SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Barry Bonds finally came through. So, too, did Henry Aaron.
The home run to break the game's greatest record was expected. The tribute Aaron paid to the man who broke it wasn't.
Aaron gave Bonds his due Tuesday night even while baseball wouldn't. He congratulated him for becoming the all-time home run king, wiping away any lingering bitterness he might have felt over having his record broken by someone who might have had some help doing it.
T Park that had just about worn itself out already cheering for record they desperately wanted to see.
Two months ago Aaron said he had no thoughts about Bonds, didn't even know how to spell his name. All along, he said he had no intention of flying across the country to see his record broken.
When the moment came to pass, though, he was as eloquent with his words as he was once was with his bat.
``Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball, and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years,'' Aaron said. ``I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement.
``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.''
Bonds, of course, never needed Aaron's blessing to break the record. He never asked for it, either, as he relentlessly chased down a mark many had thought would never be broken.
But on a magical night by the Bay, he got it anyway, and for that baseball should be grateful. This was tough enough for most outside of San Francisco to swallow to begin with, and somehow Aaron's words helped make it a bit easier.
Bud Selig was busy preparing for meetings with steroid investigators, still unwilling to give his total blessing to the man who broke his longtime friend's record. So Aaron stepped in through the magic of technology to officially anoint Bonds the new home run king and give credence to a record holder who did what no one in his generation could do - get better as he got older.
Whether that happened because Bonds is a freak of nature or because he linked up with some guys who had some wonderdrugs called the ``cream'' and the ``clear'' may be debated forever. But there's no debating it did happen, and there's no debate how the fans in San Francisco felt about it.
They celebrated along with Bonds, cheering as he raised both fists in the air at home plate to let them know they didn't have to worry because this ball was gone. And they continued to celebrate for the better part of 10 minutes as fireworks erupted above the park, streamers came down and the 755 next to Bonds name in right center was changed to 756.
About the only one not cheering was the unfortunate Mike Bacsik, a journeyman who will now forever be in baseball lore for throwing the pitch that Bonds hit 435 feet over the Bank of America sign in center field. Bacsik walked to the dugout and took a seat during the celebration, but if he was watching he could have seen his catcher, Brian Schneider, clapping for Bonds while on one knee behind home plate.
You got the feeling this might be the night for Bonds when he came into a clubhouse office an hour before the first pitch, a hot dog slathered with mustard in his hand. Between bites he playfully ordered writers who had gathered to talk to his godfather, Willie Mays, out of the room so he could have a chat with the great Mays himself.
``Say Hey, let's go,'' Bonds said. ``We've got to have our talk.''
When Mays talks, Bonds listens, just as he has since he was a 5-year-old playing in the Giants locker room. Bobby Bonds, who died four years ago at the age of 57, had asked Mays to watch out for his son when he was gone, and Mays took the instructions seriously.
Whatever Mays said, it worked. Bonds doubled his first time up and singled his second. Then, on a 3-2 count with the crowd chanting ``Barry, Barry, Barry,'' he hit the historic shot.
It didn't take long for Mays to get on the field to give him a hug. It didn't take much longer for Aaron to give him his blessing.
All along Bonds' pursuit of the record had been an imperfect quest, clouded by issues we may never fully understand and pursued by a man we may never fully embrace.
On this night, though, it ended about as perfectly as possible.
----
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

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