Marking McGwire: #10

Home run #: 10

Date: April 25

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Location: Veteran Stadium

Pitcher: Jerry Spradlin

Score: 3-5

Inning: 7

Outs: 2

Runners on: 1

Distance: 419 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 5

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 8

Reaching double digits in home runs usually means you’ve had a pretty solid year.  I mean, if you are someone like Giancarlo Stanton, just having 10 homers wouldn’t be a big deal, but lots of quality players might finish a season with 10 or fewer homers.

In 1998, Mark McGwire reached that mark in less than a month.

The argument against McGwire for MVP in this historic season–one that apparently carried the day as Big Mac came in a very distant second to Sammy Sosa in the voting–was that McGwire didn’t do enough to help his team win.  WAR would disagree–on Fangraphs McGwire beat Sosa by almost 1.5 wins–but the sabermetric revolution was still a few years away from even beginning.  No matter where you stand on that argument, there was no doubt in this one that the big swing was a big deal.

Manny Aybar–whose name as come up a number of times already this season and, as we noted back in February, was the piece Walt Jocketty had to hold on to when asked about–again struggled in a start, allowing three runs and six hits in four innings against the Phillies, with the big blow a Rico Brogna double that scored Doug Glanville and future Cardinal Scott Rolen.  (This raised Aybar’s ERA to 8.46 on the young season, but stunningly enough it would continue to climb for a while.)  Mark Petkovsek took over in the fifth but gave up a two-run homer to Glanville, putting the Cards behind 5-0.

Matt Beech had kept the Cardinal attack on the sidelines through six innings, but the seventh was a different story.  Whatever flaws the ’98 squad had, they knew how to put up runs.  Gary Gaetti started the frame by taking the fifth pitch of the inning out over the left field wall.  An Eli Marrero single was sandwiched inside a flyout by Ron Gant and a lineout by David Howard.  That left a man on first with two outs and the Cardinals still trailing by four.

As he did often that season, Willie McGee came on to pinch hit for the pitcher.  He wound up slapping a single up the middle to move Marrero to second and turn over the lineup for the big boys.  Royce Clayton jumped on the first pitch he saw, doubling in Marrero and McGee to make it 5-3 and ending Beech’s night.

Jerry Spradlin came into the game with a 3.95 ERA, but much of that had come in one bad inning recently.  He had a couple of wins and a couple of holds to show for his season.  It was apparent he was in for a tough time quickly when Ray Lankford singled up the middle to bring in Clayton and bring McGwire to the plate in a one-run game, which is pretty much where no reliever (or starter) wanted to find themselves in the late ’90s.

Spradlin got his first pitch over for a strike and McGwire fouled off the second, putting him in a sizable hole.  Spradlin missed with his third pitch, then left his fourth within reaching distance.  McGwire, with that patented quick swing, hit a screaming line drive that left the ballpark and put the Cardinals on top.  While Brian Jordan followed with a double and stole third, McGwire’s blast ended the scoring for both teams.  In the ninth, Jeff Brantley retired Gregg Jefferies, Rolen, and Mike Lieberthal to lock down the save, something I could have sworn never happened during Brantley’s tenure.

McGwire was the first player in the big leagues to reach ten homers.  However, the race was really just beginning.

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