Mark McGwire is back on top in the home run derby for the first time in more than a month, just in time for a final weekend showdown with Sammy Sosa.
McGwire hit his 62nd and 63rd home runs tonight in the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-3, 6-5 sweep of the San Diego Padres.
"I've been seeing him for almost three seasons and he is on another level," said the Padres' Tony Gwynn, who was 7 for 8 in the games. "I like watching him, but it always seems to hurt our team."
McGwire, who leads Sosa 63-62, hasn't been ahead since he was on top 48-47 on Aug. 18. He trailed by five homers at one point, but has homered in each of the last four games. Last season, he had five homers in the final three games to beat Sosa 70-66.
"He's reaching real deep to play these games," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. "He would not have been kicking and screaming if I'd have sat him the second game or taken him out at any time, but he's got an obligation to do it right."
McGwire said before the game that he was tired mentally as much as physically because of the Cardinals' 74-84 record. After the game, he said there was no secret to his method.
"Just get in the box, look for a pitch and swing, that's about it," McGwire said. "Three games left."
The Cardinals won the opener on Thomas Howard's two-run single in the seventh and rallied from a five-run deficit in the second game. Fernando Tatis added a solo shot in the sixth to tie it and he doubled and scored on Placido Polanco's bases-loaded fielder's choice for a 6-5 victory in the 10th.
McGwire has 520 homers, one behind Ted Williams and Willie McCovey for 10th place on the career list. McGwire also leads the NL with 145 RBI, two shy of last's total.
He tied Sosa in the fourth inning of the opener with a two-run homer off Matt Clement to center that traveled an estimated 462 feet.
"I threw him a fastball right down the middle of the plate; anybody could have hit it out," Clement said.
McGwire hit a three-run homer off Andy Ashby in the sixth inning of the second game. Six of McGwire's last seven hits are home runs.