[Sept. 8] History wasn't made with one of his magical moonshots or majestic arcs.
Mark McGwire simply lined a laser to left -- his shortest home run of the season at 341 feet -- and the biggest, most glamorous record in sports was his.
Homer No. 62 came Tuesday night and barely cleared the wall. But no matter. His mighty swing won the race to break Roger Maris' 37-year-old record -- without a doubt or an asterisk, and with plenty of games to spare.
"I tell you what, I was so shocked because I didn't think the ball had enough to get out," McGwire said. "It's an absolutely incredible feeling. I can honestly say I did it."
McGwire connected with two outs in the fourth inning off the Chicago Cubs' Steve Trachsel for the historic homer, punctuating the chase that reinvigorated the game and captivated the nation.
McGwire was so caught up in the moment that he missed first base as he rounded the bag and had to return to touch it, pulled back by coach Dave McKay.
|Mark celebrates at first base - and nearly forgets to touch the bag.(AP)|
McGwire was mobbed by his teammates at home plate, where he hoisted his 10-year-old batboy son Matt high into the ai. McGwire then ran into the seats to hug the family of Maris, whose record he had just broken.
Before the game, which the Cardinals won 6-3, McGwire held the bat that Maris used to hit his 61st and rubbed it against his chest.
"Roger, I hope you're with me tonight," McGwire said.
He was, indeed.
As the ball cleared the left-field fence, there was no scramble to retrieve it because it landed in an area where no fan could get it.
Tim Forneris, a ground-crew worker, picked it up and said he would give it to McGwire.
"Right when it hit off the bat, I knew it was going out and it went right over the sign," he said. "There was a bunch of ground-crew guys on the wall. But I was right on the edge and I said, `That ball is mine."'
After McGwire finished celebrating with his teammates and the Maris family, he grabbed a microphone to address the sellout crowd of 43,688, which was still standing and cheering.
"To all my family, my son, the Cubs, Sammy Sosa. It's unbelievable," McGwire said. "Thank you, St. Louis."
McGwire, who appeared anxious in grounding out on a 3-0 pitch in the first inning, hit hisolo shot on the first pitch at 8:18 p.m. CDT. It triggered an 11-minute delay, baseball's biggest mid-game celebration since Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record in 1995.
The home run, despite its short distance, surely will rank as one of the biggest in history, up there with the ones hit by Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Hank Aaron, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter.
The 34-year-old slugger also did it at home, just like he wanted. The Cardinals begin a five-game road trip Wednesday, and McGwire wanted to share the moment with the fans and city he has embraced since Oakland traded him to St. Louis on July 31, 1997.
McGwire did not get an immediate chance to add to his total, which includes 15 home runs in only 21 days. His next time up, Trachsel intentionally walked him, and McGwire walked again in the eighth inning.
McGwire's race began on March 31 when he hit a grand slam on opening day, but his chase to become 1998's home-run champion is not finished.
With the Cardinals out of contention, McGwire may take off a few days over the final 18 games; the season ends Sept. 27. He is just four homers ahead of Sosa, who figures to play every day down the stretch with the Cubs still in the NL wild-card race.
Like Maris, McGwire broke the mark in an expansion season. But consider this stat: This year, home runs are being hit at a rate of 2.05 per game; last year, the average was also 2.05.
McGwire accomplished his feat in the Cardinals' 145th game, while Maris' Yankees played 163 in 1961. Before Maris set his record, commissioner Ford Frick declared any record would carry a "distinctive mark" if it did not beat Babe Ruth's mark of 60 in 154 games. But that decision was reversed seven years ago.
McGwire picked on his share of young pitchers, hitting eight home runs off rookies, but other victims included Orel Hershiser and relief aces Robb Nen and Rod Beck. He connected twice against World Series MVP Livan Hernandez, including a 545-foot drive that was the longest in Busch history.
McGwire acually caused more problems for Arizona's stadium than its first-year pitching staff. He hit a batting-practice drive that resulted in $2,000 damage to the scoreboard at Bank One Ballpark.
His slam off Ramon Martinez started a run in which he homered in the first four games of the season, tying Willie Mays' record. In April, he became the first Cardinals player to hit three homers in a game at Busch.
McGwire hit his 400th career homer in May and hit his 37th home run in June, tying the major-league record for most before the All-Star break.
| McGwire lifts his son Matthew after rounding the bases. (AP) |
In July, he set the mark for the fastest to reach 40 homers in a season. In August, he came the first player to reach 50 home runs in three consecutive years. And then came September and the most memorable month of all.
McGwire's hair never fell out, as it did to Maris when he was trying to overtake Babe Ruth's record of 60, even though the expectations and pressure began building way before the Cardinals' first workout in spring training.
At one point in mid-June, McGwire complained that he felt like a "caged animal" because of all the attention his BP sessions were attracting. Later in the season, as the media hordes started to increase, he was stung by a report that he used androstenedione, an over-the-counter muscle booster that is legal in major league baseball but banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee.
Before McGwire's shot, the home-run record had been the exclusive domain of the New York Yankees since 1920. That was the year Babe Ruth set the single-season record with 54, and he held the mark until Maris beat him.
In taking the record from a team built on power, McGwire brought it to one of baseball's most unlikely cities. The Cardinals were a franchise famous for fastballs -- from Dizzy Dean to Bob Gibson -- and also fast feet -- from the Gashouse Gang to Lou Brock.
Often times, the whole St. Louis team struggled to beat Maris' mark. The Cardinals hit just 58 homers in 1986, for example.
Stan Musial, who was at the game, was the most acclaimed slugger in St. Louis history -- "I've never seen anyone like him, really," the Hall of Famer said of McGwire -- but only two players had ever hit 40 homers for the Cardinals before Big Mac arrived. Rogers Hornsby hit 42 in 1922 and Johnny Mize hit 43 in 1940.
|Big Mac takes a moment to thank his fans(AP)|
McGwire quickly destroyed Mize's team record, hitting No. 44 on July 26 for his only home run of the season at hitter-friendly Coors Field. In fact, McGwire's worst showing this year might have been at the All-Star game in Denver, where he failed to advance beyond the first round of home-run derby.
But all along, McGwire seemed destined to break the record. He was born exactly two years after Maris hit his record-breaker off Tracy Stallard, and homered in his first at-bat in Little League.
Mark McGwire's 62nd home run, at a glance:
Home run: 62.
Game: 145 of 163.
Time: 8:18 p.m. CDT.
Pitcher: Steve Trachsel of Chicago Cubs.
Distance: 341 feet (McGwire's shortest this season)
Who retreived it: Tim Forneris, member of Busch Stadium ground crew.
Midgame delay: 11 minutes.
McGwire's at-bats: Grounded out in first; homered in fourth; drew intentional walk in sixth; walked in eighth.
Final score: Cardinals 6, Cubs 3.
Quote: "Roger, I hope you're with me tonight." Mark McGwire.
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