Marking McGwire: #46

Home run #: 46

Date: August 8

Opponent: Chicago Cubs

Location: Busch Stadium

Pitcher: Mark Clark

Score: 0-3

Inning: 4

Outs: 0

Runners on: 0

Distance: 374 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 44

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 40

With Sammy Sosa‘s massive June and his continued hitting throughout July, August opened with less of a coronation and more of a race.  While Ken Griffey Jr. hung around the periphery, with two NL Central sluggers going at it, the attention naturally turned to these rivals.  A Cardinal.  A Cub.  One a slugger who seemed to feel the weight of history even as he roped tape-measure blast after tape-measure blast.  One a happy-go-lucky Dominican who played with a smile on his face and a flair all his own.  If the Internet had actually been fully formed at the time, I’m sure there would have been a lot of folks with the “hot takes” about a Cardinal hitter supposedly not having fun and a lot of fan sentiment on the side of the Cub.  Thankfully, we lived in a simpler time.

Still, August began and Mark McGwire seemed to freeze up a bit.  He had four straight hitless games from July 30 to August 2 and was hitting just .143 in the eight games since he had his last round tripper.  That counted the first game of this three game set with the Cubs, the first time the two sluggers had been on the same field since May 3, well before Sosa was considered any part of this historic chase.  And while I believe that public comments by the two didn’t come until the next time the Cardinals were in Wrigley, getting a chance to be around Sosa and talk to someone with the same pressures as himself seems to have lightened McGwire’s load.

Unfortunately, this was one of those rare years when the Cubs were actually good, bringing a 64-52 record into Busch.  St. Louis, even though they were below .500, was not intimidated by the baby bears and indeed had thumped them by 13 the night before.  This one might have had the same letter at the end, but the path to the victory was much different.

Donovan Osborne–or, as I believe his proper name went, oft-injured Donovan Osborne–took the mound for the Cardinals and allowed only a single to Mickey Morandini in the first.  Mark Clark took advantage of not being in Wrigley to get three fly ball outs in the bottom of the frame, including McGwire for the final out.

Osborne got touched in the second after allowing a leadoff walk to Glenallen Hill and a single to Jose Hernandez that put runners on the corners.  Henry Rodriguez flew out for the first out, then the Cubs did a Cubbie thing, scoring on a double play with one out.  That’s tough to do, but it happens when Scott Servais flew out to Brian Jordan, who nailed Hernandez trying to go to second.  Hill scored before that third out, though, and the Cubs were up 1-0.

The Cardinals had a chance to tie it up in the third when Eli Marrero led off with a double.  Osborne bunted and Luis Ordaz grounded out, but neither of them could move Marrero.  The catcher/outfielder finally got to third when Pat Kelly singled, but Jordan flew out to end the inning.

Chicago would take advantage of that missed opportunity.  Sosa drew a one-out walk, then scored an out later when Hernandez took Osborne over the wall in left center.  With the two premier sluggers in the game, Hernandez (who was no slouch himself) had the first word.  It wouldn’t be the last.

McGwire led off the fourth and took a ball from Clark.  He swung through the next pitch, then took another one wide.  Clark’s fourth pitch was a breaking pitch inside that broke right in Mac’s wheelhouse.

The ball followed a similar path to one that he would hit a month from this point, just a little higher and farther.  Unfortunately, the next three Redbirds went down in order.

The game stayed at 3-1 until the bottom of the next inning.  Marrero again led off an inning with a hit, this time a single, and Osborne’s day was done as Tom Lampkin pinch-hit for him (shades of Mike Shildt, huh?) and popped out.  While Ordaz was at the dish, however, Clark balked Marrero to second and Ordaz capitalized, singling in Marrero for the second run.  Kelly and Jordan went down swinging, but the Cards had pulled to within one.

Besides a walk to McGwire in the sixth, things stayed fairly quiet until the bottom of the seventh.  Clark was still in the game and got to face John Mabry, who was pinch-hitting for John Frascatore.  Mabry doubled and moved to third when Ordaz bunted him over.  (This is the sort of thing that we would have probably reamed Mike Matheny for, but it was late in the game and Ordaz wasn’t hitting at the top of the lineup.)  Kelly then singled in Ordaz, tying the game and taking second on the throw.  Next up was Jordan, who doubled in the go-ahead tally.

Given that first base was open, the obvious move was to intentionally walk McGwire and that’s exactly what the Cubs did.  Felix Heredia then came in and struck out Ray Lankford, but then Jim Riggleman went to the bullpen again and got Terry Adams as part of a double switch.  That didn’t work out as well, as Ron Gant poked a single that scored Jordan.  Fernando Tatis singled to load the bases, but Marrero ended the frame with a strikeout.

Two run lead going to the eighth sounds great to a lot of teams, but not the 1998 Cardinals as we well know by now.  Tony La Russa went to Jeff Brantley in the eighth and that actually worked for once as Brantley retired the Cubs in order.  However, in the ninth, Rich Croushore came in and walked Mark Grace to lead off things, bringing up Sosa.  Not wanting to fall farther behind the redhead, Sosa smoked a 1-0 pitch to left center, tying the game and keeping him two behind McGwire in the home run race.

Lance Painter came in and worked around a walk to the bottom of the ninth, but the Cardinals couldn’t muster much and the game went to extras.  The Cubs put two on in the top of the 10th, but Grace hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.  Tatis doubled to start the bottom of that inning, but the next three Cardinals couldn’t do anything to bring him home.

Curtis King pitched the 11th and got Sosa to ground out but allowed a single to Lance Johnson, then Tyler Houston took him deep to put the Cubs up two in extras.  However, for all their faults, this Cardinals team did know how to put up runs and, in the bottom of the 12th, Jordan reached on a one-out error by Jeff Blauser.  With a two-run lead Chicago felt they could pitch to McGwire and got him to strike out, but Lankford picked him up by drilling a shot to left field off of the Cubs’ closer Rod Beck.  And the band played on.

King stayed in the game for the 12th and got Blauser to ground out before allowing back-to-back singles by Morandini and Grace, bringing up Sosa in a huge spot.  The fact that King kept Sosa to a single was probably a moral victory, but it did put the Cards down by one and left two runners on, a jam that King got out of in part because the Cubs kept Beck in, so he could intentionally walk Brant Brown with two outs to get to the pitcher hitting.

Tatis struck out to start the 12th but, with the game on the line, Marrero got his third hit of the day, a home run to left field.  Beck got the next two batters but we were all tied at eight.  Hard to believe at this point that, for much of this game, this was a pitcher’s duel, huh?

Bobby Witt gave up a one-out single to Manny Alexander and a two-out walk to Morandini but escaped the 13th unscathed.  Finally getting a chance to take the lead rather than scrambling to tie, Kelly walked against Dave Stevens to start the inning, then stole second and moved to third on a Jordan single.  With the winning run already at third, the Cubs elected to walk McGwire to load the bases.  On a 1-2 pitch, Lankford sent a ball back up the middle, bringing a wild game to a close.

It wasn’t the only time McGwire and Sosa would homer in the same game this season and they still had many memorable moments to come.  In one month, McGwire would hit #62, so the race was about to pick up a lot of steam.

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