SAN FRANCISCO – Once upon a time, a pitcher named Mike Bacsik faced a legendary slugger who had 755 home runs. The slugger, Hank Aaron, did not add to his total, and the confrontation became the stuff of Bacsik family lore.
Thirty-one years later, history did not repeat itself.
Bacsik's son and namesake, a round-faced left-hander with the Washington Nationals, faced another legendary slugger who had 755 home runs. And that slugger, Barry Bonds, blasted a full-count fastball 435 feet into the right-center field bleachers in the fifth inning Tuesday night, breaking Aaron's all-time record and thrusting the younger Bacsik into the limelight.
He grasped the moment. He didn't grope for words. It was almost as if he'd rehearsed a concession speech.
"If my dad would have been gracious enough to give up a home run, we'd both have given up a No. 756," he quipped.
The younger Mike Bacsik is an average pitcher, having made 37 appearances in parts of five seasons, including 15 this year that have produced a 5-6 record and 4.47 earned-run average. From the start, it seemed as if he was resigned to becoming, in his words, "forever linked to Al Downing," the pitcher who surrendered the home run that pushed Aaron past Babe Ruth in 1974.
"I went after him," he said of Bonds. "I didn't want to give up the home run, but I did and now I'm excited because we won the game."
Actually, the result, an 8-6 victory by the last-place Nationals over the last-place San Francisco Giants, is nothing more than a factoid. Bacsik is forever.
"I dreamed about this moment as a kid, except when I dreamed about it, I thought I'd be the one hitting the home run," he said.
A day earlier his father had counseled him, telling him what dads usually say to their kids, to have fun. Ducking into an office in the Giants clubhouse to congratulate Bonds with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Omar Vizquel present would qualify as major fun under most circumstances.
Bonds gave him a bat, signing it, "To Mike, God bless, Barry Bonds," and later said, "I owe him a lot of respect. He's a great pitcher and a class act."
The Nationals were upbeat because they'd won, and Bacsik and his buddies kept it light.
"Is your license plate gonna be '756'?" pitcher Ray King said, laughing. He skipped a beat and added, "Keep your head up, kid."
After most of his teammates had disappeared into the warm San Francisco night, Bacsik drew a breath and admitted he'd rather not have been the guy who had to deliver the pithy sound bites and explain the 86-mph pitch Bonds blasted.
"I was disappointed when I threw the pitch," he said. "I put my head down for a second. I watched Barry's reaction and heard the sound of the bat. I knew.
"The place went nuts. It was like giving up a game-winning home run in the ninth. It was a similar feeling to that."
During the 10-minute celebration, Bacsik sat and listened to Bonds speak to the sellout crowd.
"He talked about his dad, how he was his best friend," he said. "I feel the same way. My dad played in the big leagues. I got my composure back and went back out there."
Somewhere, Michael James Bacsik must have been proud of his son, Michael Joseph Bacsik. Certainly, when he sees the interview clips.
"I'm still alive, I'm still in the big leagues," Bacsik said. "I'd feel bad if some guy with 5,000 at-bats and no home runs hit his first one off me.
"It was like, Mike who? Now I'm linked forever in baseball history to this achievement. Now I'll try to go out and win 300 games."