Sosa, McGwire cut a figure Cub assumes HR lead, Card retakes with two in chase toward Maris

August 20, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- The wind was blowing in at Wrigley Field yesterday afternoon, which didn't exactly make it a perfect day to resume the race to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record.

No matter.

Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa was eager to carry on the chase, driving a ball into the final row of the bleachers for his major-league-leading 48th home run of the year in the fifth inning.

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire apparently felt the same way, answering two innings later with a mammoth shot onto Waveland Avenue that pulled him back into a tie with Sosa, then driving a ball over the center-field wall in the top of the 10th to retake the major-league lead with his 49th of the season and carry the Cardinals to an 8-6 comeback victory.

What a show!

"That's why he's the man," Sosa said afterward.

McGwire had gone 20 at-bats between home runs, allowing Sosa to creep up and take over the major-league lead for the first time this season, but he worked reliever Matt Karchner to a 3-1 count in the seventh and jumped ahead 2-0 on veteran left-hander Terry Mulholland in the 10th.

Fastball counts.

Home run city.

"I was in a hitter's situation," McGwire said. "I got two fastballs to hit and I drove them."

He drove the first one so far that Ken Vangeloff didn't need an admission ticket to get the best look at it. A 36-year-old computer consultant from the North Side, he smothered the ball on Waveland Avenue and held on for dear life as dozens of other ball hawks piled onto him.

It was worth the fight. He came up with a genuinely valuable piece of sports history -- so valuable, in fact, that an unidentified fan offered him $1,500 on the spot for McGwire's 48th.

No joke. He produced the cash. Vangeloff declined.

"This is worth more to me than $1,500," he said.

If McGwire goes on to hit 62 home runs, each of the home run balls will be worth a lot more than that in today's inflated world of sports memorabilia, though certifying the authenticity of any ball caught by a spectator will be difficult.

The second home run landed in the landscaped area behind center field that serves as a dark hitting backdrop. A fan hopped the barrier to retrieve it, but tossed the ball onto the field before security personnel escorted him out of the ballpark. Presumably, it was forwarded to McGwire.

The home run derby obscured the importance of the second game of the brief series, but it wasn't lost on Sosa, who couldn't celebrate his good fortune after the Cubs blew a four-run lead in the eighth to cede a game critical to their playoff chances.

"My main concern is the way that we played," he said quietly. "We should have had that game. There were a lot of situations we should have taken advantage of."

Baseball's two most prodigious home run hitters had been conspicuous by their inconspicuousness in the first game of the two-game series on Tuesday night, going a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts. But they generated excitement right from the first inning of yesterday's series finale.

McGwire hit a long fly in the top of the first that was caught against the ivy. Sosa hit a line drive in the bottom of the third that hit the wall just below the home run net that rings the inside of the bleachers.

"The first two at-bats, I felt really good," McGwire said. "I was just under a couple. To me, that's a good sign. I just knew it was a matter of time."

Now that he is on the threshold of his third straight 50-homer season, McGwire may have to change his approach to the stifling media coverage that has shadowed him since May.

He has said all along that there won't really be anything to talk about until someone gets into the 50s with a month or so to go. Now, it appears, he'll reach that plateau with plenty of time to make a serious run at the record.

"With 50, that's when someone has a legitimate shot to beat the record," he said yesterday. "When that happens, you guys will have to think of some new questions, because you've been waiting five months for this."

There will be no shortage of opportunities for McGwire to hit No. 50 quickly. The Cardinals traveled last night to New York, where they play back-to-back doubleheaders against the Mets today and tomorrow. McGwire predicted yesterday that he will play in three of those four games.

"It's just about getting hot and getting pitches to hit and getting on a roll," he said. "You saw Sammy hit 20 in June. You've got to get hot. If you get hot, it can be done."

Maris watch

Tracking the pursuit of Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in 1961:

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..HR .. .. .. ..Proj.

Mark McGwire .. .. .49 .. .. .. .. ..64

Yesterday: 2-for-4, 2 HRs

Sammy Sosa .. .. ...48 .. .. .. .. ..62

Yesterday: 2-for-4, 1 HR

Ken Griffey .. .. ..42 .. .. .. .. ..55

Yesterday: 0-for-2, 0 HR

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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