CHICAGO (AP)—Barry Bonds knows it’s real now.
His worst slump is over and Hank Aaron’s record can’t be far behind. For all those days he opted not to talk about it, he can no longer avoid it.
Bonds moved within two home runs of Aaron’s mark Thursday, sending No. 752 over the right-field bleachers on the first pitch, and his 753rd into the basket on the wall in left-center.
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, though his two homers weren’t enough for the Giants in a 9-8 loss to the surging Chicago Cubs.
In case Bonds had somehow forgotten what he was chasing, the commemorative balls being used when he bats are providing constant reminders.
“It’s real now,” Bonds said, swarmed by media in a makeshift dugout press conference at Wrigley Field. “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.”
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 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.
Bonds sent the first pitch from Cubs starter Ted Lilly high over the right-field fence leading off the second—and it was the first drive to reach Sheffield Avenue all season. Then he homered again in the seventh, a three-run shot off Will Ohman.
Ohman became the 443rd different pitcher to give up a home run to Bonds, who has 19 homers on the year. It was Bonds’ 71st multihomer game, second all-time behind Babe Ruth’s 72, and second this season.
Bonds’ solo shot pulled the Giants within 4-1 and it was San Francisco’s first hit off Lilly (10-4), who surrendered his third career homer to Bonds and later a two-run single but still won his sixth straight decision to match a career high.
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 field. He drew his 95th walk to start the sixth.
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.”
Bonds’ second homer got the Giants within 9-8 and gave him six RBIs on the day, his most since driving in six runs Sept. 22 at Milwaukee. It was his seventh career game with at least six RBIs.
The second one 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 needs two more homers not only to match Hammerin’ Hank’s record, but also to tie Fisk’s 72 homers after turning 40.
Chicago could still celebrate afterward. The Cubs earned their 18th victory in the last 23 games and sixth in seven since the All-Star break, moving six games over .500 (50-44) for the first time since June 11, 2005, when they were 33-27.
“Barry tried to carry us through it, but we just handed them this game,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
The fans both cheered and booed when Bonds’ first homer 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 ball in the middle of the street after it bounced off someone else’s arm.
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, who turns 43 on Tuesday, hadn’t homered since the first inning July 3 at Cincinnati and also ended a seven-game hitless stretch.
He was mired in a season-worst 0-for-21 slump, two off his career high set during his rookie season in 1986. The latest funk was his longest since a hitless stretch of the same length from April 5-12, 2001—the year he broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record with 73.
As he made his way out in street clothes afterward, Bonds greeted and hugged Rev. Jesse Jackson near the Giants’ dugout and they pecked each other on the cheek.
The fans started booing Bonds lustily before he even took the field, hollering in displeasure when his name was announced with the starting lineups.
Bonds was in an 0-for-17 slump before hitting his 746th homer against the Rockies on May 27.
“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.”
The four-game series drew a Wrigley Field record of 161,374 fans. The previous record was 159,451 vs. Cincinnati in 2004. … Lilly stole his first career base in the fifth after hitting a two-out single.