It looks as if Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are all warmed up for Wrigley Field.
Sosa increased his major league home run lead by hitting his 61st yesterday. McGwire, whose St. Louis Cardinals begin a three-game series today in Chicago against Sosa's Cubs, hit Nos. 57 and 58.
Sosa's homer came one day after he became the first major league player to hit 60 in two seasons. Babe Ruth hit 59 in 1921 and became the first to reach the mark in 1927, when he finished with 60 in a 154-game season.
Now, with 13 games remaining, Sosa has a slim chance of matching McGwire's record total of 70 of a year ago. Sosa finished with 66 last season and continues to draw fans to Wrigley Field, despite his team's lethargic 60-89 record.
"If it is there for me, it's going to happen," Sosa said of winning this year's home run title. "But if it doesn't, I'm still a happy man."
Yesterday, Sosa homered in his first at-bat against Milwaukee Brewers starter Hideo Nomo. With a 16-mph wind blowing out, Sosa's 485-foot homer left Wrigley Field, bounced, hit the windshield of a parked car and then rolled halfway down a side street as frenzied souvenir-seeking fans went in chase. The Cubs won in 10 innings, 8-7.
"It's one of the farthest balls I've ever seen. If I didn't know Sammy, I'd think there was cork in the bat," joked Milwaukee Manager Jim Lefebvre, Sosa's first manager with the Cubs. "That was something to behold."
McGwire, known for his towering home runs, hit a two-run homer off Houston Astros starter Chris Holt (5-13) in the fourth at Busch Stadium. He cleared the bullpen in left-center on Holt's first pitch of the sixth, a drive estimated at 423 feet. The Cardinals, too, are far from the playoff picture. They fell 20 games behind the Astros, who avoided a three-game sweep with a 4-3 victory and increased their lead in the National League Central to 3 1/2 games over Cincinnati.
"What I've done so far isn't too shabby, but it doesn't mean much when your team's not in the race," McGwire said.
It was McGwire's ninth multi-homer game of the season and the 62nd of his career, tying him with Hank Aaron for third on the career list. Sosa and McGwire will go head-to-head today in the first of six meetings between the Cubs and Cardinals in the final two weeks of the regular season.