- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007

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 yesterday, sending No. 752 over the right-field bleachers on the first pitch he faced 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.”

Today, 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 will 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 RBI on the day, his most since driving in six runs Sept. 22 at Milwaukee. It was his seventh career game with at least six RBI.

The second one also moved Bonds past Carlton Fisk for most home runs 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.