Kerry Wood struck out 16 batters and rated no better than second mention. That's how good Sammy Sosa was.
Sosa hit his 52nd homer, a towering shot off a far-away advertising panel in left-center field, and provided a couple of memorable touches Wednesday as the Chicago Cubs rolled to a 9-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Before the game, Sosa sent Reds manager Jack McKeon a half-dozen autographed baseballs in gratitude for a nice conversation they had the previous evening.
"Just tell him not to hit any out today," McKeon responded.
No such luck. Sosa hit one of the season's most impressive homers at Cinergy Field in the third inning, a solo shot that smacked the facing of the third deck in left-center some 438 feet away.
It was another major step in the home-run race -- he now trails Mark McGwire by one -- and a personal breakthrough for Sosa, who has faced Brett Tomko (11-10) five times in his career and struck out every time but one.
"I have a lot of respect for him because he believes in himself," Sosa said. "When a young kid like that believes in himself, I want to have that guy on my team in the future."
| Cincinnati starter Brett Tomko reacts after giing up Sammy Sosa's 52nd home run during the Cubs' 9-2 victory over the Reds. (AP) |
"He was almost crying when I gave him that bat," Sosa said. "That's why they came to the ballpark, to see the Cubs play. Hey, I'm feeling great, the fans have been great this year. I just hope we can continue the job we've been doing and bring the fans back."
While Sosa got the notice, Wood (12-6) got his first victory since July 31 by striking out 16 in eight innings. It was the second-highest total of his rookie season, trailing only the record-tying 20 strikeouts on May 6.
Wood also was taken in by Sosa's day.
"Sammy's fun to watch, not only for the fans -- we like to watch him, too," Wood said. "You never know what's going to happen. He could go out and hit three. You never know."
He got only one, but it was impressive.
Sosa, who struck out in his first at-bat, came up with two outs in the third and took a ball. After a mighty swing-and-miss on the next pitch, he backed out, shook his head, adjusted his batting gloves and composed himself.
"I stepped out and said, `Wow, I've got to slow myself down and try to go to right field, to calm down a little bit more,'" Sosa said. "When I'm calmed down, I can see the pitch much better. But when I'm trying to hit two home runs in one at-bat, that's when I got in trouble."
Tomko's next pitch was big trouble -- a fastball right down the middle.
"I just made one bad pitch to him," Tomko said. "I was trying to throw inside and I threw it out over the middle of the plate. I just want after him. That's all you can do."
The 52 homers are the second-highest total for a Cub, trailing only Hack Wilson's 56 homers in 1930. The solo shot gave Sosa a career-high 130 RBI this season, fifth-best in franchise history.
Sosa has homered in each of the Cubs' last 13 series. His 23rd homer on the road this season matched the club record shared by Wilson (1930), Ernie Banks (1960) and Dave Kingman (1979).
Fifteen of Sosa's homers have come in Wood's starts.
Gary Gaetti drove in four runs to help Wood become the first Cubs rookie to win 12 since Mike Harkey in 1990. Wood allowed three hits and walked three before yielding to Rod Beck, who struck out two in the ninth.
In his four starts since complaining of the tired arm, Wood has struck out 8, 11, 3 and 16. He has struck out 10 or more in eight starts this season.
Wood has struck out 223, two shy of the club's rookie mark this century. Tom Hughes struck out 225 in 1901.
The Cubs gained a split of the two-game series by piling up three runs in the second off Tomko, a second-year pitcher who is fading as the season winds down. Gaetti doubld home two runs and eventually scored on Manny Alexander's suicide squeeze bunt.
Gaetti added a sacrifice fly in the sixth and an infield RBI single in a four-run ninth.
Aaron Boone hit his first major-league homer, a solo shot, and center fielder Lance Johnson threw into the Cubs' dugout to let in the Reds' other run in the fifth.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved