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McGwire caps magical season with 69th, 70th homers
Posted: Sunday September 27, 1998 11:12 PM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- With his last swing of the season, Mark McGwire gave baseball its new magic number -- 70. And even he knows he might not be around to see this record broken.
The St. Louis slugger wrapped up his record-smashing season as mightily as he started it, hitting his 69th and 70th homers in a fitting finale to a year that began with a grand slam on opening day.
Like No. 62 that broke Roger Maris' record, McGwire's 70th and final home run of the season was a line shot over the left-field wall on a first-pitch fastball. It came at 3:19 p.m. CDT on a humid, sun-splashed day off Montreal's Carl Pavano in the seventh inning.
"This is a season I will never, ever forget, and I hope everybody in baseball never forgets," an emotional McGwire told the cheering crowd at Busch Stadium after Sunday's game.
It will be hard to forget the home run derby that riveted all of baseball and much of America in 1998, as McGwire and his genial rival, the Cubs' Sammy Sosa, chased Maris' 37-year-old record.
Slammin' Sammy, with 66 home runs, went 2-for-5 with no homers as the Cubs lost to Houston 4-3 in 11 innings, but his season is not done. The Cubs face San Francisco at Wrigley Field on Monday night in a one-game tiebreaker for the wild-card spot -- a game in which Sosa's stats will count.
But with his five homers on the final weekend, Big Mac put an emphatic conclusion to his season and left many wondering whether his record will ever be surpassed.
"I think it will stand for a while. I know how grueling it is to do what I've done this year," he said. "Will it be broken someday? It could be. Will I be alive? Possibly.
"But if I'm not playing," he said, "I'll definitely be there."
Sosa, as always, was gracious in all but conceding the home run race to McGwire.
"I'm real happy for him because, hey, he's the man," Sosa said. "I'm not thinking about home runs. I have to sacrifice myself for the team."
President Clinton telephoned McGwire from his motorcade in San Antonio, Texas, to congratulate him and invite the slugger and his son to the White House.
McGwire's 69th homer came in the third inning off rookie Mike Thurman on a 1-1 fastball and went 377 feet into the left-field seats at 2:10 p.m. After stomping on home plate, McGwire took a few slow steps, then made several salutes to the sellout crowd. The fans who had stood well before his at-bat demanded -- and got -- two curtain calls.
Kerry Woodson, a 22-year-old body-shop worker from Maryland Heights, Missouri, wound up with the ball and said he didn't know what he would do with it.
"I reached up, closed my eyes, and it landed in my glove," Woodson said. "It's a dream come true. I hope he doesn't hit any more today."
He didn't get his wish, as McGwire connected off Pavano (6-9) with two outs and two runners on base to send the Cardinals to a 6-3 win.
"Every time the replay is shown, I'm not going to turn the TV off," Pavano said. "I hope he hits 75 next year so people will forget I gave up No. 70."
This time, even a curtain call from McGwire didn't quiet the 46,110 fans, who remained on their feet, cheering even as Brian Jordan took a called third strike for the third out of the inning.
McGwire said No. 70 felt almost like No. 62, the homer that broke Maris' record on Sept. 8, with the crowd at fever pitch and Expos infielders shaking his hand as he rounded the bases.
"What can I say?" McGwire said. "I'm speechless."
The second home run ball landed in a party box and was snared by Phil Ozersky, 26, of Olivette, Missouri, attending the game with a group of Washington University research lab scientists. He said he didn't know what he'd do with the ball, which has a standing $1 million offer from collectors.
McGwire, who has 10 multihomer games this year and 53 in his career, left many in awe.
"It's stranger than fiction, what this man has done," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Expos manager Felipe Alou told his young pitchers to challenge McGwire.
"I left it up to God and the kid on the mound," Alou said. "I didn't want to tamper with history.
"Thank God the season's over, or he would hit 80."
McGwire opened the year with a slam on March 31 against the Dodgers' Ramon Martinez, then led the home run race all season except when Sosa twice passed him briefly -- and then for only 103 minutes in all.
Sosa led for 58 minutes on August 19 before McGwire regained went back ahead with his 48th and 49th homers in the same game at Chicago. Sosa led for 45 minutes on Friday when he hit his 66th before McGwire answered.
Before connecting Friday, McGwire had been homerless in 14 at-bats.
Across town, the homer cost the Rams a 5-yard penalty. A huge cheer spread through the Trans World Dome late in the third quarter as the Rams faced a third down just inside Arizona territory. The sudden uproar seemed to disrupt the play calling, leading to an illegal motion penalty.
McGwire drew his NL record 162nd walk, tying Ted Williams (1947 and 1949) for the second-highest total in major league history, on a pitch that nearly beaned him in the fifth. Thurman threw the last three balls way inside and was booed vociferously after ball four.
McGwire has 180 homers the last three seasons. In 206 career games with the Cardinals, he has 94 homers, 189 RBIs and 205 walks. At Busch Stadium, he has 51 homers and 102 RBIs in 106 games.
The distances of his homers this season total 29,598 feet, nearly 400 feet higher than the peak of Mount Everest. It's also 5.6 miles of homers.
Notes: The Cardinals drew 3,195,021 and sold out all 14 home games in September. McGwire gets a bonus $1 for every fan over 2.8 million, meaning $395,021 in bonus money on top of his $9.5 million salary. ... The Cardinals hit 222 homers, leading the NL for the first time since 1944, when they hit 100 and Whitey Kurowski led the team with 22. This year they hit 222. ... ... John Frascatore (3-4) got the win, the Cardinals' 11th in 14 games. Juan Acevedo got his 15th save.
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