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Opponent: Los Angeles Dodgers
Location: Busch Stadium
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 36
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 38
After reaching the 40-homer level, Mark McGwire was pretty quiet for a couple of games. He basically sat out one, only showing up as a pinch-hitter, but had two extra-inning games around that. Through that, he only had one hit until a warm summer night with the Dodgers in town.
The Dodgers were a middling team as well, coming into this one a game over .500. Not exactly the NL West dominating version that we’ve come to know but still better than a St. Louis team that would have enjoyed being at sea level. Neither team was really in the hunt, though, as LA trailed the Padres by 14 games. In fact, the Cardinals were closer to first (12 games) than their opponent.
Juan Acevado got the Dodgers in order in the top of the first and Brian Bohanon tried to return the favor, striking out both Royce Clayton and Ray Lankford. McGwire made sure not to get into that hole, dumping the first pitch he saw–a heart of the plate fastball–up and away to a section not far from Big Mac Land. It was McGwire’s third longest home run of the season and the longest since that week in May where he crushed two over 525 feet.
Staked to an early lead, Acevado did his best to make it stand up. The Dodgers got the first two on in the second when Gary Sheffield walked and Eric Karros got a single, but Matt Luke grounded into a force, putting runners on the corners, and Adrian Beltre grounded into a double play. Los Angeles got a leadoff single from Charles Johnson in the third, but three straight groundouts moved him around but not in.
The Cardinals couldn’t figure out Bohanon either. Gary Gaetti singled in the second but was stranded at first. McGwire walked (and was erased on a double play) in the fourth and Lankford and McGwire both walked with two outs in the sixth (with Jim Bruske coming into the game to face the redhead) but the next Cardinal hit didn’t come until the bottom of the seventh. Pat Kelly walked with two outs as did Tom Lampkin, then Eli Marrero picked on the first pitch he saw from Antonio Osuna and drove in both runners with a double.
John Frascatore had pitched a perfect seventh and with the extra padding Tony La Russa went to Rich Croushore for the eighth. He retired Beltre on a groundout but Johnson connected on a 1-0 pitch, putting the Dodgers on the board and cutting the lead to 3-1.
That was the only damage against Croushore, though, and McGwire got it back in the bottom of the frame. After Lankford flew out to center, McGwire took a ball from Osuna then roped another one to left, not quite as hard as his first longball but still plenty hard enough to put another run on the scoreboard. Brian Jordan followed with a single but Ron Gant ended the Cardinal offense’s night with a double play ball.
Croushore continued into the ninth and the Dodgers tried to rally. He walked Trent Hubbard to start the inning but got Raul Mondesi to fly out. Sheffield singled, putting two on and bringing the tying run to the plate. However, Karros’s deep fly ball wasn’t deep enough and Jim Eisenreich pinch-hit and grounded out to end the game.
It was about this time that I think we all really started grasping that history was going to happen. McGwire needed just 19 more homers in 67 games to tie the standard and that seemed completely reasonable. Barring a slump, this was going to happen. The question was, could he hold off the Cub to get there first?