Riches of Bonds' chase hit San Diego
Slugger headlines first PETCO Park sellout in a month
SAN DIEGO -- The Padres were one of the few teams to publicly show interest in Barry Bonds last winter when he was a free agent, and they got a taste of the riches the season could have provided on Friday night.The fans came out in force, selling out PETCO Park for the first time in more than a month with 43,523 hoping to witness a piece of history. "I noticed," John Moores, the Padres' majority owner, told MLB.com during the course of his team's 4-3, 10-inning victory. "We need to go out and get a big-name player to give this franchise some financial stability." Moores has never been a big proponent of the controversial Bonds, although he knows star power when he sees it. The chase for 755 has now produced 24 consecutive sellout crowds since July 5 in games involving Bonds and the Giants. Bonds, who went 0-for-4 on the evening and is still sitting on 754, one behind the legendary Hank Aaron, said he expects to start his ninth game in a row on Saturday night. He has gone 28 plate appearances (including 10 walks and two singles) since hitting his last homer in the first inning against the Marlins in San Francisco on July 27. But no matter, aside from selling out 10 home games in a row, the Giants have played in front of sellouts on the road during three-game sets in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Los Angeles. They also established a record for a four-game series on July 16-19 at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Now, the Padres, who are in the thick of the race for their third consecutive National League West title, are getting a taste. A club official said tickets are gone for Saturday night's game and less than 3,000 remain for Sunday, which gives local fans two more cracks at the notorious Bonds. The last time the Padres sold out a game was June 24 against the Red Sox, a date which wrapped up a three-game sold-out series that featured as many Red Sox fans in the nearly 4-year-old yard as Padres partisans. On Friday night, Commissioner Bud Selig was back in the house as well as Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who is a summer resident of nearby La Jolla. Vince Coleman, who led the Cardinals to National League pennants in 1985 and 1987 and is Bonds' close friend, has also been on the watch this week. When the Giants dallied in their attempt to sign Bonds this past offseason, Moores said back then that there had been some internal discussion within the organization about making the lefty-hitting slugger the club's left fielder. But the initial interest quickly dissipated and Bonds ultimately signed a one-year contract to return the Giants. Bonds has beaten the Padres like a drum, hitting 86 of his career homers against them, far and away the most he has whacked against any opposing team. And despite some dissident voices from several of the team's broadcasters, who were critical of Bonds and his chase of the home run record in Friday's edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, fans clearly have been delivering their own message by purchasing tickets. "I think you have to show some respect for the game," Moores said. "No matter what you think of the guy, he's chasing one of the most cherished records in sports history. He still has to hit all of those baseballs out. He's one of the era's greatest players. And what he's doing right now is good for baseball." While the fans have voiced their displeasure with Bonds, who is conducting his pursuit of the record under a cloud of controversy, opposing managers of have lined up in support of him. In recent weeks, Tony La Russa of the Cardinals, Lou Piniella of the Cubs, Ned Yost of the Brewers, Bobby Cox of the Braves, Grady Little of the Dodgers and Bud Black of the Padres have all shown their support in some shape or form. Cox, Little and Black were all asked directly if the record would be tainted because many suspect Bonds, among a number of players, of using performance-enhancing drugs from 1998-2002. Major League Baseball began testing for those drugs in 2003 at the Major League level, but Bonds has never been among those who have registered positive. All have said the record won't be tainted, including Black on Friday night. "I think he's one of the greatest players of all time," said the first-year Padres manager, who is one of the 444 pitchers who has surrendered at least one Bonds home run. "I think he's proven that over his entire career. This record signifies his skill, his talent, that he can hit a baseball." Is the record tainted? "No," Black said. Friday night was the fifth time in less than two weeks Bonds has faced a premier starting pitcher without results. He's 1-for-12 with three walks against Atlanta's John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, Florida's Dontrelle Willis, the Dodgers' Brad Penny and old friend Greg Maddux. The Padres right-hander is one of the five pitchers to allow a career-high eight homers to Bonds, but Maddux, who held him hitless in three appearances on Friday night, still hasn't given up one to him since May 1, 1998. Maddux, who pitched into the seventh inning and didn't get the decision, said the 43-year-old Bonds "hasn't lost much." "I wish him the best because I respect what he's done during the last 22 years," said Maddux, 41 and the winner of 340 games in 22 seasons. "I've had an opportunity to watch him and play against him. Even though we've never been teammates, I can still respect what he does on the field and want to see him do well, but just obviously not against us. I've always thought he's played the game right."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.