"I think he's been pressing a little bit," Cardinals swingman Kent Mercker says. "It's only natural. People expect him to do it all over again, and I think that's why he was pressing early on. He was trying to live up to the expectations. He's on a pace for what, 50 home runs? What's wrong with that? Is that a bad year? Come on."
Says Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who noted that McGwire hit six home runs in eight games before the infection worsened on Friday, "I think [early in the season] he was pressing—and when he does that, he expands his zone and chases pitches—but he was pressing because Ray Lankford wasn't playing." Leftfielder Lankford, the only strong lefthanded bat in the St. Louis lineup, has batted fourth, behind McGwire, only 20 times this season because of a sore left knee.
"I don't see that they're pitching Mark any differently," Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan says. "The way they're pitching him right now, they think they can get him out."
On Friday, for instance, Tapani and righthanded reliever Scott Sanders threw McGwire 11 strikes out of 16 pitches while holding him hitless in four at bats. McGwire fouled or swung through four high fastballs from Tapani and didn't swing at a hanging changeup. "I'm glad he didn't," Tapani said afterward. "I was trying to pound him inside and get him out low and away. I got a few pitches up that I didn't want to, but I guess I had enough life on them. He probably missed a few pitches he usually hits."
McGwire batted each time in Friday's game without a runner on, which allowed Cubs manager Jim Riggleman to deploy a four-man outfield. Riggleman discovered during spring training that McGwire never had grounded out to second base against the Cubs in Riggleman's four seasons as Chicago's manager. So he decided to leave that position uncovered while defending more ground in the outfield. "If he hits a ground ball to second base, I'll give up the single," Riggleman reasoned. He did just that on Sunday, when McGwire dribbled a first-inning hit through the vacated spot. "There's only a few guys you'd do it with," Riggleman said. "You couldn't do it with Sammy because he's such a great base runner. If you put him on, he can score from first on a double, or he can steal a base."
Other than his Sunday-night homer, McGwire did have moments of obvious enjoyment, including Sosa's pre-game hug on Friday (McGwire inquired about Sosa's restaurant and told Sosa he looked more muscular than last season) and that day's sixth-inning meeting with Grace after the longtime Cub reached first on a leadoff single. "Isn't it great that all these people showed up to see two big first basemen slug it out?" cracked Grace, who has never banged more than 17 homers in a season. McGwire broke up laughing.
Otherwise, the love fest we remember from 1998 never materialized. That seemed just fine with McGwire. Sosa, meanwhile, gave off no such vibes while entertaining the conga line of baseball writers, Latin American investors, Dominican TV reporters and assorted other glad-handers and hangers-on who seemed to stream by his happy locker without end. "He once said," recalled Tapani on Sunday night," I want to be recognized everywhere I go.' That about sums him up."
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