Home run #: 21
Date: May 22
Opponent: San Francisco Giants
Location: Busch Stadium
Pitcher: Mark Gardner
Runners on: 1
Distance: 425 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 9
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 17
When Mark McGwire hit three home runs in a game in April, it took a while before he added to the total. Not so much the second time he pulled off the feat. McGwire actually took the next day off, then had a 1-4 game against the Giants before seeing them again and adding them to his roll of honor. And you have to wonder if history began to change in this series.
The Giants were seven games over .500 while the Cards were just a game over but there was little attention paid to the visitors. All eyes were on McGwire, wondering what he could do tonight to add to his mystique. In the outfield, there was a guy by the name of Barry Bonds. One of the greatest players already in the game, Bonds would see the McGwire bandwagon up close in this game and, by all accounts, it was McGwire and Sosa’s attention-grabbing act that changed his approach to chemical assistance.
Mark Gardner went for the San Francisco squad up against Kent Merker and overall it was a well-pitched game, which was something of a rarity for the Cardinals in this season. Both teams went quietly in the first, with Gardner walking McGwire on a full count. The Giants broke through in the second when Jeff Kent and Charlie Hayes led off with singles, with Kent then coming home on a Stan Javier groundout.
It remained that way until the bottom of the sixth. Ron Gant led off the inning with a strikeout, which was the 11th straight batter that Gardner had retired. Ray Lankford snapped that string with a single to center, bringing up the man of the hour. Lankford’s speed bothered Gardner, who made a number of throws over to first. His first pitch to McGwire was fouled off, his second taken for a ball. His third pitch was on the outside part of the plate and in a prime hitting zone. McGwire didn’t miss many of those in 1998 and sent this one out to left field, putting the Cards on top 2-1.
Merker stayed in the game and held the lead through until the ninth. In fact, Lankford added on with a home run off of Steve Reed in the eighth, giving him a two-run edge. (McGwire would strike out immediately following.) Bonds, though, led off the ninth with a double and Tony La Russa went to the bullpen to get the closer, Jeff Brantley.
I know Brantley is a fan favorite in Cincinnati, but I have absolutely no good memories of him in St. Louis, and finding out later that he was hurt during his season here didn’t endear him anymore to me. Without looking up the numbers, because we are talking about McGwire here, but it seemed like Brantley blew more games than he saved. Nonetheless, La Russa called for him. He got Jeff Kent to strike out, but current assistant Cardinal batting coach Bill Mueller, a St. Louis native, pinch-hit and smoked a two-run homer to right center, tying the game at three.
The Cards did nothing in the bottom of the frame and Juan Acevado took over for the tenth. He gave up a couple of one-out singles, forcing TLR to do his bullpen magic again. Lance Painter came in and struck out Alex Diaz, but he walked Bonds on four pitches (which might have been one of those unintentional-intentional types, but it did load the bases.) John Frascatore, another name we’ve seen a lot of in this series, got Kent to line out and keep the game tied.
The game kept going. St. Louis had a chance in the 11th, as Willie McGee pinch-hit with two on (one of those a McGwire walk) and two out, but he grounded out to first to end the threat. San Francisco wasn’t doing much either and the game proceeded to the 12th.
In his third inning of work, Julian Tavarez finally buckled. Royce Clayton grounded out, but David Howard and Tom Lampkin both singled, putting runners on the corners. The Giants went to their closer, Robb Nen, to try to keep the game knotted up, but Ron Gant hit his second pitch into left field and the Cardinals pulled one out.
McGwire wasn’t done with the Giants, as we’ll see. And that left fielder certainly took notice.