Baseball history repeated itself sweetly today for home run king Mark McGwire. The St. Louis Cardinals' slugger duplicated his feat of last season by hitting his 47th home run in the team's 118th game, putting himself precisely on pace to equal his record-shattering single-season mark of 70 homers in 1998.
The Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa, McGwire's slugging pursuer the past two seasons, claimed his share of attention as well. By hitting his 44th home run, Sosa moved two games ahead of his pace last season, when he hit 66 homers. Today's game, which the Cubs won, 9-7, marked only the third time that McGwire and Sosa have homered in the same game during eight series between the teams since McGwire's move to the National League July 31, 1997.
A sometimes sloppy game, which ended the Cubs' season-long slide of six defeats and dropped the Cardinals to .500, served primarily as the canvas on which the sluggers could interject their artful strokes.
McGwire's third-inning, three-run bullet victimized Micah Bowie, a winless rookie left-hander. The ball all but screamed into the Cubs' bullpen in left-center field. It was McGwire's third home run in five at-bats the last two games.
Today's blast also tied him in career home runs with Eddie Murray at 504, 15th all time. McGwire described that lofty status as "awesome," adding quickly however, "but you're asking me only a half-hour after the game. I'll reflect on it after the season."
McGwire also positioned himself to move ahead of his home run pace last season when he did not hit his 48th until the Cardinals' 124th game. McGwire barely missed another home run in his next at-bat after hitting No. 47. He swung slightly under another Bowie pitch made for direct deposit over the fence, lofting the ball high into a brilliant sky above Busch Stadium. The drive, when it came down, settled into Sosa's glove in straightaway deep center field. McGwire again brought the sellout crowd of 48,615 to its feet, clapping and crying for more, when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth. But reliever Scott Sanders fanned the mighty McGwire, who went down swinging three times in all.
The three-run blast by Sosa in the seventh inning off left-hander Darren Oliver enabled the Cubs' star to tie Chicago legend Hack Wilson with a team-record fifth straight season of 100 RBI. Sosa, who also singled in the first inning, was walked intentionally in the ninth with one out and runners at second and third, prompting even Cardinals' fans to join visiting spectators in resounding boos. Sosa smiled broadly and when he arrived at first base told McGwire jokingly, "I wanted to bunt."
Sosa entered today's game frustrated by a 3-for-31 slump, but he felt better after his home run and the end of an eight-game Cubs losing streak at Busch Stadium.
"Mark's been swinging the bat real good," Sosa said. "I've been swinging at bad pitches. Today I was trying to find out what the deal was and I guess we found it out. My hands the last couple of days were too far back and I moved them forward."
Sosa said he had no idea how many home runs he would hit this season. "I still have got to go out and perform, still got to go out and do my job," he said.