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Opponent: Houston Astros
Location: Busch Stadium
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 35
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 36
As we’ve noted, if you want to make a run at a home run record, you are probably going to need to hit some homers in bunches. After finishing off the Astros the day before with a long ball, Mark McGwire took aim twice against them on this day 20 years ago.
Juan Acevado wasn’t smooth in the top of the first, allowing a single and a walk, but the double play he got between them helped send the game to the bottom of the first scoreless. Royce Clayton grounded out and Ray Lankford flew out, bringing up McGwire with nobody on and two outs. Sean Bergman’s first pitch to McGwire was in the middle of the plate, where the big guy just wasn’t going to miss it. McGwire’s classic swing rocketed the ball out over the left field bullpen, bouncing off the wall and depositing the ball in the vicinity of the Houston relievers.
McGwire’s homer stood until the top of the third, when with two outs Ricky Gutierrez took a 2-2 pitch and sent it out of the park, tying the game up at one. However, St. Louis answered in the bottom of the frame. Clayton singled and then Lankford did the same, moving Clayton to third. This time, McGwire struck out on a 1-2 pitch, but the rest of his teammates picked him up. Brian Jordan was hit by a pitch, which loaded the bases, and Ron Gant followed with a single that plated two. Gary Gaetti reloaded the bases by reaching on a dropped ball by Bill Spiers and then Placido Polanco tried to catch the Astros napping by dropping down a bunt, but only succeeded in driving in the third run of the inning while producing the second out.
Houston tried to catch up in the fourth. Acevado allowed a single to Jeff Bagwell to start the inning, then he struck out Carl Everett and Sean Berry grounded out. Acevado wasn’t able to get completely out of the jam, though, as J.R. Phillips singled to bring in Bagwell and cut the lead to 4-2.
Ron Gant homered in the bottom of the fifth, only to see Bagwell do the same in the top of the sixth. Phillips then caused more damage in the seventh with his own home run, pulling the Astros to within one.
If everyone else was homering, there was no way McGwire was going to be left out. Scott Elarton had shut the Cardinals down in the sixth, then faced the big redhead to start the seventh. Elarton started McGwire off with two out of the strike zone, then got McGwire to foul one off. With the count at 2-1, Elarton put one down but in the zone and McGwire pounced, putting it 10 feet deeper than the one he had hit in the first inning.
McGwire’s home run took the wind out of the sails of the Astros. Rich Croushore got three groundouts to get through the eighth and retired three in a row in the ninth, two on strikeouts, as the Cards took another one from their rivals.
This put McGwire at 40 home runs before the middle of July. As we noted when he reached 30, that’s some elite company. With 40 home runs, he joined Johnny Mize and Rogers Hornsby as the only Cardinals to hit that many home runs. Those guys weren’t going to be company for long.