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San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds celebrating after hitting his 756th home run on Tuesday. (Missy Mikulecky/Reuters, Pool)

BASEBALL

Bonds completes rocky journey to break record

SAN FRANCISCO: Barry Bonds swung, then immediately raised his arms in the air, realizing that he had become the most prolific home run hitter in major league history.

Everyone in the ball park instantly realized the importance of what they had witnessed as well, watching Bonds's latest and most important white streak soar into the night.

His 756th homer pushed him past Hank Aaron and pushed baseball's history into an awkward spot. He is alone now atop the career home run list. Let the debate about the authenticity of Bonds's record begin. It will be here for a while.

With his compact swing, Bonds blasted a fastball from Mike Bacsik of the Washington Nationals over the fence in right-center field in the fifth inning on Wednesday. The anxious San Francisco Giants fans, who were already standing at AT&T Park, cheered, hugged and high-fived. Bonds trotted around the bases and officially put himself in a place where no other player has been.

When Bonds reached home, Nikolai, his 17-year-old son and a Giants bat boy, was there to greet him. Nikolai held up one finger to his father, a sign that Bonds was No. 1. Bonds stopped at the plate and raised his arms high again, then pointed to the sky.

The Giants assembled near the plate to congratulate Bonds, a sea of men in white uniforms engulfing him. Bonds removed his helmet and waved it to the fans. Bacsik stood behind the mound with his hand on his hip. In a quirky coincidence, Bascik's father, Mike Sr., once pitched to Aaron when Aaron had 755 homers.

Aaron, who had distanced himself from Bonds's pursuit, made an appearance in a videotaped message that was played on the scoreboard.

The message received a huge ovation, too. Aaron congratulated Bonds and noted that getting the record requires "skill, longevity and determination" and said that he had been privileged to hold the record for 33 years.

"I move over and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement," Aaron said. "My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams."

After Aaron's message, Bonds took a microphone and spoke. He thanked his teammates, his family, the Nationals and the fans. As Bonds spoke about his father, Bobby, a former major leaguer who died in 2003, he started to weep.

Two congratulatory banners were unfurled from the light stanchions in center field. One had an image of Bonds in his home run pose and the other showed the number 756 and the words "Road to History." Bonds was trailed by camera operators as he strolled to left field in the sixth. After Bonds received another boisterous ovation, he was removed before the inning started.

Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, who was in San Diego on Saturday when Bonds hit his 755th homer, was not there on Tuesday. Jimmie Lee Solomon and Frank Robinson, two of baseball's executives, were in his place.

Selig congratulated Bonds in a telephone call after Bonds left the game and said that Solomon and Robinson met with Bonds on his behalf. "I congratulate Barry Bonds for establishing a new career home run record," Selig said in a statement. "Barry's achievement is noteworthy and remarkable."

But the statement also obliquely referred to the suspicion that Bonds had used steroids. "While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement," Selig said.

Willie Mays, Bonds's godfather and a man who had 660 career homers and was one of Aaron's contemporaries, joined Bonds on the field after Bonds connected. "I think it's good for baseball," Mays said. "It's all about baseball. It's all about Barry. That's all."

Bonds's homer gave the Giants a 5-4 lead, but the Nationals came back to win, 8-6.

Bonds has been connected with investigations into steroids, turning what should have been a celebratory journey into one that has had some tortured moments. Selig waited for months before deciding that he would attend some of Bonds's games. The debate continues between those who say the record is pure and those who impugn it because of the suspicion that he used steroids.

Bonds called the journey to reach the record the hardest thing he had experienced in his career, but he bristled when asked whether his actions had helped create that environment.

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