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McGwire Gets No. 32 In Cards' Loss

Fans at the Astrodome saw Mark McGwire hit his major league-leading 32nd home run, but several thousand didn't stick around for the whole show.

Many of the 37,147 fans headed for the exits after McGwire flew out in his final at-bat in the eighth and missed Jeff Bagwell's ninth-inning two-run homer and Brad Ausmus' RBI single that rallied Houston to a 6-5 victory over St. Louis on Wednesday night.

"I understand a lot of people come out to see Mark McGwire," Bagwell said. "But they should be out here to see the Houston Astros to play the St. Louis Cardinals. For them to leave after Mark's last at-bat, I wouldn't say it was a slap in the face, but unfortunately for them, they missed a good inning."

Houston fans should know the Astros can be dangerous in the ninth inning. They've won 11 games this season in their last at-bat.

The Astros noticed the fan's departure after McGwire's last at-bat.

"He's putting fans in the stands," said Carl Everett, who scored the go-ahead run for Houston. "They come to see him hit. Our job is to win and strike him out. He can keep putting fans in the seats and we can keep winning."

The Astros trailed 5-2 before rallying in the ninth against Jeff Brantley (0-4), who got his fourth blown save in 14 chances and gave up his third career homer to Bagwell.

Craig Biggio led off with a walk, stole second and moved to third on Bill Spiers' bunt single. Derek Bell drove home Biggio with a sacrifice fly, and Bagwell hit Brantley's next pitch over the left-field fence for his 11th homer of the season.

One out later, Everett singled and reached second on right fielder Brian Jordan's fielding error. Curtis King came on in relief and walked Ricky Gutierrez before Ausmus, who went 3-for-4, singled home Everett from second.

C.J. Nitkowski (2-2) pitched a scoreless ninth for the win.

McGwire, who is averaging a homer every 6.7 at-bats this season, had gone 12 at-bats without one until he hit a line drive over the left-field scoreboard in the third inning to tie the game 1-1.

"If I hit a home run and we don't win, it doesn't matter," said McGwire, who increased his NL-leading RBI total to 81. "When you have a chance to be in two games and climb the ladder, especially against a team like Houston, it's really tough to lose one like this. The true test is how we come back tomorrow."

The Cardinals broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth on a throwing error by pitcher Jose Lima.

Gary Gaetti led off with his first bunt hit of the season. After Willie McGee singled, Tom Pagnozzi then bunted back to Lima, who threw wide to third baseman Spiers, allowing two runs to score.

Cardinals starter Todd Stottlemyre pitched 7 2-3 innings, allowing two runs and eight hits.

Stottlemre walked the bases loaded with two out in the first but escaped without a run. The Astros got a run in the second on Biggio's RBI single and Everett gave Houston a 2-1 lead in the sixth with his sixth homer of the season, but the Cardinals tied it again on Brian Hunter's leadoff homer in the seventh.

Lima allowed five runs and 10 hits in seven-plus innings.

"There are some things you can't describe like Mark McGwire's home runs," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "You can't describe what it feels like to lose this game. We did some good things, we did some great things, but we just couldn't hold on at the end."

Notes: McGwire hit 10 batting practice homers, including two that sailed into the rainbow upper deck, where only nine balls have been hit in regular-season games in the Astrodome's 33-year history. ... Bagwell's homer gave him 100 in the Astrodome. He's the first player to reach that mark. ... DeShields singled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. His career high is 21 straight games in 1993 while playing with Montreal. ... Since becoming the NL's first six-game winner on May 10, Lima has had three no decisions and a 1-2 record. ... Cardinals pitcher Kent Mercker was scratched from Thursday's scheduled start. He was hit in the leg by a line drive in his last start. Kent Bottenfield (1-3) will start in his place.

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

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