Barry Bonds raised both arms over his head like a prize fighter in victory, fists clenched - and then he took off. It was over at long last. Like him or not, legitimate or not, he is baseball's new home run king.
Bonds hit No. 756 to the deepest part of the ballpark Tuesday night, and hammered home that very point. He broke Hank Aaron's storied record with one out in the fifth inning, hitting a full-count, 84 mph fastball from Washington's Mike Bacsik.
Bonds sent the ball arcing high into the night, 435 feet into the right-center field seats. Later, he firmly and flatly rejected any suggestion that this milestone was stained by steroids.
"This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period," Bonds said.
Conspicuous by their absence were the commissioner and Hammerin' Hank himself.
Though he was on hand for the tying homer three days ago, deciding to put baseball history ahead of the suspicions plaguing the Giants slugger, Bud Selig wasn't there for the record-breaker.
Instead, he sent two emissaries, Major League Baseball executive vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. Selig also issued a statement.
"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.
Bonds also heard personally from the commissioner.
"Bud Selig called me after the game and congratulated me. I was very happy about that," Bonds said.
As for Aaron, he said all along he had no interest in being there whenever and wherever his 33-year-old mark was broken. He was true to his word, but he did offer a taped message of congratulations that played on the stadium's video board during a 10-minute, in-game tribute.
"It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination," he said.
"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. 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," he said.
A woman who answered the phone at Aaron's home in Georgia shortly after Bonds' homer said that Aaron was asleep.
"When I saw Hank Aaron that made everything," Bonds said. "We've always loved him. He's always the home run king."
With a long, satisfied stare, Bonds watched as the ball sailed over the fence and disappeared into the scrum in the first few rows. Then he raised both arms over his head like a victorious prize fighter, fists clenched, and took off.
"I knew I hit it," Bonds said. "I knew I got it. I was like, phew, finally."
His 17-year-old batboy son Nikolai was already bouncing on home plate as Dad rounded third and ran the final 90 feet to make it official. After a long embrace, the rest of the family joined in _ his mother, two daughters and wife. And then there was Willie Mays, who removed his cap and congratulated his godson.
Bonds saved his most poignant words for last, addressing his late father, Bobby.
"My dad," he said, looking to the sky and choking back tears. "Thank you."
Bonds had wanted to break the record at home, where he would be assured of a friendly crowd. They were all right, unlike in San Diego where some fans held up signs with asterisks.
Bonds has always denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
Home Run Champion
After doubling and singling his first two times up, Bonds hit a solo home run. Bacsik put his left hand to the back of his head as soon as Bonds connected.
"I dreamed about it as a kid, but when I dreamed about it, I was the one hitting the home run and not giving it up," Bacsik said.
"I didn't really want to be part of history as a bad part, but I am," he said. "I'm OK with it."
Bacsik later spoke with Bonds and got an autographed a bat from the Giants star.
Bonds took his position in left field to start the sixth, then was replaced and drew another standing ovation. The Nationals won the game, 8-6.
A fan wearing a Mets jersey wound up with the historic ball. Matt Murphy of New York emerged from the stands with the souvenir and a bloodied face, and was whisked to a secure room.
Even with Bonds at the top of the chart, fans will surely keep debating which slugger they consider the true home run champion. Some will continue to cling to Aaron while other, older rooters will always say it's Babe Ruth.
"It's all about history. Pretty soon, someone will come along and pass him," Mays said before the game.
Aaron held the top spot for 12,173 days after connecting for No. 715 to pass the Babe on April 8, 1974.
"This is the greatest record in all of sports," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We are all fortunate to witness it. It's awesome. This road to history has been a lot of fun."
Bonds homered exactly three years after Greg Maddux earned his 300th victory at the same ballpark. It's been quite a week of baseball milestones - over the weekend, Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run and Tom Glavine won No. 300.
A seven-time NL MVP, the 43-year-old Bonds hit his 22nd home run of the year. Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single-season record by hitting 73 in 2001 and while he's no longer such a force, opposing pitchers remain wary.
Bonds and Giants management bickered in the offseason over contract issues. This big night was the main reason owner Peter Magowan brought back the star left fielder for a 15th season in San Francisco, signing him to a $15.8 million, one-year contract.
Bonds' once-rapid quest for the record had slowed in recent years as his age and balky knees diminished his pace. He hit 258 home runs from 2000-04, but has only 53 since then.
While steroids have tinged Bonds' pursuit, it was race that was the predominant issue when Aaron broke Ruth's mark in 1974. Aaron dealt with hate mail and death threats from racist fans who thought a black man was not worthy of breaking the record set by a white hero, the beloved Babe.
Former commissioner Bowie Kuhn watched Aaron tie the record but was not present for the record-breaker, a slight that bothered many fans of Aaron. Selig is a close friend of Aaron's and offered Bonds tepid congratulations when he tied the record.
"I think Hank is his own man," Mays said. "I think if he wanted to be here he would be here."
"When he hit 715, the commissioner wasn't there," he said. "You may not blame him because he wasn't represented the right way."
Bonds was destined for stardom at an early age. The son of All-Star outfielder Bobby Bonds and the godson of one of the game's greatest players, Bonds spent his childhood years roaming the clubhouse at Candlestick Park, getting tips from Mays and other Giants.
"I visualized him playing sports at a high level. He was 5 when he was in my locker all the time," Mays said.
In a matter of years, Bonds went from a wiry leadoff hitter with Pittsburgh in 1986 to a bulked-up slugger. That transformation is at the heart of his many doubters, who believe Bonds cheated to accomplish his feats and should not be considered the record-holder.
There are plenty of fans already hoping for the day that Bonds' total - whatever it ends up - is topped. Rodriguez may have the best chance, with his 500 home runs at age 32 far ahead of Bonds' pace.
Bonds said he hadn't yet thought beyond 756. He plans to play in 2008.
"I'll tell you one thing: I'm going to hit a lot better from now on," he said after a champagne celebration in the clubhouse.