The Roger Maris chase has resumed for Mark McGwire, although his major league-leading 28th home run couldn't stop the St. Louis Cardinals' slump.
After missing three games with back spasms, McGwire hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat in Friday night's 3-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
"It's not like I planned on having a break," McGwire said. "But sometimes they're good for you."
But it was the only damage allowed by Orel Hershiser and four other pitchers. Hershiser recovered to win his sixth straight decision in the opener of the only non-interleague series of the weekend.
"I knew Big Mac was going to play," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "He may have a bad back, but there is nothing wrong with his bat."
Jeff Kent had a two-run double in a three-run third for the Giants, who won their season-high seventh straight and sent the Cardinals to their sixth loss in seven games.
Hershiser (6-3), the NL pitcher of the month in May with a 5-0 record and 0.86 ERA, worked six innings and allowed two runs on six hits. Hershiser walked five, but worked out of trouble by stranding eight runners in the fourth through sixth innings.
Hershiser was sick with the flu before the game and was a doubtful starter.
"The trainers put a lot of electrolytes into me before the game," Hershiser said. "I couldn't believe how much it helped."
McGwire, who hurt his back grounding out Monday at San Diego and sat out a three-game series at Los Angeles, showed no signs of a bad back at the plate or in the field.
He went 2-for-4 with his eighth intentional walk of the season, two strikeouts and a single off the left-field wall. He also made a nice catch of Darryl Hamilton's liner to open the game.
"It's a mind game," McGwire said. "If you say to yourself you're going to be slow, you're going to be slow. This game is mental and I mentally prepared today."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he wasn't surprised McGwire picked up where he left off.
"He doesn't amaze me more than he always amazes me," La Russa said. "You expect the incredible, and he keeps doing it."
After Ray Lankford doubled with one out in the first, McGwire hit a 409-foot line drive over the center-field wall on a 1-2 pitch. It was his 18th homer at Busch Stadium this season, setting a team record in the Cardinals' 29th game.
"I was a little too arrogant in thinking that I could get him out on that slider," Hershiser said. "I should have set him up better first."
McGwire increased his NL-leading RBI total to 70. He has 31 home runs and 62 RBIs in 52 career games at Busch Stadium and is on a 77-homer, 192-RBI pace this season.
McGwire looked ready in an early battig practice session, hitting one foul ball near the top of the upper deck seating in left and blasting two more off windows in the Stadium Club just below the upper deck.
The Giants scored all their runs in the third off Kent Bottenfield (1-3), who was making his first start since 1994. Bottenfield, who has three saves and leads the Cardinals with 26 relief appearances, gave up an infield hit to Darryl Hamilton and walked Bill Mueller and Barry Bonds to start the third before Kent hit a two-run single.
Robb Nen, the fifth San Francisco pitcher, struck out McGwire and Brian Jordan to end the game for his 17th save.
Notes: McGwire has homered in every inning but the second. Sixteen of his homers have traveled 400 or more feet. ... The Cardinals didn't start Ron Gant, who was batting .203 overall and 3-for-28 against the Giants this year. Gant pinch hit in the sixth and walked. ... St. Louis and San Francisco have already played eight times, yet the Cardinals don't play NL Central rival Houston for the first time until June 16. ... Cardinals pitcher Juan Acevedo, who left with elbow stiffness after working the first three innings on Thursday, expects to make his next start on Tuesday. ... Bottenfield is the 12th Cardinals starting pitcher. ... Brian Johnson singled in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to a career-best nine games. ... The Giants' winning streak is their longest since they won nine in a row April 9-20, 1997. ... Delino DeShields of St. Louis stranded five runners in his last two at-bats. .. The Cardinals have lost four games by a 3-2 score in their last seven games.
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