HOUSTON (AP) -- Say hey, Willie. Barry is about to catch you.
Barry Bonds hit his 659th home run Monday night, moving within
one of Willie Mays for third place on the career list and helping
the San Francisco Giants rally for a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros.
With "The Say Hey Kid" in attendance, Bonds lined a
first-pitch fastball from Roy Oswalt over the right-field fence in
the eighth inning for a three-run shot that tied it at 4.
"It was great to have a game like this early," said Bonds, who
went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a walk. "I just wanted to hit
the ball hard like Willie told me to do and not to think about
San Francisco completed the comeback in the ninth against loser
Octavio Dotel, now the Astros' closer after the offseason trade of
Billy Wagner to the Phillies. Dotel hit Tony Torcato with a pitch,
and he advanced to second on a bunt and third on a wild pitch
before pinch-runner Cody Ransom scored on J.T. Snow's sacrifice
Bonds begins his 19th season dogged by questions about steroids,
which he has repeatedly denied using. His personal trainer was
among four men indicted last month on charges of illegally
supplying performance-enhancing drugs from a laboratory in the San
Francisco area. All four have pleaded innocent.
On Monday, he returned to the field, the one place where he can
get away from all the whispers.
"I just wanted to play baseball," Bonds said. "I didn't have
any fun hearing things about me when I know it's not right."
Oswalt had scattered seven hits and a run over seven innings
when he allowed two hits in the eighth before facing Bonds. Manager
Jimy Williams conferred with Oswalt before allowing him to pitch to
Bonds, who promptly laced a pitch just over the fence.
"I threw the ball outside. I thought I was going to get him to
hit to center field, but you throw it away and he [pulls] it to
right field. What are you going to do?" said Oswalt, who chastised
himself for throwing a "dumb pitch."
Williams, whose team broke camp without a left-hander in the
bullpen to face Bonds, said he believed Oswalt was his best option
in that situation.
"You can't lose sleep over it," catcher Brad Ausmus said.
"Roy was fine. He was still pitching in the low 90s. He's as good
a pitcher as we have on the team and I felt very comfortable with
him out there."
It was Bonds' sixth Opening Day homer, and it came in the same
building where he tied Mark McGwire's single-season mark of 70 in
2001. Bonds went on to set his own standard at 73.
Only Ken Griffey Jr., with seven, has more opening day homers
among active players.
Once Bonds, 39, passes Mays, his godfather, only Babe Ruth (714)
and Hank Aaron (755) will lie ahead on the hallowed homer list.
Bonds, whose father, Bobby, died last year, had Mays with him
throughout spring training for moral support. When Bonds hits No.
661, Mays will present his godson with the diamond-augmented torch
he carried for the 2002 Olympics.
Until Bonds' homer, Oswalt showed why Williams named him the No.
1 starter before spring training started. The right-hander retired
11 of his first 12 batters, with Bonds' first double being the only
blemish and Bonds' second double ending the run in the fourth
Bonds scored on new catcher A.J. Pierzynski's single.
Then Oswalt got back to business, throwing three more scoreless
innings before things unraveled in the eighth.
Kirk Rueter, starting his second straight opening day for the
Giants, escaped back-to-back bases-loaded jams in his first two
innings, giving up just one run on Ausmus' RBI single in the
Rueter, who missed several starts last year because of shoulder
problems that put him on the disabled list twice, settled in nicely
after that. He retired 10 straight until Richard Hidalgo led off
the sixth with a homer to right.
Houston built a 4-1 lead in the seventh when Craig Biggio, Adam Everett and Jeff Bagwell reached on consecutive singles. Jeff Kent
drove in Biggio with a sacrifice fly and Hidalgo singled to score Everett and give Oswalt a 4-1 cushion.
Herges got his first save with the Giants. Regular closer
Robb Nen is out with a sore shoulder. ... The Astros' seven
All-Stars -- Ausmus, Bagwell, Biggio, Clemens, Kent, Pettitte and
Lance Berkman -- each threw out a ceremonial first pitch to one of
their children. ... Rueter became the first Giants left-hander to
start back-to-back opening days since the club moved to San
Francisco. ... Twice an Astros batter was called out for touching a
foul ball just in front of home plate: Kent in the second and
Biggio in the ninth. "I've never seen it happen before, much less
twice," Williams said. ... Ailing Giants ace Jason Schmidt threw
four innings in Triple-A Fresno's intrasquad game, making 61
pitches. Trainer Stan Conte said he consistently threw 94-95 mph
and reported no problems.