Marking McGwire: #5, #6, #7

Home run Pitcher Score Inning Outs Runners on Distance
5 Jeff Suppan 1-0 3 1 1 424 feet
6 Jeff Suppan 4-4 5 2 0 347 feet
7 Barry Manuel 11-5 9 0 1 462 feet

Opponent: Arizona Diamondbacks

Location: Busch Stadium

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 2

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 6

To hit 70 home runs in 162 games is an incredible feat, of course.  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be marking the 20th anniversary of it happening.  For one thing, it’s hardly ever 162 games.  Players take days off here and there and, in fact, McGwire appeared in just 155 games in 1998.  Even with 162, though, you basically have to hit a home run every 2.3 games.  If you go 21 innings without a home run, you’ve got to catch up.

Now, Big Mac got off to a strong start as we’ve noted, hitting four homers in his first four games, so the “drought” that he went on afterwards, where he had no homers for eight games, didn’t hurt as much.  Still, he had slipped below that 2.3 pace until he met up with the Diamondbacks on April 14 and trailed Griffey in the overall home run race, though he obviously still led in the National League.  Running into an expansion team is often a good cure for the home run blues.

Future Cardinal Jeff Suppan walked McGwire in the first inning, but he was left on second base after an RBI single by Brian Jordan.  He was less lucky in the third.  Royce Clayton grounded out to short but then Delino Deshields singled back up the middle.  With a runner on first, Suppan threw over, then started McGwire out with a ball.  He got a called strike, then McGwire swung and missed at the next pitch.  He didn’t miss the fourth one, a pitch down and in the middle of the plate, letting McGwire unleash that legendary swing and send it on a line drive to the left field seats.

Jordan followed later in that inning with a home run, putting St. Louis up 4-0, but Kent Merker started the fourth inning allowing a single to Devon White, a walk to Chris Jones and Jay Bell, then a grand slam to Matt Williams.  He righted the ship after that, but the game stayed tied until McGwire’s next at bat in the fifth.

Clayton had grounded out again and Deshields had lined out, so even in a tie game the situation dictated you had to pitch to the red-haired slugger.  Again, Suppan started him out with a ball before getting a called strike, but this time McGwire launched one on the next pitch, roping it just over the wall in left.  In fact, this one was the second shortest homer of the season for Big Mac and it looked very similar to the one that was actually the shortest.  (You might know that one as #62.  We’ll get there in September.)

Nothing happened on the scoreboard until the seventh, when Kelly Stinnett tied the game with a home run off MIke Busby.  The Cardinals broke in open in the bottom of that frame, though, scoring six runs, all except Clayton’s leadoff double coming with two outs.  Realizing the game import, McGwire was intentionally walked with two outs and Clayton at second, but Ray Lankford, Jordan, Tom Lampkin, and Willie McGee all had RBI hits, pushing the score out to 11-5.

With 10 men coming to the plate in the seventh, that allowed McGwire another chance to hit in the eighth.  Sometimes, with the game well in hand, you’d think you’d see the big slugger get pinch-hit for, but everyone already felt something was magical about this year.  Besides, the Cardinal faithful had come to see McGwire.  Deshields walked against Barry Manuel to start the frame and stayed on first to watch the show.  Manuel ran the count to 2-0 on the first baseman before trying to challenge him.  That rarely works out well.  McGwire launched one to just left of dead center, capping his first–but not last–three run homer game of the year.

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