Bonds Gets Two Closer

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds hit his 752nd home run Thursday, ending his worst slump in six years with a single swing -- and Hank Aaron's record is only three away. (Nam Y. Huh - AP)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2007

CHICAGO, July 19 -- Time, as measured by Barry Bonds's pursuit of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, has seemed to slow down and speed up this year in ways that defy physics -- short bursts of power that push Bonds closer to history, and lengthier stretches of drought that leave him looking frustrated and old. But on Thursday afternoon, beneath a swirling sky that shifted from dark gray to brilliant blue over the course of a three-hour game, Bonds hit Nos. 752 and 753, and time felt as if it were hurtling forward, forcing all to confront the inevitable.

"It's real. It's real now," Bonds said of the chase after snapping a lengthy slump with two patented blasts into the wind at Wrigley Field during the San Francisco Giants' 9-8 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Bonds, who is three homers away from surpassing Aaron's 755, now travels to Milwaukee, home town of Commissioner Bud Selig and the city where Aaron's career began and ended, for a three-game series that starts Friday night. Asked repeatedly during recent weeks whether he plans to attend the record-breaker, Selig thus far has kept private his intentions.

But on Thursday in a telephone interview that occurred between Nos. 752 and 753, Selig said he intends to attend at least one of the games this weekend, schedule permitting. With Bonds now nearing the doorstep of Aaron's record, this means Selig accidentally could be on hand to witness the historic moment after all. Aaron, meantime, already has stated his intentions to skip it.

"I try to go to games here as much as I can and as much as my schedule allows," Selig said from Milwaukee. "So if I can, I'll probably be there at some point this weekend."

Asked how his potential attendance should be interpreted in regards to Bonds's record chase, Selig said: "Look, I have a suite [at Miller Park] for friends and family to use, and I'm not here a lot. I've only been to two or three Brewers games all year. So I'll do the best I can."

Bonds's homers Thursday -- a towering blast onto Sheffield Avenue beyond the right field foul pole off Ted Lilly in the second inning and a bomb to center field off Will Ohman in the seventh -- were as shocking as perhaps any Bonds has hit in his 22-year career.

Over the previous week, Bonds had appeared old, exhausted, injured, irritated and frustrated, and did little to hide it. His slump -- an 0-for-21 stretch at a the plate, and a 16-day homer-less spell -- approached some of the worst of his career, and Bonds and Manager Bruce Bochy together agreed he needed some time off. So he didn't start games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- his march toward Aaron suddenly a crawl -- and few could have foreseen what the short break would do for him.

It took one pitch to realize things had changed.

Leading off the second inning against Lilly, the Cubs' veteran left-hander, Bonds was delivered a hard fastball -- the kind scouts were beginning to whisper he no longer could hit -- and turned on it with his familiar, powerful uncoiling spring of a swing. The ball sailed against a crosswind from left field and carried over the bleachers onto Sheffield Avenue, the first ball to have landed there by any batter this season. Bonds carried his bat with him two-thirds of the way down the first base line, finally tossing it away disdainfully after he knew it had stayed fair.

"I felt really good," Bonds said of his three-day break. "I felt strong -- rejuvenated a little bit. I probably should have done it a long time ago, but I didn't. I want to be out there. I want to play -- sometimes your ego takes over. I knew when we played the L.A. series [last weekend] that I was just really sore. I was trying to just suck it up. The Dodgers series is an important series for us. Three days helped a lot."

Bonds hit a two-run single and walked in his next two plate appearances. In the seventh, he came to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second to face Ohman, a left-handed reliever. Bonds worked the count full, then slammed another fastball to the left of straightaway center field -- into the teeth of a brisk wind.

It landed in the wire basket that separates the top of the wall from the bleachers, giving Bonds six RBI for the day, one shy of a career high. This time, the ball was recovered by a young fan who reached into a pocket for another ball, which he threw onto the field -- in keeping with Wrigley tradition -- while pocketing the home run ball.

"I was just hoping they'd throw the balls back, like they said," Bonds said of the crowd, which numbered 40,198 and greeted his homers with a loud mixture of boos and jeers, with pockets of cheers mixed in. "I was going to put them in my trophy room. But they lied."

Bonds's schedule over the upcoming days and weeks is even more of a puzzle than before, with both he and the Giants committed to his taking more frequent days off. The Giants indicated Bonds likely would play in Friday night's series opener in Milwaukee, but beyond that it is unclear. Complicating matters is the Giants' acknowledged (and Bonds's unacknowledged) preference for hitting the record-breaking homer in San Francisco.

"Maybe I'm going to take three more days off and come back," he joked.

After the game, Bonds showered and dressed in street clothes, did a brief postgame news conference in the Giants' dugout, then walked to the wall near the seats adjacent to the dugout. There, with about a half-dozen other men, stood the Jesse L. Jackson, an unabashed Bonds fan.

After hugs and handshakes were exchanged, Bonds and Jackson, facing each other on opposite sides of the dividing wall, bowed their heads and prayed, time standing still once again but building toward one, last, final burst.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company