Home run #: 26
Date: May 29
Opponent: San Diego Padres
Location: Qualcomm Stadium
Pitcher: Dan Miceli
Runners on: 1
Distance: 388 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 13
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 18
Even someone like Mark McGwire in 1998, when he seemed to be doing his best superhero impression, wasn’t able to hit a home run every single day, no matter what that stretch the week before might have suggested. After a run of six homers in five days, Big Mac cooled off a bit for a couple of days. That bat would not be denied for long, though.
After two games against Colorado in Busch, the Cardinals decamped for the West Coast, going up against a Padres team that was destined to play very, very deep into October. I don’t remember Jack Murphy–or Qualcomm as it was being called at this point in time–being the pitcher’s park that Petco has the reputation for being but San Diego was a good team and had a solid chance of locking down the potent Cardinal offense.
In this one, they did do that for a while. Joey Hamilton went up against Mark Petkovsek and the two pitchers swapped zeroes for a large portion of the game. McGwire walked in the first with two outs but was stranded when Ray Lankford struck out. McGwire came up in the top of the third with two on and two out, but wound up striking out.
Meanwhile, Petkovsek was dealing as well. I mean, he struck out Tony Gwynn swinging to end the first. Tony Gwynn! You know it’s your night when something like that happens. Steve Finley singled and was caught stealing before that Gwynn strikeout and the next Padre didn’t reach base until the bottom of the fifth, when Greg Vaughn singled, but Petkovsek then got Wally Joyner to bounce into a double play.
The Cardinals weren’t doing much better, occasionally getting a hit off of Hamilton but not having it pay off. McGwire struck out again with one out in the sixth, for instance, in the middle of a 1-2-3 inning. It took until the eighth for anything to really get traction.
Tom Pagnozzi led off the eighth with a strikeout, but Petkovsek, perhaps in the “I’ll do it myself” mindset, singled. It tells you the difference in today’s game that Petkovsek wasn’t immediately lifted for a pinch-runner, I think. Anyway, Ron Gant and Delino Deshields both walked, loading the bases for McGwire.
There is absolutely no way, in today’s reliever-dominated game, that Hamilton would have stayed in after walking two guys in front of the major league home run leader. Odds are, he’d have been gone a long time before, probably at least after the Petkovsek single. In 1998, when pitching staffs weren’t as deep and starters did more, he stayed in the game and McGwire made him pay, though not as much has he could have. Instead, he roped a double to deep center, scoring two and putting runners on second and third. An intentional walk to Lankford followed and finally Hamilton went and took a seat.
Brian Boehringer came in and struck out Brian Jordan, giving the Padres hope that the game could be salvaged. Instead, John Mabry followed with a two-run single and Royce Clayton did the same. Pagnozzi drew a walk, putting two on, but Petkovsek figured six was enough and flew out to center.
Petkovsek made quick work of the Pads in the eighth and the offense got another shot in the ninth. Gant struck out but Deshields wound up at second when Ken Caminti booted a grounder. With the chasm between the teams large, Dan Miceli went ahead and pitched to McGwire instead of putting him on. Miceli’s first pitch was rocketed to deep left-center, putting two more runs on the board for St. Louis.
Kent Bottenfield wound up pitching the ninth and giving up three runs, including a Vaughn homer, but it made no difference. The Cards had exploded late and McGwire had added to his record of homers before June 1.