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715 for Hammerin' Hank

By
MILTON RICHMAN, UPI Sports Editor

ATLANTA (UPI) -- Hank Aaron, who took the first step of this near, incredible climb nearly 20 years ago, crossed the final mountain top last night when he broke Babe Ruth's lifetime record with his 715th home run in the fourth inning of the Atlanta Braves-Los Angeles Dodgers contest.

Southpaw Al Downing was the victim of Aaron's record-breaker, serving up the second home run of the season to the 40-year-old Braves' superstar on a 1-and-0 pitch.

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The ball cleared the left field fence at the 385-foot marker and in an unusual maneuver, Dodger left fielder Bill Buckner virtually climbed over the wall in an unsuccessful, attempt to retrieve the ball.

THE BRAVES won the ball game, 7-4, and in his subsequent two times at bat, Aaron grounded out to third base in the fifth inning and bounced out to shortstop in the seventh.

Aaron's climactic wallop came on his second time at bat and in his first swing of the night.

He had walked on a 3-and-1 pitch leading off the second inning and scored the Braves' first run of the game in that frame.

With the Braves trailing 3-1, Darrell Evans was safe on an error by Dodger shortstop Bill Russell opening the fourth. Downing then came in with a curve ball as his first pitch to Aaron which was low and the crowd of 53,775 booed its disapproval.

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On the next pitch, Aaron brought those marvelous miracle wrists of his into play. The ball took off on a blurred line toward the left field fence and unlike what occurred in Cincinnati last Thursday when the crowd sat in stunned silence upon watching Aaron's 714th homer, the fans at Atlanta Stadium roared their approval before Aaron's 715th even cleared the fence.

AARON PICKED on a fastball right down the middle for his home run.

Downing said he had tried to get the ball up but it kept sinking on him. The Dodgers lefthander wasn't sure if the ball cleared the fence after Aaron hit it.

"When he first hit it, I didn't think it would go out," said Downing. "I was watching Buckner, but the ball just kept on carrying. And when he got to the fence, I knew it was gone."

Fireworks immediately went off and the game was halted as two young fans raced out of the stands to accompany Aaron on his trip around the bases. All his Braves teammates awaited him at home plate and swirled around him to shake his hand.

A microphone was set up near the Braves' dugout and Aaron brought over to say a few words into it.

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"I just thank God it's all over with," said the Atlanta left fielder. "Thank you."

MONTE IRVIN, a former member of the New York Giants and a hall of famer, left his field box seat to present a $3,000 diamond-studded solid gold wrist watch to Aaron with the compliments of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Irvin is one of the commissioner's administrative aides and when he mentioned Kuhn's name the stadium was filled with boos presumably because the commissioner was not on hand in person.

There were signs supporting that presumption in the stadium, one in the upper deck said "Hank 714 Bowie 0." Another one said,: "Phooey on Bowie."

The attendance was 53,775, a record for a baseball game in Atlanta Stadium. Nearly half the crowd left the stadium after Aaron's homer without watching the rest of the game.

President Nixon, who had called Aaron the day after he hit his 714th home run, phoned him again last night after No. 715.

Aaron was busy in the outfield at the time of the call but when he came into the dugout, manager Eddie Mathews informed him of the President's call and put him on the phone to the White House. Nixon invited Aaron to visit him at the White House at some future date.

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Aaron actually set records in each of his first two times at bat. By scoring in the second inning on Dusty Baker's double and Buckner's error, he moved behind only Ty Cobb and Ruth in total runs scored with 2,063. When he scored on his home run in the fourth, of course, he increased that record, also.

THERE WAS AN ironic twist to Aaron's 715th home run in that it came off Downing, who broke in with the New York Yankees, and Aaron's very first home run on April 23, 1954 came off another former Yankee, Vic Raschi, then pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Moreover, Aaron also was wearing a former Yankee player's baseball shoes last night. Originally they had belonged to Joe Pepitone when he was with the Braves.

"When he left," Aaron laughed, "he forgot two pairs of his shoes. Ralph Garr grabbed one and I the other. I'm still wearing them."

Prior to the contest Downing said he would have no particular sentiments one way or another if he was the victim of Aaron's 715th homer.

"I won't feel any particular pride if he hits it off me," said Downing, "and I won't feel disgraced, either."

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FOLLOWING Aaron's record-breaking homer which tied the score at 3-3, Downing was removed after walking both Dusty Baker and Dave Johnson. Dodger manager Walt Alston came to the mound to take out Downing and bring in reliever Mike Marshall, and the crowd gave Downing a warm ovation as he left the field for the Dodgers' dugout.

Tom House, one of the Braves' pitchers, retrieved the ball to the right of the Braves' bullpen.

The Braves' management honored Aaron before the game with ceremonies that included a 21-gun salute and the releasing of red, blue, and yellow balloons on a given signal so that the entire affair took on an Olympic-like atmosphere.

Alston, watching it all, said, "I know he's gonna hit it sooner or later. I just hope it doesn't cost us a ball game."

The game was delayed 11 minutes after Aaron's home run.

In hitting the homer as he did, Aaron ended the controversy which had begun last Thursday in Cincinnati over whether or not the Braves should play him against the Reds or save him until he could accomplish his feat back home in Atlanta.

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