Home run #: 36
Date: June 27
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Pitcher: Mike Trombley
Runners on: 1
Distance: 431 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 32
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 30
It seems quaint now to think of interleague play as these blocks of time during the schedule when the American League and National League would meet, with that one National League-only game hanging out there like a distant relative at a family reunion. I’m not saying that the way we do it now, where there’s interleague games all the time and there’s a bit of blurring of the lines between the two leagues, is right, mind you. I’m personally of the opinion that the only interleague games need to be the World Series, but if they were going to have it in the season, at least a defined time to make it a novelty made some sense. Now it’s just another game. Which kinda defeats the “goose the attendance” motive they used to have, doesn’t it?
Anyway, interleague play was new and fresh back in 1998, or at least fairly new and fairly fresh, and Mark McGwire loved hitting against those teams that he was familiar with in places that made it easy for him to visualize hitting home runs. The Metrodome was one of those places. With nobody in the race hitting a home run the day before, McGwire got a chance to put a little more distance between him and Sammy Sosa.
Eric Milton started for the Twins and Todd Stottlemyre for the Cardinals in a set of games that rematched the ’87 World Series, so this was expected to be a well-pitched game and for a while, it was. Milton struck out McGwire in the first and didn’t allow his first hit until the top of the third, when Brian Hunter went yard to put St. Louis up 1-0. Stottlemyre had a few more base runners, but he didn’t let any of them score in the early going.
The score stayed 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth. Todd Walker started things off with a walk against Stottlemyre and moved to second on a Pat Meares groundout. Scott Stahoviak hit a ball to center that Brian Jordan muffed, putting runners on the corners. With Otis Nixon batting, Stottlemyre threw a pitch that Tom Pagnozzi couldn’t corral, tying the game up. Stottlemyre worked around another error, this time by Delino Deshields, to keep the score knotted at 1.
The Cardinals answered quickly, however. In the top of the sixth, Gary Gaetti singled and McGwire walked, putting two on for Jordan. He redeemed his outfield gaffe by singling to right, plating Gaetti for a 2-1 lead. Ray Lankford popped out but Tom Pagnozzi picked him up with a double that brought in McGwire and put runners on second and third. That was it for Milton, as he was relieved by Mike Trombley. Trombley got Hunter to ground out, which scored Jordan, then retired John Mabry on a fly ball.
That gave St. Louis a 4-1 lead and after a shutdown inning by Stottlemyre, the stage was set for the big guy. Luis Ordaz and Deshields got out to start the inning but Gaetti kept it alive with a single, bringing up McGwire. Big Mac took a called strike one, then swung through the second pitch. He fouled off two more before taking two balls to even up the count. He fouled off one more before Trombley made a mistake, a belt-high fastball that McGwire feasted on.
That put the Cards up 6-1, though this was in an era before 50 cent (or even a quarter, as you may remember it started out as) drinks at On The Run for a serious score. Stottlemyre would give up a home run to Stahoviak in the seventh but that would be all on the way to the complete game. The Cards tacked on one final run in the ninth when Gaetti hit a fly ball that scored Ordaz, but McGwire ended the game with a fly out instead of another homer.
With this home run, McGwire tied Stan Musial‘s 1949 season mark, which was the best home run year Stan the Man ever had. It put him (at the time) tied for fourth on the all-time Cardinal season home run list (now, with the fact that folks like Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols have played, 36 ranks 20th) and we weren’t even through June yet. So much history still awaited!