Home run #: 15
Date: May 14
Opponent: Atlanta Braves
Location: Busch Stadium
Pitcher: Kevin Millwood
Runners on: 0
Distance: 381 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 7
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 15
By Mark McGwire standards, the first half of May was pretty slow. Three home runs in the 13 days up to this point is good for a lot of hitters, but when you are expected to hit at a record pace, it’s a bit disappointing. Starting today and continuing the rest of May, McGwire began to make up for it.
The Atlanta Braves were at the height of their powers in ’98. They would win 106 games, though in true Braves fashion would get upended in the playoffs and not make the World Series. Sixty percent of their starting rotation–Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz–would wind up in the Hall of Fame as well as third baseman Chipper Jones. For youngsters that remember the hapless Braves of the last few years, it might be hard to fathom, but Atlanta was a huge powerhouse.
Kevin Millwood might not have been at the Hall of Fame level as his compatriots, but he was a strong pitcher at this time as well. He had the highest ERA in the rotation that year at a hair over 4 but still wound up with 17 wins. He went up against the Cardinals this night, facing off against swingman Mark Petkovsek. And, because it’s baseball, things didn’t quite go as you’d expect for most of the game.
The Cards drew first blood early as, after a McGwire flyout to right, Brian Jordan tripled in Royce Clayton who had led off the game with a double. Petkovsek, in only his second start of the year (his first lasted two outs against the Cubs on April 30), held down the powerful Braves roster. He worked around trouble all night–his first 1-2-3 inning didn’t come until the fourth–but clung to that 1-0 lead until the bottom of the fourth rolled around.
Big Mac led off the bottom of the fourth, which was another good way to make sure he was pitched to. Millwood started him off with a ball, then whipped a strike past him. His third pitch, an offspeed offering that hung around the middle of the plate, never made it to the catcher. McGwire connected and sent it halfway into the Cardinal bullpen in right field.
McGwire’s blast made it 2-0 and, with Petkovsek in control, seemed to be a little icing on the cake. St. Louis went up 3-0 in the sixth when a Jordan groundout scored Ray Lankford.
It stayed that way until the eighth, when the bullpen took over, piled up some wood, got some gasoline, and struck a match. Three different relievers were used (Juan Acevedo, John Frascatore, and Curtis King) and this is what that inning looked like in text form:
Unsurprisingly, the Cards didn’t have a five run comeback in them and fell to .500 with the loss. McGwire had tied Ken Griffey Jr., however, and he would only trail him for once more in the season when Griffey reached 16 the next day. McGwire was just starting to heat up.