Cardinals fans clearly thought Mark McGwire was bigger than the game. But rookie umpire Sam Holbrook disagreed.
When the St. Louis slugger blew his cool, drew a line in the batter's box with his bat and got ejected in the first inning of a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves, he didn't just cost himself a few at-bats in his quest for the home run record. He also frustrated a sellout crowd of 47,627, there to watch him and only him.
"I get upset like any normal American," said McGwire, smiling, sipping a Diet Coke and jokingly blaming a pregame chat with fiery Indiana coach Bob Knight for his tantrum. "I was caught off-guard and I got upset and I let steam roll off."
The fans mirrored his emotions. The game was halted for about 10 minutes and police were summoned after debris and foul balls were tossed on the field after manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan also were ejected.
Although relative calm returned late in the game, the situation was considered serious enough that after the final out the umpires left via a side exit through the Cardinals' dugout tunnel, and with a number of police officers nearby.
"I don't know if I'd have blamed them," La Russa said. "I'd have been hooting."
McGwire disagreed with his manager about as vehemently as he did with plate umpire Holbrook, in his first full season as a regular umpire.
"What happened after that, fans getting upset and throwing things, that's wrong," McGwire said. "We don't need that in the game of baseball."
La Russa was thrown out frst for arguing the location of the pitch -- down and inside in his opinion - and for catcher Javy Lopez's tendency to frame pitches. McGwire followed him to the showers and Duncan was tossed by Holbrook after the Braves batted in the second.
McGwire said what he said to Holbrook were "things you can't say on TV."
Neither La Russa nor McGwire were making a big deal of Holbrook's inexperience, just that the call had been incorrect.
"I've seen umpires as mad as the players," La Russa said. "He was not crazy. He was in control of what was happening."
"I truly believe you guys shouldn't be having heat on the umpire," McGwire said. "He has a job, I have a job, I crossed the line, I owe up to it. Period."
Holbrook said he warned McGwire three times.
"I said, `Tony, please get him out of here,"' Holbrook said. "I feel I bent over backwards. I have nothing against Mark McGwire. I'd like to see him get the record as much as anybody else."
"I still think it's
McGwire, right, had to be restrained by Lachemann while LaRussa argued with home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook. (AP)
Tom Glavine (18-5) won for the 11th time in 12 road decisions despite wildness. Lopez hit his 29th homer, a two-run shot, and Rudy Seanez finished for his second save.
Glavine, who allowed three hits and three runs in seven innings, wasn't sure if strike three was across the plate.
"I lose sight on a fastball to a right-handed hitter," Glavine said. "It was a borderline call. It could have been a little low."
McGwire is 4-for-27 against Atlanta this year (.148) with just one homer and one RBI. He became incensed after getting called out by Holbrook on a low 3-2 pitch on the inside part of the plate. At one point, he fought his way around third-base coach Rene Lachemann, who was trying to act as a shield.
It was McGwire's first ejection since June 10, 1997, the month before he was traded from Oakland to St. Louis. He also was ejected May 6, 1997, for arguing a called third strike in the first inning at Milwaukee.
"I'm pretty mild-mannered," McGwire said. "But I can get hot with the best of them and that's really what happened today."
Goaded by those around him, a fan heaved the first foul ball back on the field in the second inning. Others followed by tossing debris on the field and then chanted, "We want Mac! We want Mac!" halting the game. Ushers lined the field during the delay, and were later joined by police officers to prevent further disturbances.
Two more foul balls were thrown on the field the next two innings, each time drawing a big ovation.
Joe Walsh, thCardinals' director of security, said a few fans had been escorted from their seats but that the team was more interested in calming everybody down.
The team called in police to help return the situation to normal. Beer sales were cut off in the sixth, an inning earlier than usual.
"You can understand the emotions when 48,000-plus are here to see one guy," Walsh said. "This was definitely a tense situation."
The Cardinals read a statement on the public address system warning that fans throwing objects on the field could cause the team to forfeit the game. The fans responded by booing.
The fans got riled up again after a near diving catch by Ryan Klesko in left field led to a weird double play to end the fifth, and rained more balls and garbage onto the field.
With runners on first and second, Klesko just missed making a grab on a short fly by John Mabry, McGwire's replacement at first base. Neither runner moved thinking the ball had been caught and shortstop Ozzie Guillen tagged out Eli Marrero at second and stepped on the base for the third out.
Lopez's homer put the Braves ahead 2-0 in the fourth. The Cardinals took advantage of Glavine's wildness and a two-run single by Placido Polanco to take a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
A fielding error by Polanco in the fifth helped the Braves tie it on a single by Keith Lockhart, and Andruw Jones RBI double off Kent Bottenfield (4-6) snapped the tie in the sixth.
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