Closing in on history


Barry Bonds is finally willing to recognize his own countdown to the home run record.

He hit two more over the fences and, suddenly, is just two swings from tying Hank Aaron. And those commemorative balls now being worked in for Bonds' at-bats serve as constant reminders that he's right on the cusp of making history &

and breaking the most hallowed record in sports.

"It's real now," Bonds said after hitting his 752nd and 753rd home runs Thursday in the San Francisco Giants' 9-8 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

"I had to get over them switching those baseballs. Any time that happens, I kind of go into a slide. It's tough because you actually really realize something's going on and you don't really want to think about it. ... But when they stop it for a second and switch baseballs, it's very hard to not know something's happening right in front of you."

He was ready, all right, breaking out of his longest offensive funk in six years on a pair of fresh, rested legs.

The San Francisco slugger returned to the starting lineup for the first time in four games after sitting to let his sore lower body recover.

On Friday, the quest moves to Miller Park in Milwaukee, the city where Aaron started and ended his career. It's also the home of commissioner Bud Selig, who hasn't said whether he'll be in the seats as Bonds attempts to make history.

"It doesn't mean anything different than anywhere else," Bonds said of playing in Aaron's town. "Right now, I just feel good. My body feels great. I feel rejuvenated a little bit. Maybe I'm going to take three more days off and come back."

Bonds will probably play Friday and Sunday, sitting out Saturday afternoon's contest following a night game.

He didn't just clear the fences in the second inning when he crushed the specially monogrammed ball for his 18th homer of the season and first in 25 at-bats, he cleared the bleachers altogether on a blustery day. There were wind gusts of 20 mph at first pitch.

Bonds sent the first pitch from Cubs starter Ted Lilly high over the right-field fence leading off the inning &

the first drive out of Wrigley Field to reach Sheffield Avenue all season. Then he homered again in the seventh on a 3-2 pitch from Will Ohman, a three-run shot that stuck in the basket of the wall in left-center. Ohman became the 443rd pitcher to give up a home run to Bonds, who has 19 homers on the year.

It was Bonds' 71st multihomer game, second behind Babe Ruth's 72, and second this season. He went 3-for-3 with three runs scored.

Even Bonds is having a tough time enjoying the home runs with the last-place Giants losing day after day.

"Obviously he's our guy who's going to produce," losing pitcher Matt Morris said. "I don't know what the goal here is anymore &

to win games? He's our biggest threat. Today he produced and it still wasn't good enough. I think it's more about how we're playing than what Barry's got going on the side. That is something he's been dealing with for a long time. We're almost waiting to get it over with."

Bonds' first homer pulled the Giants within 4-1 and was San Francisco's first hit off Lilly, who surrendered his third career homer to Bonds. The next homer got the Giants within one and gave Bonds six RBIs on the day, his most since driving in six runs Sept. 22 last year at Milwaukee. It was his seventh career game with at least six RBIs.

The second homer also moved Bonds past Carlton Fisk for most longballs by a player in a year he turns at least 43. Fisk hit 18 at age 43 in 1990 and 18 more the following year at 44. Bonds &

who turns 43 on Tuesday &

needs two more homers not only to match Hammerin' Hank's record, but also to tie Fisk's 72 homers after turning 40.

The fans both cheered and booed when his second-inning ball sailed out in the direction of a beer billboard reading "755 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL." Dave Davison, a 39-year-old regular at Wrigley, retrieved the specially monogrammed ball in the middle of the street after it bounced off someone else's arm.

And it wasn't the first souvenir for Davison, who has retrieved more than 4,200 keepsake balls including one other from Bonds. He might be a willing seller this time, but had already turned down an offer for $5,000.

"I'd have to seriously consider anything over $25,000," Davison said. "I'll be happy to keep it."

Tyler Olson, a 13-year-old from Freeport, Ill., came up with No. 753. The teen declined comment.

"I was just hoping they were going to throw the balls back like they said. I guess they lied," Bonds said. "I was going to put them in my trophy room."

Bonds hadn't homered since the first inning July — at Cincinnati and also ended a seven-game hitless stretch. In the third, Lilly had no choice but to go right after him again &

and Bonds looped a bases-loaded, two-run single into left-center.

Lilly didn't mind being connected to Bonds, who faces suspicions his pursuit was fueled by steroids.

"He's one of the most special players the game has ever had," Lilly said. "A lot of the negative attention has been unfortunate, not only for him but for the game. I don't know what the facts are in his history. I respect him."

As Bonds made his way out in street clothes afterward, he greeted and hugged Rev. Jesse Jackson near the Giants' dugout and they pecked each other on the cheek.

Bonds was mired in a season-worst 0-for-21 slump, two off his career high set during his rookie season in 1986. The latest was his longest hitless stretch since one of the same length from April 5-12, 2001 &

the year he broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record with 73.

"It's not too often you can keep him down," the Cubs' Cliff Floyd said. "I knew sooner or later he was going to break out."

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