No. 715 makes for a 'special' day

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Babe is No. 2 no more.

There's a new home run runner-up, and Barry Bonds can exhale after finally passing Babe Ruth on the all-time list.

"I was just trying to outlast you guys," Bonds told reporters at a news conference Sunday following his 715th homer in the Giants' 6-3 loss to the Rockies.

Bonds took so long to go from 713 to 715 -- 20 games -- that most of the national media tracking his pursuit had left. The press box in San Francisco was hardly full, and most of the home crowd, eternally faithful to Bonds, stopped standing for every pitch thrown his way.

But once Bonds connected on Byung-Hyun Kim's 90-mph fastball in the fourth inning, 42,935 fans stood and cheered and didn't stop until Bonds took two curtain calls. His two-run homer to center field was estimated at 445 feet, and he knew it was gone on contact.

"I want to thank all the fans of San Francisco for supporting me even though I made them wait longer than I have in the past," said Bonds, who hit most of his recent milestone homers at home -- 500, 600, 700, 660 (matching Willie Mays) and 661, along with 71, 72 and 73 in 2001, when he set the single-season record.

After crossing the plate, Bonds hugged his teenage son, Nikolai, who served as a bay boy, and was congratulated by Steve Finley, who had been on base, and on-deck hitter Mark Sweeney. After the game, his teammates and manager, Felipe Alou, toasted him with champagne.

Plenty of love was swapped on a warm and fuzzy San Francisco afternoon, but Bonds will receive an immediate reality check because the next six games are on the road, where he's universally booed as a poster child of the steroid era, in the wake of the release of the book "Game of Shadows," which details his alleged steroid use.

After a three-game series in Miami, the Giants play three games in New York, where fans aren't expected to be appreciative that Bonds passed the legendary Ruth, a New Yorker himself.

"I don't really care because it doesn't really matter," Bonds said of the expected reaction at Shea Stadium.

It's not that Bonds wasn't looking ahead.

When asked about matching and passing Henry Aaron and becoming the home run king, he didn't flinch.

"Would I like to be? I'd like to win a World Series and be the home run king," Bonds said. "I'll take both, but I'll take the World Series first."

Winning a World Series is a goal Bonds never stops mentioning, but he generally has shied away from addressing the possibility of surpassing Aaron, who was hounded by racial threats during his chase of Ruth. Bonds, in the final year of his five-year, $90 million contract, is 40 homers shy of Aaron's 755.

"It's a great honor. It's a wonderful honor. [But] Hank Aaron to me is the home run king, and I won't disrespect that ever. Babe Ruth has 714 home runs, but Hank has 755."
-- Barry Bonds

"If you keep playing long enough," he said, "anything's possible."

Bonds will be 42 in July, and he underwent three surgeries to his right knee last year. Neither age nor health is on his side, and perhaps his only chance at the record is switching leagues and becoming a designated hitter, giving him the comfort of no longer trying to move around in left field.

When asked about passing Ruth, Bonds reminded that Aaron is the record-holder.

"It's a great honor. It's a wonderful honor," Bonds said. "[But] Hank Aaron to me is the home run king, and I won't disrespect that ever. Babe Ruth has 714 home runs, but Hank has 755. I have a lot of respect for Babe Ruth, and I have a lot of respect for what he's done for the game of baseball, but I have to give the head up to Hank Aaron because he is the home run king."

Sweeney was on deck when Bonds hit his 715th, just as Dusty Baker was on deck when Aaron hit No. 715 in 1974.

"We had the [champagne] classes for about three weeks," said Sweeney, smiling. "I told him after the game that this was pretty special, especially doing it here at home. We toasted him in our own way, not something that was organized from upstairs. He thanked us as a team.

"He's the greatest left-handed hitter out there. That's special."

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.