Home run #: 45
Date: July 28
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Location: Busch Stadium
Pitcher: Mike Myers
Runners on: 0
Distance: 408 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 41
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 39
As we saw a couple of days ago, Mark McGwire had taken some time in between home runs. The good thing about a slugger like Big Mac, though, is that when he gets on a roll he can put a lot of them together and even when he’s not perfect, he’s a threat. After a day off between series, McGwire headed into his home stadium and reminded the Brewers who he was at a hugely opportune time.
The Brewers came into this one as the better team record-wise, finding themselves a game over .500 while the Cardinals were six games below. The game started out as a pitcher’s duel, with Kent Bottenfield retiring the first seven Brewers he faced and Brad Woodall allowing occasional hits, including a single to McGwire in the first, but working around any damage.
St. Louis was able to break through in the bottom of the third, putting the first run on the board when Pat Kelly singled, moved to third on a one-out single by Ray Lankford, then scored on a sacrifice fly by McGwire. Unfortunately, Bottenfield couldn’t put up a shutdown inning in the fourth and the Brewers took the lead. Mark Loretta and Jeff Cirillo started off the frame with singles to put runners on first and third, then Bottenfield got Jeromy Burnitz to pop out to short. Next up was John Jaha, who struck out, but it was a productive at-bat anyway when Cirillo took off for second, testing Eli Marrero. When he did, Loretta took off for home and was safely there. Meanwhile, the throw got away from Royce Clayton and Cirillo wound up at third. Perhaps frazzled by all of this, Bottenfield then served up a 1-0 pitch that Dave Nilsson clobbered, putting the Brewers up 3-1.
The game stayed that way, with minimal activity, until the bottom of the sixth. Lankford led off the inning with a fly ball, but McGwire, perhaps unsurprisingly, was walked. Brian Jordan followed that up with a double that put runners on second and third. Gary Gaetti hit his own double right after, plating those two and tying the game at three. John Mabry grounded out but Marrero drew a walk. Ron Gant pinch-hit for Bottenfield and singled, plating Gaetti. Kelly walked, which moved the Brewers to remove Woodall and bring in Eric Plunk.
The first pitch Plunk threw to Royce Clayton got away from Nilsson, letting Marrero score. Clayton then walked, but Lankford ended the inning by striking out with the bases loaded. Still, the Cards had gone ahead and taken a 5-3 lead.
The lead, like many in 1998, did not last for long. John Frascatore came in and gave up a leadoff single to Jaha then Nilsson struck with power again, doubling him in to tie the game. Next up was Marquis Grissom, who singled and moved Nilsson over to third. Bobby Hughes grounded out, leaving Nilsson stranded but moving Grissom to second. Marc Newfield then pinch-hit for Plunk and singled, tying the game and runners still at the corners.
Tony La Russa went to the mound and replaced Frascatore with Mark Petkovsek. The immediate results weren’t any better as Jose Valentin singled in the sixth Milwaukee run of the game, but Loretta rapped into a 6-4-3 double play and the threat was contained.
The Cardinals didn’t score in the bottom of the seventh and the Brewers piled on in the top of the eighth. Cirillo led off with a single, forcing another pitching change as La Russa went to Lance Painter. Painter got the next two batters out but Nilsson yet again caused problems, this time singling in a run. Milwaukee then pinch-ran for Nilsson, which worked out when Grissom singled and Darrin Jackson went first-to-third. That allowed him to score when Painter unleashed a wild pitch in the middle of walking Bobby Hughes. Painter then got Chad Fox to ground out, but the Brew Crew enjoyed a 8-5 lead.
However, if there was one thing this Cardinal team was good at, it was losing leads–whether their own or the opponent’s. Fox retired Marrero on a popout to start the eighth, but Willie McGee doubled and Kelly singled, though McGee was unable to advance on the infield hit. Clayton followed with a single, loading the bases for Lankford. The Brewers went to the bullpen and got Mike Myers to take over. Perhaps worried about the threat of a big redhead swinging in the on-deck circle, Myers (not Mike Mayers, nor the comedian) left a 1-0 pitch where Lankford could do damage and the new Cardinal Hall of Famer roped it over the wall in right for a grand slam.
Suddenly the Cards were up 9-8 and McGwire strode to the plate with nobody on and the knowledge they weren’t likely to put him on in this situation. Myers started McGwire with a ball, then got a called strike one. Another ball and a swinging strike followed, then Myers’s sidearm/submariner pitch caught the bottom part of the zone and McGwire pounced.
St. Louis was now up 10-8 in the bottom of the eighth but they left Gaetti on second after a two-out double. Still, a two-run lead going into the ninth is a good place to be, right? For most teams, yes. Not this one.
Funnily enough, it wasn’t Jeff Brantley causing the issues, because by this time he’d lost his closer status role in La Russa’s eyes. Rick Croushore came in and walked Valentin to start the inning, immediately bringing the tying run to the plate. Loretta singled, then Cirillo made the game 10-9 with a single. Jeromy Burnitz walked, loading the bases with nobody out.
Milwaukee went to their bench and used Bob Hamelin, but he struck out on a full count. Next up should have been the hero of the game Nilsson, but remember, the Brewers had pinch-run for him last time around. So, of course, Jackson puts a 1-1 pitch into the bleachers for his own grand slam. Brantley came in and finished off the frame with no more damage (though he tried, giving up a single and a walk) and the Cards went down in order against Bob Wickman in the ninth.
Another day, another McGwire homer, another bullpen meltdown. We know what that last part is like, don’t we?