Home run #: 12
Date: May 1
Opponent: Chicago Cubs
Location: Wrigley Field
Pitcher: Rod Beck
Runners on: 1
Distance: 362 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 6
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 11
Eleven home runs in one month is pretty snazzy. However, it’s a six month season and, at that pace, you wind up with 66 homers (which might sound familiar). Sixty-six might have passed Maris, but it wouldn’t have the resonance that 70 did (and people would be forever asking me if I was Cardinal66 because I was a Route 66 enthusiast). Thankfully, Mark McGwire wasted no time pushing his pace up a bit.
After playing the night before, the Cards had one of the more traditional day games at Wrigley set for the beginning of May. The Redbirds sent out Todd Stottlemyre to make sure they didn’t drop two in a row to their hated rivals while Chicago countered with young hurler Geremi Gonzalez. Gonzalez had no trouble with McGwire in the first, retiring him on a groundout to third base to retire the side in order.
Stottlemyre was not so lucky and for the second straight day the Cubs sent a lot of batters to the plate in the initial frame. The first five Chicago batters reached on a mix of three walks, a single, and a double. One run scored there and one scored later when Tyler Houston was awarded first base on catcher’s interference by Tom Lampkin. While three runs in the first wasn’t insurmountable, there had to be a deflating quality to being down early again to their rival.
Gonzalez threw a couple more scoreless frames but ran into some trouble in the fourth. McGwire drew the first of three walks, then back to back doubles by Ray Lankford and Willie McGee drew the Cardinals within one run. Sadly, Stottlemyre might have fit right in with the St. Louis squad of the last couple of years, as instead of throwing a shutdown inning he turned around and allowed the Cubs two more tallies on a double by Mickey Morandini and a single by an outfielder named Sosa.
Gonzalez turned the game over to the Cub bullpen after five innings but no matter who the pitcher was, not much was going on. They had a chance in the seventh when Amaury Telemaco walked Delino DeShields and McGwire with two outs, but Lankford fouled out to end the threat.
Going into the ninth, the Cubs had added what turned out to be a key insurance run on a Henry Rodriguez home run and led 6-3. They went to their closer, Rod Beck. Beck, who had made a name for himself in San Francisco, was in his first season with the Cubs, a season that would prove to be one of his best, as he appeared in 81 games and tallied 51 saves. He got the save in this one, but he had to earn it.
Brian Jordan led off the inning with a fly ball out, then Royce Clayton singled and stole second. DeShields then hit a ground ball to the shortstop Jeff Blauser, who was able to make a fine play and nip DeShields by a step at first base. Instead of McGwire being the tying run, he could only close the gap.
With a runner at third, Beck didn’t want to put McGwire on and give Lankford a chance to tie it up. His first pitch was outside and his second could have gone that way, but the umpire made a belated strike call to even the count. McGwire then swung through a changeup to put the Cubs one strike away from victory.
Beck’s sinking fastball didn’t sink far enough and McGwire launched a moon shot into the left-field bleachers, just short of clearing the park and heading out to Waveland Avenue. That brought the Cards back from the brink and when Lankford followed with a single, it felt like some Cardinal magic was happening. Instead, McGee flew out to center and the Cardinals fell to the Cubs yet again, something that would happen more often than anyone wearing red would care for in 1998.