one of them."
Whether Bonds returns next year and plays again for the Giants is still very much up to question. He said he'll make that decision later in the season and the Giants will then have to determine whether they'll re-sign him as a free agent.
"Anything's possible," Bonds said about passing Aaron. "If you play long enough, anything can happen."