First Sosa. Then McGwire. Then McGwire again. A head-to-head matchup between baseball's home-run leaders doesn't get much better than this.
Mark McGwire answered Sammy Sosa's home run with two of his own Wednesday, hitting Nos. 48 and 49 back-to-back to give the Cardinals an 8-6 victory over the Cubs in 10 innings. Sosa hit his 48th homer in the fifth inning.
McGwire had been homerless in 20 at-bats, hitting his last one Aug. 11.
"I'm just happy I can help the Cardinals. I've been an ornament the last month," McGwire said. "I'm just happy to contribute, especially in this big series."
After tying the game at 6 in the eighth, McGwire homered to center field in the 10th. It was the 49th multihomer game of McGwire's career, and his sixth this season. Ray Lankford, batting after McGwire, hit a solo home run to make it 8-6.
The Cubs blew a chance to win it in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Mark Grace singled, then moved to third on Henry Rodriguez's double. Juan Acevedo intentionally walked Jose Hernandez to load the bases, but Manny Alexander popped up to McGwire to end the game.
Acevedo (6-2) gave up two hits and one intentional walk in two innings. Terry Mulholland (3-4) gave up three hits nd two runs -- both homers -- in 2 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.
"It's exciting for the fans, but we're kind of agonizing," Cubs manager Jim Riggleman said. "We let things slip away."
This was exactly the kind of game fans hoped to see when McGwire and Sosa took the field together. The two were hitless in their first matchup Tuesday night, going a combined 0-for-9, and it looked like another disappointing day early on. Though he hit a long ball to the left-field warning track in his first at-bat, McGwire was 0-for-2 with two walks. Sosa struck out and singled.
"It's a tough thing to do when everybody wants it to be done," McGwire said. "When you get a pitch to hit, it doesn't necessarily mean you are going to hit it."
The hitting show began in the fifth inning. Sosa took Kent Bottenfield's first pitch and sent it over the left-field wall for No. 48, a two-run homer that put the Cubs ahead 6-2. Sosa now has a major league-leading 121 RBI for the season, a career high. He had 119 RBI in 1997 and 1995.
McGwire watched from first as Sosa broke into his home-run trot and the Wrigley Field crowd of 39,689 went wild. The crowd chanted "Sam-my, Sam-my," and gave Sosa a standing ovation as he rounded the bases. Fans bowed as Sosa walked down the steps of the Cubs dugout, and he came out a few seconds later to wave at the still-cheering fans.
McGwire paid homage to Sosa, too. When Sosa reached first base after being walked in the seventh inning, a smiling McGwire tapped his chest and kissed his fingers, imitating Sosa's salute to his mother and the late Harry Caray.
"Even though I'm on the other side and we're playing against him and I want to see our team win, it's just awesome to see that kind of talent and the way he goes about his business," McGwire said. "He's quite a player."
McGwire, who's led the majors in homers almost all year, wasn't about to be outdone, however. With one out and the Cardinals trailing 6-5 in the eighth, McGwire slammed a 3-1 pitch out of the ballpark and onto Waveland Avenue. Fans in left field turned around to watch the ball bounce as a grinning McGwire trotted around the bases.
He bumped fists with his teammates as he returned to the dugout, and Cardinals fans bowed.
"Mac and I are going back to the Dominican (Republic) and open a golf course and call it the Home Run Trap," Sosa said, laughing.
And McGwire wasn't done. With the score still tied in the 10th, he sent a 2-0 pitch into the shrubbery in the center-field stands. He finished the day 2-for-4 with two walks. Sosa was 2-for-4 with a walk.
Though McGwire is only one home run away from 50 -- his benchmark for someone to make a legitimate run at Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 -- he's still downplaying talk of the record. All this back-and-forth competition is fun, but wait until the season is over.
"There is a long way to go. There are six weks," he said. "Until that last out of the last game of the season, that's when it means something. There is a long way to go."
Rodriguez gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead in the fourth with his 30th home run of the year, and Sosa's two-run homer in the fifth extended it. But the Cardinals came back in the sixth when Ron Gant scored on Tyler Houston's passed ball when McGwire was at-bat. Delino DeShields hit a two-run homer off Cubs reliever Matt Karchner to cut the Cubs lead to 6-5.
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