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Cards Top Astros In 33rd Mac Attack

The fans got what they wanted and so did Mark McGwire.

McGwire hit a 449-foot home run into the Astrodome's upper deck for his 33rd this season, setting the major league record for most homers hit through June as the St. Louis Cardinals beat Houston 7-6 Thursday night.

The crowd of 43,806 gave McGwire a standing ovation as he rounded the bases after homering in the fifth inning. He still has 11 games this month to add to the record, previously held by Ken Griffey Jr., who hit 32 through June in 1994.

But McGwire was more pleased that the Cardinals took two of three games from the Astros.

"This was three outstanding games for us," he said. "This is what baseball is all about. I just want to play baseball. I play this game for one reason to win."

McGwire won't spend much time thinking about his latest record.

"It's a great honor but I can't sit back and think about it," he said. "You've got to think about tomorrow. You don't have time to think about what you've done."

Ron Gant drove in three runs to help the Cardinals take an early 5-2 lead. Ray Lankford and McGwire hit back-to-back homers in the fifth inning that chased Shane Reynolds (7-5), who lost for the first time in four home decisions.

Lankford, playing with a sore lower back, led off the fifth with his eighth homer and McGwire followed with a shot into the rainbow deck where only 10 regular-season homers have been hit in the Astrodome's 34-year history.

"We definitely needed this tonight," Gant said. "Right now, when we play these guys it's do or die. We've got to make up some ground and get back in this thing."

Kent Bottenfield (2-3) pitched five innings for injured Kent Mercker, allowing four runs and seven hits. Mercker was hit on the leg by a line drive in his last start against Arizona.

Rookie Rick Croushore pitched the final two innings for his first major league save. He struck out the side in the eighth, and after giving up a run in the ninth on a wild pitch, fanned Carl Everett with the tying run on second to end the game.

Croushore used the moment to correct the Cardinal's media guide, which listed him as being from Houston and being named "Rich."

"When I signed I put my mother's address and she lived here," Croushore said. "She doesn't live here now either. They also call me Rich but my name is Rick."

Derek Bell and Everett each had three hits for Houston.

Gant entered the game hitting .200 this season but with a career .344 average against Reynolds, including four home runs and five doubles. He hit an RBI double in the second and had a two-run homer in the third.

"I have no explanation and neither does Shane," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "There ar just some days that are not your day and this was one of them for Shane."

Brian Jordan doubled and John Mabry walked to open the second. Gant doubled and Tom Lampkin followed with a two-run double to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.

Gant hit Reynolds' first pitch with two outs in the third inning over the left-field fence for his 11th homer.

"I wasn't aware I'd had that much success against him," Gant said. "I knew that I had four home runs off him and that's it."

The Astros got one run in the second on Tony Eusebio's grounder, another in the third on Bell's double and two more in the fourth on Bottenfield's wild pitch and a single by Craig Biggio.

Notes: St. Louis' Delino DeShields, who entered the game as a defensive replacement at second base but did not bat, has a 16-game hitting streak. ... Houston's Ricky Gutierrez batted in the No. 2 position for only the second time this season. ... Astros 1994 first-round pick Scott Elarton will make his major league debut Saturday against Cincinnati. He is replacing injured Mike Hampton in the rotation. Elarton has a 9-4 record and 4.01 ERA this season with Triple-A New Orleans. ... The Cardinals' bench got a chuckle in the second inning when Gant hit a screaming foul that sent third-base coach Rene Lachemann sprawling and his cap flying. ... Sean Berry started at third base for the Astros after missing six games with a sprained finger.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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