Marking McGwire: #22, #23

Home run Pitcher Score Inning Outs Runners on Distance
22 Rich Rodriguez 7-4 4 1 0 366
23 John Johnstone 8-8 5 2 1 477

Opponent: San Francisco Giants

Location: Busch Stadium

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 9

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 17

Just like a summer rainstorm in the midwest (and even this far south), sometimes it’ll come out of the blue but when it comes, it comes hard.  That was Mark McGwire‘s power at the end of May.  After spending about a week hitting a home run every other day, Mac turned it up a notch by going for three in one game and then had a stretch of six home runs in five days, not even counting that game.  It was like it was just part of the game for a while.  You had the national anthem, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and a Mark McGwire home run.  You just knew that was going to happen going in.

And, at times, you got even more like it in this one, a wild one by any standard.  We’ve talked a lot about Manny Aybar over the season and there’s really no reason to rehash how bad he was, but suffice it to say this was his last start until mid-June.  An ERA in the upper 9s will do that to a pitcher.  Aybar started off this one by again allowing runs.  Darryl Hamilton singled to lead off the game and Bill Mueller followed that up with a walk.  Because baseball is a strange sport, Aybar got Barry Bonds to pop out (yes, somehow the guy he gets out is one of the most legendary players in the game), but Jeff Kent followed with a triple that put the Giants on top 2-0.  Kent would later score on a sacrifice fly by J.T. Snow and the Giants had a three run lead before the Cards ever came to bad.

However, while the ’98 Cards couldn’t pitch, they sure could hit.  Danny Darwin was on the hill for the Giants and he did even worse.  Ron Gant popped out to start the game, but then Delino Deshields and our featured slugger singled.  Ray Lankford followed that up with a walk to load the bases, then Brian Jordan and John Mabry followed with RBI singles to tie the game up.  The Redbirds went ahead when Royce Clayton had a sacrifice fly to score Jordan and somehow, after the first inning, the Cards lead 4-3.

Aybar had a clean second and Lankford, following a Gant single and a McGwire walk, crushed a three-run shot to right center to make it 7-3.  Brian Jordan followed with a double and that was all for Darwin.  Sadly, even though the club had a four run lead this early, Darwin would not factor into the decision.

Aybar gave up a run in the fourth on a couple of walks and a single by the new pitcher, Rich Rodriguez.  However, in the bottom of the frame, Mark McGwire got that back, smashing a home run on a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall on a similar trajectory as one that would become famous in September.  Like that one, it was one of the few McGwire homers that didn’t go over 400 feet, but it still counted and put the club up 8-4.

Of course, the good times couldn’t last.  Aybar returned to the mound in the fifth and by this time the Giants had his number.  With one out, Bonds walked, Kent singled, and then Stan Javier grounded out.  Aybar was one out away from not only getting out of the inning but being eligible for the win when the bottom fell out.  J.T. Snow singled in a run and Rich Aurilia doubled in two.  That was all Tony La Russa could watch, but Kent Bottenfield came in and allowed an RBI single to Brent Mayne.  Suddenly, the game was knotted at 8.

Again the Cardinal offense–most notably the big man in the middle–came through.  Brian Hunter pinch-hit against John Johnston and singled to start the frame.  Gant flew out but Delino Deshields drew a walk to put two runners on for the major league home run leader.

McGwire swung through the first pitch, then took two more out of the zone.  Ahead in the count, he fouled one off, then got a breaking ball that hung in the middle of the plate and, well, you pretty much know what the redhead did with those throughout his career but especially in 1998.  When the ball landed somewhere in the left-center field bleachers, it was 11-8.

This game, though, was far from over.  Lance Painter threw a perfect sixth but was tagged with a J.T. Snow homer with a runner in the seventh.  11-10.  Thankfully, Curtis King threw two perfect innings to keep the Giants from another late rally and the Cards had another win.  McGwire was up to 23 on the 23rd with much, much more to come.

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