Home run #: 14
Date: May 12
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Location: Busch Stadium
Pitcher: Paul Wagner
Runners on: 2
Distance: 527 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 7
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 15
Though it had only been a handful of days since his last round-tripper, Mark McGwire had lost a little ground in the home run race when Ken Griffey Jr. had hit his 15th two days before against Toronto. Big Mac was too powerful to stay at 13 for too long, though.
The Brewers were still a bit of a new face in the NL Central, itself a young entity. Most Cardinal fans at that time had better memories of the 1982 World Series against the two teams than any regular season matchup, given 1998 was just the fourth season that they’d been a National League team. By the end of the year, though, they’d play a couple of roles in the McGwire season and their first happened on May 12.
Kent Mercker faced off against Paul Wagner to open this contest. 1998 was the only full season Mercker spent in St. Louis, as he was traded to Boston right before the waiver deadline the next season. While his record was 2-2, the league had not been that kind to Mercker to this point as he brought a 6.69 ERA into the game, having given up four runs in four innings to the Pirates in their park last time out. Wagner, on the other hand, was making one of only nine starts on the season and would be out of the game after the 1999 campaign. In comparison to Mercker, his 5.40 ERA looked almost tolerable but most expected a lot of fireworks in this matchup.
The scoring started off early as Mercker allowed an RBI single to Marquis Grissom in the first and Wagner answered by giving up a sacrifice fly to Gary Gaetti in the bottom of the frame. (McGwire flew out earlier in the inning for the only out before Gaetti’s fly.) In the third, a double by Marc Newfield with two outs scored Mark Loretta and Grissom, giving the Brewers a two-run edge.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth inning, but Tom Pagnozzi struck out, Delino DeShields popped out, and Mercker struck out. Always good to know other Cardinal teams had problems scoring with prime opportunities as well, isn’t it?
Wagner’s dance with danger finally caught up to him in the fifth inning. Royce Clayton singled to center and Wagner walked Ray Lankford on four straight pitches, bringing up the focus of this series. McGwire fouled off the first, took a ball, then fouled off another. With his fourth pitch, Wagner left one in the fat part of the plate and, well, that never was good for a baseball’s health.
If there had been a Big Mac Land in Busch at that time, this ball would have been up there and maybe even over it. It was the second-longest blast of the record-setting season (though also only the second-longest of that week). Not only was the baseball obliterated, so was the Brewers’ lead.
While McGwire was done with his day (he wound up going 1-5), the Cardinals and Brewers were destined for a little extra baseball. The Cards got another run in the sixth when Clayton had a sacrifice fly and they took a two-run lead into the ninth. Unfortunately, the closer (at least at this time) for the 1998 team was Jeff Brantley, a name not remembered fondly among Redbird fans. Situations like this were why. He led off the ninth by allowing a double to Fernando Vina, then on the next pitch Jeff Cirillo tied the game with a two-run blast.
Brantley kept the Brewers from scoring again and Mike Busby threw a scoreless 10th, allowing a little manufacturing of a run to lead to a win. In the bottom of the 10th, David Howard singled and Pagnozzi then bunted him over to second. DeShields followed that up with a single and the Cards had a walk-off winner, leaving the Cards tied with the Brewers at 19-17 for the season.