Marking McGwire: #34

Home run #: 34

Date: June 24

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Location: Jacobs Field

Pitcher: Jaret Wright

Score: 0-7

Inning: 4

Outs: 1

Runners on: 0

Distance: 449 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 31

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 30

After back-to-back days with a home run a week ago, Mark McGwire went quiet with the bat as the club finished up with Houston then hosted Arizona and Detroit.  Back on the road to Cleveland, a place Big Mac was well familiar with, he had to finally feel someone nipping at his heels.

Sammy Sosa had hit five home runs since McGwire had hit one, including two games where he went yard twice.  The national media was starting to pick up the thread that they would run all the way to September, of the smiling happy underdog coming after the focused favorite.  Suddenly this was more of a competition than a coronation.

We’ve talked many times in this series about how the pitching staff of the Cardinals was really good at squandering leads and providing the opponents with late inning heroics.  This time, Mark Petkovsek didn’t wait around for the Indians to put up runs.  He gave up a ton of them in the first, putting this game–even with the Cardinal offense–really out of reach before they got a second turn at bat.

McGwire provided the only offense in the top of the first, a single with two outs that was wasted when Brian Jordan fouled out to the catcher.  Petkovsek then took his gas can to the mound, brought a match, and proceeded to torch the place.  He got Kenny Lofton to fly out to start the game, but then Omar Vizquel singled and David Justice doubled, putting runners at second and third.  Jim Thome walked on a full count, loading the bases, bringing up Manny Ramirez.  This was a bit before “Manny being Manny” but not before Ramirez was a feared slugger, something he proved by clearing the left field wall for a grand slam.

We hear that home runs are rally killers and four runs in the first, while a big gap, isn’t insurmountable.  (I don’t know how many times over the past 20 years the Cards have scored that many early only to do nothing else and lose the game.)  Petkovsek, though, didn’t subscribe to that theory.  Sandy Alomar singled after the grand slam and Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten, who had set his own bit of Cardinal history a few years previous, doubled to put the Indians in a familiar situation.  They skipped a step this time around, as Travis Fryman didn’t walk but parked his own home run to run the score to 7-0.  When David Bell followed that with a double, Petkovsek’s night was done.  John Frascatore came in and, while it wasn’t pretty (walk, flyout, single, and then a strikeout of Thome), he finally got out of the inning with no more damage done.

After an inning like that, you want to bounce back.  You want to show some fight.  Ray Lankford started it off with a walk, but then Gary Gaetti hit into a double play and John Mabry struck out and the only drama left in the game was whether the big guy could go yard.

He did in the top of the fourth.  Frascatore had kept the Indians in check but Jaret Wright had done the same for the Cards and it was still 7-0.  Delino Deshields flew out to left, bringing up McGwire for his second at bat.  Wright started him out with a ball, then got him swinging to even the count.  The third pitch was down and inside, but that was right in McGwire’s wheelhouse.

So basically the Cleveland faithful had the best of both worlds. A dominating performance by the home team and a continued chance of history by McGwire when it really didn’t hurt their chances.  That’s a pretty good day at the ballpark if you were an Indians fan.

The game was fairly anticlimactic from there.  Frascatore ran into trouble in the fifth, when Whiten singled and Fryman doubled him in.  After a flyout by Bell, Lance Painter took over and didn’t help the cause with a walk to Lofton.  He got Vizquel to ground out but then walked Justice and, with the bases loaded, Thome to force in a run.  Curtis King then took over and walked Ramirez, forcing in another run, then Alomar reached on an error by Royce Clayton, plating two more.

McGwire popped out to start the sixth and then was removed from the game.  Jordan and Lankford combined to get one run across, making it 12-2, and they got another in the seventh when Jose Mesa came into the game with the bases loaded with David Howard, Willie McGee, and Deshields.  Mesa got Brian Hunter to ground to third, but Fryman booted it and a run came in.

That was all for the Cardinals and Cleveland got a couple more, one on a Thome single against Brady Raggio in the seventh and one on a Vizquel sacrifice fly against Raggio in the eighth.  All in all, if it wasn’t for McGwire, this game would quickly be expunged from any Cardinal fan’s memory.

Sosa hit another one on this day as well, keeping the gap at four.  As we all know, it was going to get tighter.

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