Home run #: 35
Date: June 25
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Location: Jacobs Field
Pitcher: Dave Burba
Runners on: 0
Distance: 461 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 31
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 30
Getting back to some old American League stomping grounds seemed to invigorate Mark McGwire. He had two against the White Sox in a series earlier in the month of June, then pulled the same feat visiting the Jake by the Lake at the end of it.
McGwire wasted no time adding to his tally here, perhaps already feeling the pressure of Sammy Sosa. With two outs in the top of the first inning, McGwire took a ball from Dave Burba, then watched two strikes sail past him. Burba couldn’t put him away with the fourth pitch, evening the count. The fifth pitch didn’t put him away; McGwire put IT away. Burba’s weak breaking ball caught the middle of the plate and the current home run leader knew exactly what to do with it.
Four hundred and sixty-one feet later, the Cardinals had a lead on a ball that just about left the ballpark. This is the ’98 Cardinals, not the ’15 version, and one run wasn’t going to cut it.
After a rest from the rotation, Manny Aybar had returned and pitched six innings of one run ball against the Diamondbacks. As we know, however, that wasn’t exactly par for the course for Aybar in 1998 (or, in truth, much of his career). Aybar actually held the lead for a while in this one, though, keeping the Indians off the board until the bottom of the third, when Kenny Lofton walked with two outs, moved to second on an Omar Vizquel single, then scored when David Justice did the same.
The Indians went on top their next time at bat. Manny Ramirez singled to start off the inning, then stole second after Sandy Alomar flew out. Mark Whiten grounded out, moving Ramirez to third, and then Travis Fryman doubled to give Cleveland a 2-1 lead.
With the power on this Cardinal team, it’s not surprising that they tied it up in the fifth via a solo home run. What is surprising is that it didn’t come from McGwire or Brian Jordan or anyone like that, but John Mabry. 1998 was one of Mabry’s bigger power years but he still only hit nine on the season. No matter who hits them, though, they count just the same and the game was tied at 2.
That tie also didn’t last very long. Aybar retired Lofton and Vizquel on groundouts, then gave up a single to Justice. Next up was slugger Jim Thome, who lived up to his legendary reputation as he hit one of his career 612 home runs to put the Indians ahead 4-2.
Aybar was able to get out of the sixth without incident and Bobby Witt retired the Indians in order in the seventh. He wasn’t as lucky in the eighth. Thome had a one-out homer, his second of the game, to make it a three run game. Ramirez followed with a walk and Alomar singled, putting runners on the corners. Whiten then hit a ball to first base that McGwire couldn’t handle, bringing Ramirez in to score. Fryman singled in another run and David Bell doubled in another. Curtis King came in to relieve Witt and got the next two batters, but it was now 8-2, more in line with a lot of scores in 1998.
Jose Mesa retired three Cardinals in order and yet again the Redbirds went down to defeat. Unbeknownst to everyone, Big Mac had reached the halfway point in his home run journey. The second half was to bring chills, thrills, and plenty of excitement in a down Cardinal year.