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McGwire puts exclamation point on bid for baseball immortality
Posted: Sunday September 27, 1998 07:22 PM
ST. LOUIS (CNN/SI) -- It began with April expectations and ended with a Ruthian blast that made baseball history and turned Mark McGwire into a living legend.
The St. Louis first baseman ended the 1998 season Sunday with 70 home runs, beating the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa by four homers in major league baseball's riveting home run race. McGwire belted Nos. 67 and 68 in Saturday's 7-6 extra-inning loss to Montreal, then smashed Nos. 69 and 70 in Sunday's season finale against the Expos at Busch Stadium.
Sosa, without a homer in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros, has a theoretical chance to catch Big Mac. His Cubs are bound for a one-game playoff against the Giants on Monday, while McGwire's Cardinals head home, their season ended with a 6-3 win over the Expos. Sosa, however, appears headed for National League MVP honors, even though he would have to set a major league record with five home runs in Chicago.
The ebullient Dominican hit No. 66 last Friday night against the Astros, a 462-foot shot against friend and fellow Dominican Jose Lima. McGwire tied the race 42 minutes later with his 66th, a 375-blast against Expos' reliever Shayne Bennett.
Both men completed their record-breaking exploits in statistical style.
McGwire was the first to break Roger Maris' 37-year-old record of 61 homers, on September 8 against -- perhaps appropriately -- the Chicago Cubs. The first-inning shot at Busch Stadium set off a momentary celebration with Maris' family witnessing the feat from box seats. Sosa, stuck on No. 58 at the time, even galloped in from the outfield to hug McGwire.
McGwire broke Maris' record the following night with No. 62 off Chicago starter Steve Trachsel, a fourth-inning, 341-foot line drive over the left-field fence. He tied Barry Bonds' National League record of 151 walks two nights later against the Reds at Cinergy Field, finishing with 162.
Sosa's home run milestones came with similar dramatics. He tied Babe Ruth with No. 60 on September 12 during a wild 15-12 win against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. A mere 24 hours later, he tied first Maris, then McGwire with Nos. 61 and 62 during another wild extra-inning afternoon at Wrigley, this time an 11-10 win over the Brewers.
Who could have guessed back in April that that would be the case.
As spring training broke, all eyes focused on McGwire, who'd staged a yes-it-can-be-done duel last season with Seattle's Ken Griffey, Jr. After a late-season trade from Oakland to St. Louis, McGwire finished with 58 homers. Griffey had 56.
McGwire opened the season on March 31 with a grand slam off the Dodgers' Ramon Martinez. He tied Colorado's Vinny Castilla and Griffey for the major league lead on April 30, with No. 11. May ended with No. 27 off San Diego's Andy Ashby.
On June 30, Big Mac caught Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, for most before the All-Star break with No. 37, a 470-foot bomb off Kansas City's Glendon Rusch. The shot came with five games remaining before the break. The Midsummer Classic came and went without much noise from McGwire, who belted only four homers in the home run contest the day before the All-Star Game.
Sosa, meanwhile, had muscled his way into the limelight with 20 homers during June. It gave him 33 at the end of the month, and gave McGwire a running mate for the rest of the season. Sosa endeared himself to baseball fans everywhere with a lighthearted approach to the chase, and, like McGwire, responded with a lifetime performance.
McGwire struck Nos. 48 and 49 on August 19 in Wrigley Field. Nos. 50 and 51 came a day later at Shea Stadium. Sosa's No. 66 last Friday night in Houston marked only the second time that he had held the home run derby lead.
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