Home run #: 8
Date: April 17
Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies
Location: Busch Stadium
Pitcher: Matt Whiteside
Runners on: 1
Distance: 419 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 3
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 7
Apparently Mark McGwire did more than rain homers. After his three homer game against the Diamondbacks, the next night’s game was washed out, causing a double header on the 16th. McGwire played in the first game, going 0-4, then got his first rest of the year in the nightcap. The Phillies quickly found out that rest wasn’t the way to slow this big red machine down.
Philadelphia jumped out to a 1-0 lead in this one as Rico Brogna doubled off of Cliff Politte in the first. McGwire was walked in the bottom of the frame–while not likely intentionally given there were two outs and nobody on, probably Garrett Stephenson (who would be a Cardinal the next year and for the rest of his career) was still really, really careful–and nothing happened.
The game stayed that way until the third inning. David Howard, who was batting leadoff that night in a move that probably only made sense to Tony La Russa, singled and went to third on a Delino Deshields double. Unsurprisingly, that led to a five-pitch walk for McGwire, bringing up Willie McGee. McGee (who was hitting cleanup–a getaway lineup in the first game of the series!) grounded out, tying the game, and Brian Jordan did the same, putting the Cards on top 2-1.
Politte couldn’t hold that lead long at all. Even though he got the first two outs of the inning (including a strikeout of now-Cardinals Hall of Fame nominee Scott Rolen), the Phillies put together three hits and a walk plus a stolen base. Alex Arias drove in the final run with a single that scored Bobby Abreu and put Philadelphia up 3-2.
The 1998 Phillies weren’t all that good, which meant this game was far from over. Matt Whiteside had come in after McGee’s grounder in the third and now was tasked with holding the line. His grip wasn’t very good. Tom Lampkin, the backup catcher starting that night, put Whiteside’s first pitch of the inning over the wall to make it 3-3. Politte and Howard struck out but Deshields singled to keep the inning alive.
We talk a lot about base runners being hesitant to run in front of big power threats and rightfully so. Deshields didn’t subscribe to that philosophy. On the first pitch to McGwire (which was called a ball), Deshields took off for second and slid in safely. Now the Phillies had the option to walk McGwire and face McGee. Instead, Whiteside continued to go after McGwire. McGwire took a strike, then swung and missed, making it 1-2. The fourth pitch was a ball. The fifth was mashed into left center field, giving the Cardinals the lead. This helped him stay ahead of the sweet-swinging Griffey, who hit his seventh later that evening.
In what was fairly representative of the ’98 Cards, Politte immediately gave those two runs back to the Phillies. In the bottom of the frame, Ron Gant pinch-hit for Politte with two on and two out and smoked one over the left field wall, giving the Cardinals a lead they would not relinquish. In fact, nobody else would score in the remainder of the game, a surprise given how the first few innings had gone.
After this one was over, McGwire was on pace for 81 home runs. Nobody expected him to get that, but few believed he’d get as close as he did.