Marking McGwire: #16

Home run #: 16

Date: May 16

Opponent: Florida Marlins

Location: Busch Stadium

Pitcher: Livan Hernandez

Score: 1-3

Inning: 4

Outs: 0

Runners on: 0

Distance: 545 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 8

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 16

If there is one lasting image from 1998 that doesn’t come from September, it’s probably this one.

On a night in mid-May, Mark McGwire captured imaginations with a blast that set a distance record for Busch Stadium II that lasted until it was demolished in 2005.  While the measurement might not have been 100% correct (and how many of them are, even today), there’s still a mystique around 545.

While most of McGwire’s home runs that year fade into obscurity or are mixed in our memory with the myriad of others that he hit, #16 stands out.  Todd Stottlemyer had started the game for the Cardinals and quickly put the team in the hole, with a Ryan Jackson triple bringing in two runs in the top of the first.  Future Cardinal shortstop Edgar Renteria then drove in another run in the third to raise the lead to 3-0.

In the bottom of the third, however, the Cardinals started their comeback on a home run….but not THAT home run.  David Howard took a 2-2 pitch from Livan Hernandez and put it over the right field walk, breaking up Hernandez’s shutout.  Hernandez, of course, had starred in the 1997 playoffs that led to the Marlins’ first World Series title, but was scuffling to start the year, bringing a 5.37 ERA into this one even after throwing eight innings of two-earned-run (five total runs) ball the last time out.  A 3-1 deficit wasn’t necessarily a death sentence.

The memorable moment came in the fourth.  McGwire led off the frame and took ball one.  The second pitch Hernandez threw was completely obliterated.  Many of McGwire’s homers from ’98 are hard to find as a solo YouTube clip.  Not this one.

I imagine, after Hernandez did that jump spin and watched that ball sail far, far, FAR into the Missouri night, that he consoled himself by saying, “It doesn’t matter how far it goes, it only counts as one.”  And it’s true, that only cut the lead to 3-2.  However, the Cardinal offense wasn’t done, not by a long shot.  (OK, yes, that pun was intended.)

Brian Jordan followed up the blast by singling to right and Willie McGee followed with a double in that direction.  With runners on second and third, Hernandez got jittery and balked in the tying run.  John Mabry then grounded out but McGee came in to score, giving the Cards their first lead of the night.

Stottlemyre settled in and was unscored upon until the seventh, when Mike Piazza, in that week of time where he passing from LA to New York, had a sacrifice fly to knot everything up at 4.  Unfortunately for the Marlins, Jordan homered in the bottom of that frame, putting St. Louis back on top.  Stottlemyre went the rest of the way, retiring the last eight batters (starting with Piazza) he faced.

McGwire’s homer might not have ever tied the game or given the Cards the lead but, twenty years later, it’s all anyone remembers from this game.  They remember that night when McGwire swung–and dreams took flight.

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