SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Now there’s only Hank Aaron.
Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run Sunday to slip past Babe Ruth and pull in right behind Aaron, whose long-standing record of 755 may prove even tougher to crack.
So let the debate begin: Can Bonds hold up to break it?
“If you keep playing long enough anything is possible,” he said.
No. 715 played out exactly the way San Francisco’s slugger wanted – he hit it at home, in front of the fans who adore him.
It just took him a little longer than he had hoped. The historic home run came eight days after he tied the Babe for second place on the career chart.
“For the fans of San Francisco, it can’t get any better than this – even though I made them wait longer than I have in the past,” Bonds said, wearing a new 715 shirt and cap. “Age ain’t catching up with me.”
But at 41, Bonds has been slowed by health problems. He underwent three operations on his right knee last year that limited him to 14 games, and also has bone chips in his left elbow.
And many believe his rapid ascent up the home run ranks was fueled by performance-enhancing drugs – though he has always denied knowingly taking steroids.
Bonds’ latest milestone – a mightier homer than No. 714 – was a 445-foot, two-run shot to center before a sellout crowd. His seventh homer of the season came on the last day before the Giants began a road trip to Florida and New York.
Bonds’ teammates toasted him with champagne in the clubhouse after the Giants’ 6-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
“Everybody was waiting for a moment like this,” shortstop Omar Vizquel said. “A couple of words were said.”
Bonds homered off Byung-Hyun Kim in the fourth inning. The ball glanced off a fan’s hands about 15 rows up and then dropped onto an elevated platform beyond the fence.
The souvenir sat there for a few minutes before rolling off the roof and into the hands of 38-year-old San Francisco resident Andrew Morbitzer, who was waiting for a beer and peanuts. He was quickly ushered away by security.
“I got to be a small part of a big day,” Morbitzer, a marketing director and newlywed who brought his bride, Megan.
Bonds circled the bases as shiny orange, gold and black streamers fell from the upper deck.
Bonds connected at 2:14 p.m. on a 90 mph fastball with the count full, then immediately raised his arms and clapped his hands before beginning his trot. Kim became the 421st pitcher to surrender a homer to Bonds.
“It’s a great honor,” said Bonds, who watched Aaron hit his 715th home run at age 10. “It’s a wonderful honor. Hank Aaron is the home run king and I won’t disrespect that ever. … I have a lot of respect for Babe Ruth and what he’s done.”
“I’d like to win a World Series and be home run king. I’d like to do both. I would take a World Series first,” he said.
Bonds embraced and kissed his 16-year-old son, bat boy Nikolai, as he crossed home plate, then was greeted by his teammates at the top of the dugout. He took one curtain call in which he tipped his hat and raised both arms and blew a kiss to the crowd.
Moments later, he came out again and waved.
After the homer, the Giants unfurled two banners from the light towers on either side of the main scoreboard in center field: one of Bonds on the left side and the other of Hammerin’ Hank’s 755, and 715 flashed on the scoreboard.
“I’m just happy,” Nikolai said. “It was a good moment.”
Thousands of fans stayed put in the stadium to watch Bonds’ news conference being played on the center-field scoreboard. Some chanted “Barry! Barry!” outside the Giants’ clubhouse.
Bonds, who had walked on five pitches in the first inning, went five games between 714 and 715. He hit 714 on May 20 at Oakland, a span of 17 at-bats and 25 plate appearances. Aaron had a four-game wait between 714 and 715.
“I wish I had the ball,” joked Padres catcher Mike Piazza.
Bonds singled to right in his next at-bat with a drive off the right-field facade that looked as if it might be headed out, too, for No. 716. He grounded out to third to end the eighth and was replaced in left field in the ninth by Jason Ellison.
Bonds is still loved at home despite the steroid accusations that surround his home run pursuit.
This is the first time in nearly 85 years that Ruth hasn’t been in the top two on the career home run list, according to David Vincent of the Society for American Baseball Research. He passed Sam Thompson to move into second on June 20, 1921, when he hit his 127th home run.
Bonds has hit most of his other milestone home runs in San Francisco: 500, 600, 700 along with 660 and 661 to tie and pass godfather Willie Mays. In 2001, Bonds hit the final three of his 73 homers at home to break Mark McGwire’s single-season record of 70.
Aaron passed Ruth in April 1974.
“Watching Barry, I had goosebumps,” said Colorado center fielder Ryan Spilborghs, called up before the game. “It was one of the most incredible baseball moments I’ve ever had.”
This was Bonds’ last chance during the six-game homestand before the Giants left town for another week. He hadn’t homered at home since May 2 against San Diego’s Scott Linebrink.
“Oh, I knew it was gone,” said Bonds, who hit his 49th career homer off Colorado. “I knew it was definitely gone. There was no doubt.”
Kim has a history of giving up notable homers – he allowed tying two-run homers with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to the Yankees’ Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius in Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series.
Kim also gave up a key homer in the World Baseball Classic semifinals in South Korea’s loss to Japan.
“I thought the game was finished,” he joked. “People cheer like that when it’s over.”
Giants manager Felipe Alou wrote Bonds into the lineup without checking with the seven-time NL MVP about playing in a day game following a night game, aware that Bonds wanted to make history at home.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m playing him without even asking him,” Alou said. “We’re going to be gone for a week. Today’s the perfect day.”
Hitting it in Florida in a near-empty stadium was far from what Bonds or the Giants wanted for his latest feat.
“I’m glad for him. He is a great player, and has had a great career,” St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols said. “It’s going to be tough for anyone else to reach 715.”
Fans at San Diego’s Petco Park booed when a replay of Bonds’ homer was shown on the big screen during the sixth inning of the Cardinals-Padres game. Bonds was booed repeatedly during a season-opening series at San Diego, and a fan threw a toy syringe at him on opening day.
“I’m just wondering how much longer he can do it,” Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz said. “He’s the greatest – in my era – home run hitter I have ever seen.”
Beginning Monday morning, fans with tickets to Sunday’s game were able to bring their stub to a Giants store for their special Bonds 715 home run pin.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Now there’s only Hank Aaron.