Home run #: 29
Date: June 8
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Location: Comiskey Park II
Pitcher: Jason Bere
Runners on: 1
Distance: 356 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 20
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 24
Interleague play was still fairly new in 1998. Young whippersnappers who have come to the game more recently might not remember that when interleague started, they matched up the same divisions against each other for a set span of time, which meant that the Cardinals saw a lot of the AL Central. While Mark McGwire had hit a lot of home runs against American League teams, they’d all come as a member of the A’s. He was traded over late enough in 1997 to miss the interleague portion of the schedule and, as such, was participating in his first game against an AL team from the other side. He quickly showed that he was still well familiar with the junior circuit.
The first was an inning that points out that even small ball can be frustrating. Willie McGee led off the game against Jason Bere with a walk, then was caught trying to steal second. Of course, then Delino DeShields singled. With McGwire up, DeShields stayed put but Big Mac just lined out to left. With Ray Lankford at bat, DeShields had no compunction about staying in place, but he was also caught stealing. So a walk and a single and your cleanup batter still doesn’t hit. That’s a level of frustration even the 2018 Cardinals haven’t reached.
Mark Petkovsek wasn’t as lucky. Ray Durham led off with a double and Mike Caruso bunted him to third. Yes, a leadoff double and a bunt in the first inning. The game has changed somewhat–I don’t think even on his worst day Mike Matheny would do that in the first. I don’t think. Anyway, after giving up an out, Frank Thomas walked. Albert Belle then singled in Durham but Robin Ventura followed with a double play.
The White Sox added on in the second, when Jeff Abbott also led off with a double and came home on a one-out single by Magglio Ordonez. They got another in the third when Thomas again walked, Belle again singled, and Ventura grounded out to first, bringing in Thomas who had gone first to third on Belle’s base hit.
While the Sox were scoring in drips and drabs, the Cardinal offense was built for bigger things, things that started in the fourth. DeShields was the first batter of the inning and drew a four-pitch walk, bringing up the big redhead. McGwire wasted no time launching the first pitch, a high fastball, to the left field stands.
That was all for that inning, but Petkovsek finally stopped the White Sox in the bottom of the fourth and then John Mabry tied the game up with a homer to lead off the fifth. Unfortunately, the tie was short-lived. In the bottom of the fifth, Mike Caruso–no relation to David, I don’t think–had a one-out single and Thomas walked again. Belle then hit a ball out to right field that Brian Jordan muffed, allowing Caruso to score and putting runners on second and third. Petkovsek then intentionally walked Ventura to load the bases, but that blew up when Abbott tripled in all three. That was the end of the day for Petkovsek, who received more salt in the wound when reliever Rick Croushore threw a wild pitch to his first batter, allowing Abbott to score, a run that was charged to Petkovsek.
So after being tied, the Cardinals found themselves down 8-3. However, there was a reason On The Run didn’t have 50-cent (or, as it was when the promotion started, a quarter) drinks when the Cards scored six back then. That offense was explosive and five runs wasn’t necessarily a death sentence. In fact, in the next inning Jordan partially redeemed for his miscue by hitting a solo homer, cutting the lead to four. In the seventh, McGee tripled with two on and just one out, but DeShields struck out and McGwire popped out, so it stayed at 8-6.
Even though the Cards found themselves just a bloop and a blast from tying it up, the offense never was able to do any more. The game ended with McGwire on deck, so they had a chance up until the very end. You can’t say that the ’98 version of the team was necessarily successful, but they sure were entertaining!