Home run #: 43
Date: July 20
Opponent: San Diego Padres
Location: Qualcomm Stadium
Pitcher: Brian Boehringer
Runners on: 1
Distance: 485 feet
End of day Sammy Sosa total: 36
End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 38
It’d been a while since the Cardinals had run into the Padres. You may remember that Mark McGwire hit numbers 3 and 4 against the Padres way back in the first week of the season. Since then, the Padres had started running away with the NL West, as we noted last time with the Dodgers being so far behind. The amazing thing about baseball is that you really never know what’s going to happen.
If you were just plotting this out on paper, it shouldn’t have been a contest. The Cardinals were a mess in the pitching department, the Padres were a well-oiled machine. But something about San Diego always seems to bring out the best in the Redbirds and this game was no exception.
St. Louis wasted no time making themselves at home in Qualcomm Stadium. The first batter of the game, Royce Clayton, took the sixth pitch from Mark Langston and smoked it to deep left field. It stayed in the park, but with Clayton’s wheels it turned into a leadoff triple. Next up was Ray Lankford, who doubled in Clayton. McGwire was next and singled to left, but Lankford was caught trying to go home. McGwire moved to second on the play, but that fizzled out when Brian Jordan drove one to center field that looked like it was going to drop but Steve Finley was a talented outfielder. He caught Jordan’s ball and was able to double up McGwire to end the inning. Still, the Cardinals had shown they weren’t intimidated by Langston.
Matt Morris took the hill for the Cardinals in this one. Morris had made his major league debut in 1997, getting 33 starts and showing why folks considered him the future of the pitching rotation. He’d started against the Giants on April 11 and allowed two runs in five innings, but had gone down with a sprained shoulder and didn’t return until early July, making this just his fourth start of the season. He’d been strong in his return and this one would prove no different as he retired the Padres in order in the first. He wasn’t as lucky in the second, allowing a leadoff home run from Greg Vaughn, but you might remember Vaughn “quietly” hit 50 home runs that season and was standing on 34 before taking a 2-2 pitch out to left. Morris didn’t allow anything else that inning, ending it with a pair of strikeouts. That was the only run the Padres would score. Not so much the Cardinals.
In the third, Clayton batted with one out and lined his own home run to right, breaking the tie and putting the Cards up 2-1. Lankford followed that with a walk and McGwire a single, putting two runners on for Jordan. This time, he slapped a hit past the shortstop and plated Lankford to end the scoring in that frame, but not for the game.
The fourth inning saw Eli Marrero double to start and move over on a sacrifice bunt by Matt Morris. Pat Kelly, who was hitting ninth in those “pitchers hit eighth” days, brought him in with a sacrifice fly, making it 4-1.
The score stayed that way until….well, the fifth, as the Cardinals continued to make a habit of scoring in almost every frame. Lankford got it started with a single to center, which ended the night for Langston and brought on Brian Boehringer to face McGwire. Boehringer started Mac off with two pitches outside the zone before getting him to foul off the third pitch. Pitch number four was a chest high meat pitch that McGwire knew exactly what to do with.
McGwire’s homer brought his RBI total to 95, which would increase by one later in the game. It also made the score 6-1, giving Morris plenty of cushion.
Morris had been cruising since Vaughn’s homer, retiring nine in a row before Wally Joyner and Steve Finley both singled to start off the bottom of the fifth. Morris got out of that jam by getting Carlos Hernandez, who in a couple of years got to be part of his own Cardinal history when he caught–or tried to–Rick Ankiel in the 2000 playoffs, to rap into a double play and Chris Gomez to harmlessly ground out.
Everything was quiet until the eighth, though Morris left with one out in the seventh after walking Vaughn, but Lance Painter bailed him out by getting Joyner to hit into a double play. The Cardinal bats erupted in the eighth when Gary Gaetti led off with a home run and then, after an out, John Mabry singled, Pat Kelly doubled, and Royce Clayton walked to load the bases. Boehringer was still in the game at this time, but the walk got Bruce Bochy to make the walk to the mound and bring in Roberto Ramirez. The move almost worked as Ramirez got Lankford to pop out and Jordan to strike out, but in between those two he walked McGwire, forcing in the seventh run of the game.
Ramirez didn’t have as much luck in the ninth. Brian Hunter led off with a double and moved to third on a Gaetti groundout. Eli Marrero walked but Mabry flew out, putting the Padres one out from going to the bottom of the game and trying for a miracle comeback. He almost got it too, as he struck out Pat Kelly but the ball got away from Hernandez, letting Hunter score and keeping the inning alive. Clayton walked to load the bases, then Lankford unloaded them by smashing a ball into the left-center field bleachers.
With the score 13-1, Tony La Russa had a little pity on the Padres and instead of McGwire sent up Placido Polanco, who struck out. With Jeff Brantley on the mound in the ninth it wasn’t going to be smooth, but Brantley went out-walk-out-walk-out and finished up the game. For one night, San Diego was a hitter’s paradise and showed that the Cardinals had some talent even if they couldn’t put it together consistently.