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Opponent: Florida Marlins
Location: Pro Player Stadium
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 55
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 46
For some reason, this series against the Marlins is one that I can remember from the Mark McGwire chase. I mentioned before that I would start noting the home runs on my work calendar and I think it’s seeing those big numbers, clumped so close together, just as September began that makes it stand out. McGwire hit two home runs in a game a number of times. To see him to it in back-to-back days, so close to 61, added another dimension.
However, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves. As the calendar turned, our two protagonists were tied at the top of the heap, both reaching 55 before August stole away. Sammy Sosa was at home hosting the Reds while the Cardinals made a trip down to Florida to face the Marlins, technically the World Series defending champs but in fact a mere shell of what they had been the year before, where they had claimed the wildcard and run through October to the crown. St. Louis might not have been having a great year but they were still about 20 wins better than the Fish.
McGwire had been quiet the night before and started off quietly here, flying out in the first against LIvan Hernandez while Brian Jordan stood at first. The Cardinals wouldn’t be able to score and even though the Marlins made some noise in the bottom of the first, Matt Morris kept them off the board as well.
St. Louis struck first in the top of the second. Ron Gant singled to lead off the frame and, after a strikeout by Fernando Tatis, went to third on Placido Polanco‘s single. It looked like things might be lost when Morris struck out, but Eli Marrero walked to keep hope alive (and load the bases) and Delino Deshields cashed in with a two-run single to give the Cardinals the early lead.
After a quick bottom of the second, St. Louis got another one in the third. McGwire led it off with a single and went to second when Ray Lankford did the same. A strikeout and a flyout later, Polanco came up with two outs and roped a single to left, plating McGwire to make it 3-0.
The Marlins had no answer, going in order in the third and the fourth. In the fifth, McGwire grounded out and Lankford lined out, but Gant made sure that it wasn’t completely a waste by smashing a ball to left, giving the Redbirds a four-run lead. While that lead was comfortable, at least in theory (though never in practice with this pitching staff), Florida was able to get into it in the bottom of the inning.
Cliff Floyd led off with a single and Kevin Orie followed that up with a walk. Morris was then able to get Gregg Zaun to popout and Luis Castillo to ground out, but his opposite number would prove to be a different issue. Hernandez was always a good hitting pitcher, as they like to say, and he proved it by singling past Deshields to get a run home for the Marlins. Morris recovered to get Todd Dunwoody to line out and got out of the frame with minimal damage.
Nobody did anything in the sixth, bringing up McGwire to lead off the seventh. Even this late in the game and down three, Hernandez was still in there and started the Cardinal slugger off with a strike. Hernandez missed on the next one, then left a middling fastball over the heart of the plate. Like he did with #16, McGwire launched Hernandez’s pitch to deep center field. It didn’t go 500-plus feet this time, but it definitely got the job done.
56. Hack Wilson had had 56 back in 1930. Ken Griffey Jr. had actually hit 56 the year before. McGwire’s 56 put him tied with those two for 6th all time (at that time) on the lists.
However, they don’t stop games in the seventh unless it’s raining. Fernando Tatis’s single with two outs in the seventh and Gregg Zaun’s two-out double in the bottom of the frame were the only activity until the ninth. Jordan grounded out to start the inning, leaving Donn Pall no particular reason not to face McGwire, especially with the game likely over. McGwire knew that as well, taking the first pitch to basically the same spot he’d homered to in the seventh, just a little farther.
Lankford followed that one up with a home run of his own and though Bobby Witt put a couple of runners on in the bottom of the ninth, he was able to escape it without any damage.
McGwire had put some distance between him and Sosa at a key moment in the race. However, he wasn’t done with Florida just yet.