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Wrong end of history (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 1:08PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 1:08PM
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Hank Aaron, Al Downing
Al Downing watches Hank Aaron make history with home run No. 715.
Tony Triolo/SI

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For the Cubs' Trachsel, a night in St. Louis in September 1998 brought his run-in with history. All of baseball -- all of the nation -- was wrapped up that summer in the home run chase between Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire (and, remember, Ken Griffey Jr. for a while). McGwire had tied Roger Maris' single-season record for homers -- 61, set 37 years earlier, in 1961 -- the night before against the Cubs' Mike Morgan.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, with none on and two outs, Trachsel's time came. McGwire golfed Trachsel's first pitch down the left-field line at the old Busch Stadium for the record-breaker. The stadium went wild. McGwire himself was so excited he nearly missed first base. Trachsel, a right-hander, was 27, in his fifth full season in the majors.

"At the time, we were in a playoff hunt," said Trachsel, who now pitches for the Orioles. "When he hit it, no one thought it was going to be a home run."

The Cards won that game, 6-3, but they didn't make the postseason. The Cubs did, capturing the wild card, though they were swept in the first round by the Braves.

For a couple of years after the home run, Trachsel was asked about it daily. Since Bonds broke McGwire's record in 2001, though -- that record-breaker, No. 71, came in San Francisco off the Dodgers' Park -- fewer people have wanted to talk about that memorable night in '98.

"It really has tapered off. I went five or six years without talking about it. It's not something that even comes up much anymore," Trachsel said. "I think, probably, the amount of time between Maris and Mark made it a bigger deal."

So does Trachsel consider it a big deal?

"It was just something that happened," he said. "A lot of good came out of it."

When Stallard, a 23-year-old Red Sox right-hander, started the last game of the season against the Yankees in 1961, he knew what he was facing. Maris had tied Ruth's single-season home run record of 60, set in 1927, a few nights earlier. In the bottom of the fourth, with no one on and one out, Maris pulled a 2-0 Stallard fastball down the right field line at Yankee Stadium for a solo home run, the only score of the game.

Afterward, an angry Stallard -- who still lives in Wise, Va., but remains reluctant to talk to the media about his role in history -- told reporters, "I know one thing. My price for appearing at banquets just went up."

In a bit of eerie foreshadowing, on the other side of the field that day, playing for the Yankees and watching everything unfold, was a 20-year-old rookie left-hander from New Jersey: Al Downing.

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