At 754, Bonds' record chase is 'sinking in'

Originally Published: July 27, 2007
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- For at least one more day, Hank Aaron can awake in the royal bed, instruct his footman to empty the chamber pot, demand the food taster check out his giant drumsticks, don his ruby- and diamond-encrusted crown and then order a queen's beheading or declare war on Red Sox Nation -- or whatever it is baseball's Home Run King is empowered to do.

Because when Barry Bonds hits another home run, the throne is going to be a little crowded. Bonds hit his 754th career homer Friday night, leaving him just one away from Aaron's record and co-ownership of the all-time crown.

Cue the kayaks in McCovey Cove.

"It's sinking in," Bonds said of the upcoming milestone, later adding, "I don't feel any pressure to do something I've done my whole life. It just feels different. For all my other milestones, they happened when we were in a pennant chase or a drive. The atmosphere just feels different because we're so far out."

Bonds had not hit a home run in San Francisco since June 29 but did so in his first at-bat Friday against the Marlins. Facing Dutch rookie Rick Vanden Hurk, Bonds slammed a 2-1 pitch for a long drive that drew two rounds of applause from fans. They cheered with expectation when the ball left the bat and again a few moments later when it landed in the center-field bleachers near the "404" sign. Bonds pumped his fist as he watched the ball leave the yard.

With a chance to tie the record, Bonds walked his next four plate appearances, two of them against Vanden Hurk. "The only thing that was different was he started trying to throw his arm out of his socket," Bonds said. "His velocity went to the other extreme. ... He seemed to dial it up each time after that."

The whole thing has been frustrating for everyone. This is an extraordinary amount of pressure on him. You can go back to Roger Maris or Mark McGwire or anyone else who has ever approached a home run record -- Barry with his 73 home run year. It's hard to hit a home run as it is, but when everyone is coming to the ballpark to see you hit one, it's all the harder.

-- Giants owner Peter Magowan

Vanden Hurk said sports fans in the Netherlands are paying attention to Bonds' chase and seeing his at-bats on the highlight shows. "They'll show this game," he said. "But it's nine hours ahead there, so they'll probably show it tomorrow.

"Everybody back home knows all about this. I think everybody in the world knows about it."

Well, maybe. What could have been compelling enough drama for the Food Network, C-SPAN and Al Jazeera to break in for Barry's at-bats has instead become such a controversial, drawn-out affair that even Giants owner Peter Magowan said before the game he just wants to get all this over with.

"The whole thing has been frustrating for everyone," Magowan said. "This is an extraordinary amount of pressure on him. You can go back to Roger Maris or Mark McGwire or anyone else who has ever approached a home run record -- Barry with his 73 home run year. It's hard to hit a home run as it is, but when everyone is coming to the ballpark to see you hit one, it's all the harder."

Magowan said he thinks the Giants will play better when the chase is over and they can focus more clearly on winning (well, it's always nice to think positively). In fact, the 12-10 victory was the first time San Francisco won a game in which Bonds homered since June 11. The owner said the Giants could probably have better prepared for the media attention: "We went through it last year and have been through a lot of other media attention and thought that maybe we could handle this."

The last-place Giants are old enough that they probably watch "Matlock" re-runs in the clubhouse, and Magowan said there will be a new plan for next season. Whether that means they won't be interested in giving a 43-year-old another contract remains to be seen, but Bonds said that as far as he's concerned, he's not going anywhere. "I don't think this will be my last year as a Giant or in baseball."

The Giants play two more home games before heading down to Los Angeles and San Diego for six games. Bonds said he plans to play both days, though if he goes homerless Saturday, that might change his mind. Sitting out Sunday would probably increase his odds of hitting the record-breaker in San Francisco when the Giants return home.

Bonds said he studied film of his recent at-bats and noticed he had been getting away from what made him successful. He said he spent a lot of time taking extra batting practice and working on his technique and felt good about being more in synch.

Swinging at too many borderline or bad pitches, he said, is "what got me out of the zone I've been in most of my career. I have to go back to what made me successful and that's being patient and selective."

And in the meantime, Hank can watch the court jester juggle baseballs and enjoy his last moments as the single, undisputed Home Run King.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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