Sept. 10, 2001
By BEN WALKER
AP Baseball Writer
With three big swings, Barry Bonds sent a message to baseball fans everywhere: Yes, I can!
His first home run pushed him past Babe Ruth. The next one moved him ahead of Roger Maris. And No. 63 put him squarely on deck to break Mark McGwire's magic number of 70.
All season long, the San Francisco star who'd never hit more than 49 homers in a year had been dogged by doubts.
Would he break down? Would he bend to the pressure? Would pitchers work around him?
But with Sunday's barrage at hitter-friendly Coors Field, Bonds answered: No, no and no.
Now, Bonds needs just eight home runs in the Giants' last 18 games to surpass McGwire.
Suddenly, a home-run chase that had not captivated a nation has taken on a new meaning. Amazingly, the often-bitter Giants slugger is a whopping eight games ahead of Big Mac's record pace of 1998.
"I've been in disbelief over a lot of things I've done this year," Bonds said. "Everything is unreal."
Bonds' shots overshadowed the first day of the NFL season and the men's final at the U.S. Open. And even with playoff races all across the board, the big story in baseball has become the 37-year-old slugger.
"He's the man," Sammy Sosa said after hitting No. 54 Sunday for the Chicago Cubs. "Three home runs in one day is not a bad day. He's on a good pace."
Bonds is bombing away in a season in which the majors' home-run rate is actually down from last year.
"I don't really think about that. We're trying to win. I'll take what I've got right now," Bonds said.
The three-time NL Most Valuable Player - his prickly personality may've cost him at least one more - is off Monday.
On Tuesday night, the Giants begin a three-game series at Enron Field. The Houston park is another home-run haven, part of the major league-wide trend to build smaller stadiums to boost offense.
Dave Mlicki is scheduled to start the opener for the Astros. Bonds is 10-for-21 with two home runs lifetime against Mlicki.
"I've always said Barry is the best player in the league, but it's taken something like this to wake people up and now everybody is saying, `Hey, that Bonds is having a pretty good year,"' San Diego star Tony Gwynn said. "It's the taken-for-granted syndrome."
In his last game before retirement, Gwynn and the Padres finish the season Sept. 30 at Pacific Bell Park, the Giants' yard where Bonds has splashed several shots into the water beyond the right-field wall.
Getting a chance to reach the playoffs might wind up costing Bonds.
The Giants are smack in the middle of the NL West and wild card races, and mostly will face contenders the next three weeks. Already with a major league-leading 149 walks - Ruth holds the single-season record of 170 - Bonds likely won't see many good pitches in key situations.
"If I was in a pennant race, I don't think I'd be serving up home runs to him," St. Louis star Jim Edmonds said. "It is surprising to me. I can't explain that."
Edmonds said he and McGwire, who broke Maris' 37-year-old record of 61, don't talk about Bonds' pursuit.
"He's just got that attitude that whatever happens, happens," Edmonds said. "I'm sure if he was healthy and 100 percent he might be chasing his own mark. I'm sure one day somebody else will hit 71 and break that record eventually."
A 10-time All-Star left fielder, Bonds has lived up to his baseball lineage. The son of a former major league star and godson to Hall of Famer Willie Mays, Bonds is eighth on the career home run list with 557.
A World Series championship is the only thing missing on his big league resume. He's never played in one, and is a lifetime .196 hitter with only one home run in 97 postseason at-bats.
His October slumps, his frequently difficult demeanor and his traveling entourage, which includes a personal trainer and a nutritionist, have made Bonds an easy target to dislike.
McGwire's path to Maris' almost-mythical mark in 1998 also was a bit bumpy.
While his race with Sosa invigorated the country, Big Mac's use of androstenedione caused some fans to question him. The testosterone-boosting supplement was legal in baseball but was banned by the NFL, the NCAA and the Olympics.
McGwire boosted his homer total that year with a big, final weekend at Busch Stadium. With both teams out of contention, McGwire hit five home runs in three games against Montreal.
Bonds feasted on the last-place Colorado Rockies on Sunday.
His first homer sailed 488 feet. His second one moved him past Maris for the most homers by a left-handed batter in a season. His third one landed in the Colorado bullpen.
The Rockies returned the No. 63 souvenir, giving it to Giants' reliever Jason Christiansen. Fittingly, it was Christiansen who served up McGwire's 63rd home run in 1998.
"I got better pitches today," Bonds said. "I tip my hat to them. They came right at me."