Marking McGwire: #11

Home run #: 11

Date: April 30

Opponent: Chicago Cubs

Location: Wrigley Field

Pitcher: Marc Pisciotta

Score: 1-8

Inning: 8

Outs: 1

Runners on: 1

Distance: 371 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 6

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 11

While obviously the home run exploits of Mark McGwire was the main story for the Cardinals, they came into the last day of April only 1/2 game behind the division leading Houston Astros with a 16-10 mark.  It wasn’t a dominating stretch by any means, but they were staying in the hunt and winning games even when McGwire didn’t flash his mighty power.

The end of April saw the beginning of the latest chapter in the Cardinal/Cub rivalry as St. Louis headed into Wrigley Field for the first matchup between the two squads.  Little did anyone know that the matchup of these teams would form the galactic center of baseball later down the line.  Right now, it was a regular trip into the Friendly Confines.

Those confines turned decidedly unfriendly early.  It looked promising enough in the top of the first, when Royce Clayton walked, stole second, and came home on a Delino DeShields single.  However, McGwire rapped into a double play and Brian Jordan struck out after Ray Lankford walked, ending what could have been a serious scoring threat against the flame-throwing rookie Kerry Wood.

Wood hadn’t looked like much in his first three starts in the big leagues and, in fact, was coming off a start where he went just 1.2 innings and allowed seven runs to the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, more known as a pitcher’s park.  So getting out of the first with just one run marked against him after that start probably felt like a victory.

The bottom of the first only added to that feeling.  Mark Petkovsek started and didn’t even get a chance to see all the Cubs hitters in the frame before he was pulled by Tony La Russa.  By time Wood grounded out against John Frascatore, there had been four hits (which included two doubles), two walks, a wild pitch, and five runners crossing home.

Given that cushion, Wood settled in and dominated the rest of the way.  He gave up four more hits over the next six innings, walking nary a one and striking out eight over that span.  Wood might have gone longer but his turn to bat came up in the bottom of the seventh, a frame where the Cubs tacked on three more runs on a Mickey Morandini bases-loaded double.

With the game well in hand, the Cubs went to their bullpen and brought in Marc Pisciotta, a name that has been lost to the mists of history unless you are a dedicated Cub fan (and, if you are, why are you reading this blog?).  Pisciotta retired Clayton, who tried to bunt his way on, but then walked DeShields in front of McGwire.

McGwire had a strikeout and a flyout to go along with that first inning double play and, given the large gap on the scoreboard, there was no way that the Cub hurler wasn’t going to challenge him.  By this time, a thick fog had rolled in, making it difficult for the fielders to see what was going on in the box.  McGwire took strike one, then watched two more go wide of the strike zone.  With the count in his favor, McGwire laced one to left field.  Henry Rodriguez wouldn’t have been able to make a play on it even if it was in the yard, given the conditions, but it cleared the baskets and put two runs on the board for the Cards.

Those were the last ones they’d get, however, and the rest of the game was fairly uneventful.  McGwire’s blast meant that Ken Griffey Jr. only tied him when he blasted two that night in Yankee Stadium instead of passing him for the first time since he smashed two on April 13 to take a 6-4 lead.

A couple of footnotes.  The next time Kerry Wood took the mound, he made history, striking out 20 Astros on an historic May afternoon.  And, quietly, Sammy Sosa went two for five in this one, raising his average to .343.  While McGwire and Sosa didn’t have cause to interact here (save some conversations at first after one of those Sosa singles), that time was soon coming.

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