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  •   Passing Maris Logo

    McGwire Ends Season With a Bang

    Mark McGwire
    Mark McGwire watches his historic 70th home run sail out of Busch Stadium. (Reuters)
    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, September 28, 1998; Page D1

    ST. LOUIS, Sept. 27 – Mark McGwire ended his perfect season with a final moment of perfection. With another sold-out stadium crowd standing and cheering his final at-bat on the final day of the season, McGwire crowned his record achievement by crushing his 70th home run over the left field fence.

    His 70th came 69 minutes after his 69th, and in a spontaneous showing of emotion and celebration, McGwire circled the bases one final time as fans roared, as infielders from the Montreal Expos shook his hand and teammates waited at home plate with bear hugs and slaps of congratulation.

    "I amazed myself," McGwire said. "I'm absolutely exhausted. I don't think you can use your mind any more playing baseball than I have the last two months. I amazed myself that I could stay in the tunnel this long. It showed I can overcome almost anything with the strength of my mind."

    Had McGwire not already reached higher and extended himself further and given a nation more thrills than anyone believed possible, this afternoon would have seemed impossibly hokey. His final swing of the season was a three-run home run that gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 6-3 victory over the Expos.

    Perfect.

    "I have no words to describe what he has done this season," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. "He has given us moment after moment after moment."

    And to think that when this weekend began, many people believed Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa would end it as baseball's new single-season home run king.

    Sosa took the lead from McGwire briefly with his 66th home run Friday night. McGwire answered with his 66th less than an hour later and finished in a rush, hitting his 67th and 68th on Saturday and 69th and 70th this afternoon, which began with fans standing in lines 100 yards long to buy souvenirs and remembrances of the Summer of McGwire.

    Sosa did not hit a home run this afternoon in Houston, but will get a final crack at McGwire's mark Monday when the Chicago Cubs play the San Francisco Giants in a one-game playoff for the National League wild-card berth. Statistics from that game will be included his regular season total, but it is unlikely that Sosa could hit four home runs.

    "I wish him the best of luck," McGwire said. "I wish I could be in that position."

    McGwire may not be watching what Sosa does. He was scheduled to leave this evening for Southern California to begin an offseason of relaxation and reflection. Asked if he'd be watching Sosa on Monday, he said: "I might be on the beach. Sorry."

    After the game, McGwire was honored at home plate, then stepped inside where he handed his bat, batting helmet, uniform ankle guard and other knicknacks to officials from baseball's Hall of Fame.

    McGwire's 70th home run "felt a lot like No. 62." That one broke Roger Maris's 37-year-old single-season home run record. And this afternoon had a similar air of inevitability, that McGwire was going to do something special to end the season.

    He dumped a single into center field in the first inning, but in the third, with the count at 1-1, Expos rookie starter Mike Thurman threw McGwire a curveball that landed low in the strike zone. McGwire ripped into it and sent it soaring into the left field seats. The crowd booed in the fifth when Thurman walked him on a pitch over his head.

    Even the walk was special because it was his 162nd of the season, tying Ted Williams for second place on baseball's all-time list. The only time a player has drawn more walks was 75 years ago when Babe Ruth drew 170. McGwire came up in the seventh with the game tied at 3. He had just watched rookie J.D. Drew swing at a first-pitch fastball from rookie reliever Carl Pavano.

    When Pavano threw McGwire a 96-mph heater down the middle, McGwire slammed it just over the left field wall, 370 feet away. Pavano became the 66th pitcher to yield a home run to McGwire.

    "I was going to go right after him," Pavano said. "The way it turned out, he went right after me. I guess if you're going to give up a home run, you're going to give it up to him. I'm not going to bother looking at it any other way. I ended up giving up the last home run to the best home run hitter in history."

    McGwire said it would take a couple of weeks to comprehend what he'd accomplished, that he would make few personal appearances and mostly stay out of the limelight.

    "I can't believe I did it. Can you?" McGwire said. "It's absolutely amazing. It blows me away. I think it's going to take longer for this whole season to sink in. I can't wait to get home and look at the tapes and read the magazines and newspapers."

    Inside the Cardinals' clubhouse, his teammates kept saying the same thing again and again: "SEVENTY HOME RUNS!"

    "I mean, that's impossible," catcher Tom Lampkin said.

    Expos Manager Felipe Alou said: "Thank God the season's over, or he would hit 80."

    McGwire said it seemed impossible to him, too, that he wasn't even sure he wanted to hit 70 again. Until this season, only two players – Ruth and Maris – had hit 60 in a season. Now, McGwire has created a 70-homer club.

    "I think it'll stand for a while," McGwire said of his record. "I know how grueling it is. I think it'll be broken someday. If I'm not playing, I'll be there. If I'm playing, I'm going to ask out to be there. I don't know if I want to break my own record. I think I'd rather leave it as it is. ... I think the magnitude will probably not be understood for a while."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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