SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Bonds (search) hit his 700th home run Friday night, toppling another milestone and edging closer to Babe Ruth (search) and Hank Aaron in his quest to become the greatest slugger in baseball history.
Bonds rewarded his fans in the opener of the San Francisco Giants' (search) nine-game homestand with a 392-foot opposite-field homer to left center leading off the third inning. He connected on an 0-1 slider from Jake Peavy, giving the Giants a 4-0 lead over the San Diego Padres.
As Bonds rounded second base, the Giants launched streamers and an elaborate fireworks display from the scoreboard and light towers in center field. He pointed skyward as he crossed home plate, then took a curtain call to a joyous standing ovation.
The Giants also unveiled two enormous banners on the light towers: One featuring Bonds with "700" below him, and another featuring action shots of Ruth and Aaron and their corresponding totals.
Bonds' 42nd homer of the season is a mere steppingstone in the 40-year-old's march toward Ruth's once-unthinkable 714 and Aaron's 755. Bonds hasn't been slowed by age, steroid suspicions or the collective fear of pitchers and managers walking him with record frequency.
Bonds is the first player to reach 700 homers since Aaron on July 21, 1973. With good health and similar production, he could catch Ruth early next season — and even have an outside shot at Hammerin' Hank next fall.
Bonds got another big ovation when he walked to left field after the inning. Bonds doffed his cap as the Giants unveiled one more tribute on the outfield wall behind him, a montage featuring the slogan: "A Giant Among Legends."
The ball was caught on the fly by Steven Williams, a 25-year-old fan from nearby Pacifica, according to Giants officials.
Aside from a slight chill in the air, the game featured nearly ideal conditions for Bonds' historic blast.
San Francisco is in a playoff chase largely thanks to Bonds' offensive production, increasing the importance of every homer. The slugger loves to face the Padres, who have allowed 79 of his homers — 18 more than any other club.
Even the wind was cooperating, blowing out to right field at the Giants' waterfront ballpark — though the left-handed hitter confounded his amphibious fans by going to the opposite field. Fans began gathering in the water well before the game, filling McCovey Cove with kayaks, rafts and swimmers.
Bonds has said he couldn't imagine ever surpassing Aaron as baseball's home run king. Aaron believes Bonds will pass him soon enough.
"I think it's just a matter of time — maybe a year, two years," Aaron said. "I think he will. I'll be happy. Everybody will be after him then. They won't be involving me. Records are made to be broken."
Aaron endured racial epithets and death threats when he approached Ruth's record in the early 1970s. Bonds has endured speculation about his super-sized body and bulked-up power statistics that defy logic and age.
And he has done it all despite the managers and pitchers who are afraid to pitch to him.
Bonds has been walked a record 207 times this season, including a record 105 times intentionally.
Bonds needed more at-bats (9,066) than Ruth (8,169) but not as many as Aaron (11,145) to reach 700 homers. But neither Aaron (1,232) nor Ruth (1,999) had as many walks as Bonds' 2,276 when they hit their 700th home run.
After leaving San Francisco with 698 earlier in the month, Bonds hit just one homer on the Giants' eight-game road trip, which wrapped up Thursday in Milwaukee. Arizona manager Al Pedrique mostly refused to pitch to Bonds, though Bonds pulled within one of the milestone with a ninth-inning homer Sunday.
The Rockies and the Brewers both gave Bonds a chance to hit the historic shot — but Bonds waited until he got back to the Bay.
Bonds hit career homer No. 660 — to tie godfather Willie Mays — and No. 661 at home earlier this season, both against the Brewers. He also hit his 500th in San Francisco in 2001, and later that season broke Mark McGwire's season record by hitting Nos. 71-73 at home the final weekend of the season.
As hard as it has been for Bonds to get hittable pitches lately, he's more focused on the wild-card race, which the Giants led going into the weekend. Bonds still holds out hope for his first World Series ring after falling one game short of the only prize he still covets in 2002.
Bonds has been so busy dealing with questions about his pursuit of Ruth and Aaron, it's almost as if everybody has forgotten about the steroid scandal that surrounded him when this season began.
Bonds' personal trainer and longtime friend, Greg Anderson, is one of four men charged in an alleged steroid-distribution ring that federal prosecutors say supplied dozens of professional athletes with banned substances. They have pleaded not guilty.
During spring training, many fans wondered whether Bonds would start showing his age this season and whether the scandal would weigh on his broad shoulders.
If anything, it made him more focused. He's putting up numbers worthy of a seventh MVP award, but what he really wants more than accolades for his power prowess is another shot at that elusive ring that would mean the world to him.