Home run #: 52
Date: August 22
Opponent: Pittsburgh Pirates
Location: Three Rivers Stadium
Pitcher: Francisco Cordova
Runners on: 0
Distance: 477 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 49
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 41
When I was growing up, I always thought that the big power hitters were supposed to hit fourth. That way, there were people on base when they came up and they could hit something more than a solo home run. Watching 1998 emphasized the reason having legendary power hitting third was optimal, because so often the Cardinals could have a lead. Now, with their pitching staff, it could be a short-lived one, but it was a lead nonetheless.
The Cards left New York after their second straight doubleheader (Mark McGwire pinch-hit in the first game and played the second, but had no home runs to show for it) and headed down to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. Strong contenders just a few years prior, both teams were playing out the string and four and eight games, respectively, under the .500 mark.
While the Pirates might have been having a down year, Francisco Cordova was having the best season of what would turn out to be his short major league career. An 11-10 record before this game wasn’t too impressive until you remember which team he was playing for and his ERA was hanging around in the low threes. Befitting his numbers, he retired Delino Deshields on a groundout and Brian Jordan via the strikeout before facing McGwire.
Cordova challenged the St. Louis slugger and got him to foul the first pitch back and swing through the second one. Needing just one more strike to have a perfect first, he tried to go in on McGwire but he didn’t get it in enough. McGwire crushed one to right-center field to quickly give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
As I said, though, those leads were sometimes short-lived. Bobby Witt was the featured twirler for the Redbirds that evening and got future Cardinal Tony Womack to ground out to start the game. Adrian Brown singled next, however, and Jason Kendall drew a four-pitch walk. That brought up the Pirates cleanup hitter Kevin Young, who smoked a 1-0 pitch to center field for a double, plating both runners and putting Pittsburgh on top 2-1.
St. Louis was quiet in the top of the second and they looked to escape trouble in the bottom half after a leadoff walk to Freddy Garcia. Lou Collier grounded into a fielder’s choice, bringing the pitcher Cordova up with one out and a runner on first. Instead of getting a convenient strikeout or ground ball, though, Witt couldn’t put him away up 1-2 and watched Cordova rope his fourth pitch to right and start running. Garcia scored easily and Cordova wound up standing on third with a triple. It was the only triple of his career (unsurprisingly) and one of only two extra base hits he had in his time in the bigs.
The top of the lineup was back up and Womack hit an infield grounder that he beat out. Cordova couldn’t score but there were runners on the corners for Brown, or there were until Womack snagged second base. Perhaps because there was a base open, Witt didn’t give into to Brown and wound up walking him, loading them up for Kendall. The All-Star catcher then singled past Placido Polanco to bring in another run and leave the bags full. Young then got another run home on a sacrifice fly before Jose Guillen struck out. Still, it was 5-1 and, sadly, it wasn’t going to get any better.
The Cards did get back on the board in the third with a two-out Jordan homer but even though McGwire followed that up with a walk nothing else was brewing. Things were quiet on both sides until the fifth, when Ray Lankford followed a McGwire single with a home run of his own, cutting the lead to 5-4. Suddenly things were getting a little interesting.
That didn’t last. In the bottom of the inning, Ron Gant misplayed a fly ball, allowing Al Martin to start off the inning at second base. Garcia then doubled to trade places with Martin, putting the Pirates back up by two. Witt’s night ended a batter later after allowing a single to Collier, leaving runners on first and third for John Frascatore. Frascatore was able to get Cordova to strike out for the first out of the inning, but threw a wild pitch while pitching to Womack, plating Garcia. Womack grounded out and Brown lined out, but the deficit was back up to three runs.
When the Cards didn’t score in the top of the sixth, Kendall led off the bottom of the frame with a single. He then came around to score when Polanco threw wildly to first trying to retire Young. Young wound up on second but was stranded there when the next three hitters went down in order. It was now 8-4 and it stayed that way after a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Then the floodgates opened.
Bryan Eversgerd, whom you may know better as the current bullpen coach of the St. Louis nine, came in as part of a double switch to start the seventh. This was Eversgerd’s first action of the major league season, having pitched most of the season at Memphis. This would also be the last of the four seasons he would spend time in the big leagues. Factor all that into the fact that the Cards were playing their fifth game in three days and, well, it’s probably not going to surprise you that when this inning got rolling downhill, there was no way to put on the brakes.
Collier started it off with a walk and moved to second on a passed ball by Tom Lampkin. Manny Martinez, who had come in as part of a double switch at the top of the frame, then moved Collier to third with a single and then Womack drove him in with a single of his own. Brown kept the singles going with one of his own. That brought up Kendall, who continued the death by a thousand paper cuts by singling in one and leaving the bases juiced. Eversgerd finally was able to get an out when Young flew out, but that also brought in the 11th run of the night.
Up to the plate strode Guillen. Guillen was just in his second year in the big leagues and was a few years away from the large home run totals that he would eventually put up over his career, which lasted until 2010. He had power, though, and was tired of the nickel-and-dime approach, so he took the second pitch he saw from Eversgerd over the left field wall, making it 14-4.
I guess you could say that was the rally killer, though I think the Pirates could handle that being up by 10. The next two went in order and both teams only mustered one baserunner each the rest of the way.
McGwire’s 52nd homer seemed well in the distance. Another story, however, was just starting.