Bonds hits 70th home run, ties McGwire's record

Friday, October 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ With one last swing, Barry Bonds put an end to his Houston walkathon and put himself in the record book.

Bonds finally saw a meaty pitch and sent home run No. 70 sailing into the right-field upper deck Thursday night, tying the record Mark McGwire thought might last a lifetime when he did it a mere three years ago.

``It was electrifying,'' Bonds said.

Frustrated after drawing eight walks and being hit by a pitch in three days at Enron Field, Bonds broke into a big smile and slow trot after leading off the ninth inning with a 454-foot shot against rookie Wilfredo Rodriguez.

``I was happy I made contact. It's hard to just take pitches all the time,'' he said. ``You really don't have an opportunity to swing.''

Bonds, son of an All-Star and godson of a home run king, has three games left to make history all his own.

The San Francisco Giants, who beat the Astros 10-2 to stay in the NL West chase, start a series against Los Angeles at home on Friday night.

Bonds' homer came on a day full of major achievements in the majors.

Earlier, Rickey Henderson scored his 2,246th career run and broke Ty Cobb's record. Later, Seattle won its 114th game and tied the Yankees' AL single-season mark.

When McGwire finished with 70 home runs in 1998, it looked like that might become baseball's new magic number.

``I think it will stand for a while,'' McGwire said at the time. ``I know how grueling it is to do what I've done this year. Will it be broken someday? It could be. Will I be alive? Possibly.

``But if I'm not playing,'' he said, ``I'll definitely be there.''

Bonds went 19 plate appearances, including 10 walks, and twice was hit by pitches since hitting No. 69 on Saturday.

He immediately raised both arms in the air _ in celebration, and maybe a bit out of relief _ when he connected.

The record crowd of 43,734 at Enron Field, which booed when Astros pitchers walked him, responded with a standing ovation.

``The way the fans embraced it was excellent,'' Giants manager Dusty Baker said. ``It showed a lot of class.''

Bonds' teammates poured out to greet him at home plate along with young Nikolai Bonds, whose 37-year-old father hugged him tight at the plate. Bonds then pointed to his wife and two daughters behind the third-base dugout as he returned to the bench, smiling and waving his cap.

``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.

With fans still cheering, Bonds came out for two curtain calls. He took his position in left field to start the bottom of the ninth, was mobbed by teammates who were in the Giants' bullpen, then was replaced and walked off, waving to fans.

It looked like Bonds would never get a chance against the Astros, who lost their sixth in a row and fell out of the NL Central lead. He drew three walks in the game, all on four pitches, boosting his record total to 175.

``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.

Bonds hit his 564th career home run, moving him past Reggie Jackson _ a distant relative _ for seventh place on the career list.

Among those cheering for Bonds was his godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who ranks third on the career list with 660 homers. Mays hit his 500th homer at the Houston Astrodome in 1965.

Bonds' father, former major leaguer Bobby, was with Mays in the Giants' clubhouse and watched the historic homer on TV. They left the park a few minutes later.

Bonds connected on a 1-1 pitch from Rodriguez, a 22-year-old lefty making only his second major league appearance. Bonds homered on a 93-mph fastball.

``I'm happy for him. He deserves what he got,'' Rodriguez said through an interpreter. ``That was my best pitch.''

The ball was caught by Charles Murphy, 38, of Houston, using his son's glove.

``I'm sure there are plenty of options,'' he said of the prize souvenir.

McGwire's 70th home run ball sold for $3,005,000 in early 1999, purchased by Canadian comic book creator Todd McFarlane.

``My son said we should try to get the ball back,'' Bonds said. ``But I told him it was probably in an auction.''

Bonds, a 10-time All-Star who could be headed to his record fourth MVP award, never hit more than 49 home runs in a season before this year.

But choking up on his 34-inch, maplewood bat, he quickly put himself in position to challenge McGwire.

McGwire's mark captured the nation's attention, especially because he dueled Sammy Sosa to beat the longtime standard of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.

Bonds, never the most likable player with fans or opponents, did not stir quite the same interest. Not only was his chase not the biggest story in the country _ not after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 _ but it even fell behind Michael Jordan's return on the sports pages.

Many people said McGwire's pursuit was more difficult than Bonds' chase.

``I agree with that to a point,'' Bonds said. ``Because the Maris home run record had so much time in between it. People didn't believe it was going to happen.''

``When something like that happens, the whole world goes, 'Boom.' He probably went through more than I did.''