Home run #: 31
Date: June 12
Opponent: Arizona Diamondbacks
Location: Bank One Ballpark
Pitcher: Andy Benes
Runners on: 3
Distance: 438 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 20
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 26
It was probably a bit weird for Andy Benes to be looking across the field at the birds on the bat. After all, he’d won 18 games for the Cardinals in 1996 and 10 more in 1997. Benes had then been a free agent that wanted to return to St. Louis, but Scott Boras overplayed his hand a bit and while a deal was reached with the Cardinals, it was after the deadline for a free agent to return to his current team. Without St. Louis as an option, Benes took a $12 million-plus, two-year deal to go out to the desert to an expansion Diamondbacks team that was just beginning its franchise life.
Benes was struggling a bit with the new club and the desert air, posting a 4.67 ERA going into this outing and coming off a start where he had allowed five runs in 4.1 innings. Now he was facing his old squad and being opposed by Todd Stottlemyre, his former rotation mate. This would not be the start where he got well.
It actually started off well for Benes, who struck out two batters, including Mark McGwire, in the first inning, and the first batter Stottlemyre faced, Andy Fox, went yard. After two innings, the Diamondbacks were up 1-0 and Benes had four strikeouts in six batters. Then the ceiling caved in for him.
Royce Clayton broke up proto-perfect game with a walk and stole second during Tom Lampkin‘s at bat. Lampkin then stroke a double that tied up the game. Proving that baserunning issues are always in season, Lampkin tried to go to third when Stottlemyre hit a ball back to the pitcher. That didn’t work well at all, but that meant Stottlemyre reached. Delino DeShields followed that up with a single and Ray Lankford a walk, meaning that the league’s leading home run hitter was coming to bat with the bases loaded.
Benes missed with his first pitch and, with no place to put McGwire, he had to try to challenge him. He failed.
The fastball was up and it went much higher as McGwire whacked it into left. Suddenly a 1-1 game was 5-1 in favor of the Redbirds.
Crazily enough, even though as we all know home runs are rally killers, the Cardinals weren’t done in the third. Brian Jordan grounded out, but then Willie McGee singled and John Mabry doubled him to third. In his second time up for the inning, Clayton unloaded a shot to left-center. Lampkin then grounded out, but it was now 8-1 Cardinals.
Now while the ’98 version of the club was known for allowing big leads to slip away, they didn’t do that this time. Both clubs traded zeros until the seventh, when the Diamondbacks cut into the lead on an RBI single by David Dellucci, an RBI groundout by Jay Bell, and then a single by Kelly Stinnett that drove in a third run. The Cards responded in the top of the eighth when Clayton again led an inning off with a walk and then scored on a sacrifice fly by DeShields.
Even this version of the Cardinal bullpen couldn’t make it all that interesting. In the ninth, Stottlemyre allowed a leadoff single to Matt Williams and then was replaced by Lance Painter. Painter got a pop out and a strikeout, though strike three was wild and allowed Williams to move over to second. Painter then walked Karim Garcia and Tony La Russa, taking no chances (and feeling confident even his “closer” couldn’t blow this one), went to Jeff Brantley with a five run lead and just one out to get. Brantley got Stinnett looking and the ballgame was over, with McGwire now on his way to his second batch of 30 big flies.