Reds put McGwire, history on hold Security tightens, media crush heavier, but slugger silenced

September 05, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Major-league home run leader Mark McGwire returned to Busch Stadium last night to find that much had changed in the five days since he took his record chase on the road.

The crowds are bigger. The media crush is heavier. Security is tighter.

Even the baseballs are different, each of those used during a McGwire at-bat bearing a telltale mark to identify it for possible historical significance. But that was not necessary in the first game of the much-anticipated three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Much to the disappointment of the sellout crowd of 48,076, McGwire did not hit his 60th home run. He did not answer when fellow record-chaser Sammy Sosa cranked his 57th of the season in his first at-bat of a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. Big Mac cooled off on a very hot September night and the Cardinals followed suit in a 3-2 defeat.

Reds pitcher Pete Harnisch did not duck him. Neither did reliever Scott Sullivan. McGwire just came up empty, going 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in four plate appearances.

"I take my hat off to them," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "They not only bested Mark, but also our club."

Nobody hits a home run every night, but McGwire's performance at Pro Player Stadium in Miami -- when he hit four homers in a span of seven plate appearances -- had heightened expectations to an unreasonable pitch.

The Cardinals and Major League Baseball, meanwhile, heightened security to assure that the integrity of each historic moment, whenever it arrives, will be protected for posterity.

There were extra security guards posted throughout the stadium, particularly in the areas where most of McGwire's previous Busch Stadium home runs have landed. Those areas were determined from scouting charts to put security personnel in the best position to accurately identify the fans who grab the historic home run balls.

The balls are marked to assure their authenticity, as they were when Hall of Famer Henry Aaron was pursuing Babe Ruth's career home run mark in 1974. Major-league officials claim that the marking system is so intricate that it would be virtually impossible to counterfeit.

Harnisch initially didn't realize why the umpires kept changing the balls when McGwire came to bat.

"I asked the umpires if those are the hard ones," he said, "then it dawned on me that they probably have a serial number on them or something."

MLB security chief Kevin Hallinan said before the game that additional security measures also have been taken in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to guard against the possibility of a terrorist incident.

The media horde is nearing World Series proportion. Nearly 700 media credentials were issued for the home run chase, but McGwire steered clear of a scheduled pre-game press conference.

Fortunately for the big crowd, the Reds did not steer clear of McGwire the way they did in the six previous games against the Cardinals. He had drawn 11 walks -- five of them intentional -- in 25 previous plate appearances against Cincinnati this year, but Harnisch and Sullivan challenged him in every at-bat.

Both Reds pitchers seemed to enjoy the playoff atmosphere, perhaps because they no longer have a chance at the postseason this year.

"It was a little bit distracting," Harnisch said. "I was thinking more about the next time. I'm scheduled to face them in Cincinnati and who knows where things will be then."

McGwire just missed No. 60 in the first, getting under the ball and flying out to right field. He also struck out in the third and walked in the fifth against Harnisch, then struck out on three pitches against Sullivan in the seventh.

Reds manager Jack McKeon denied before the game that the Reds had made a policy of pitching around McGwire, even though the numbers clearly point in that direction.

"The previous series, every time McGwire came up it was a crucial situation," McKeon said. "My pitchers and players have a lot of integrity, and they're trying to do the best to win a ballgame."

McGwire vs. Reds

How Mark McGwire has fared against this weekend's Cincinnati Reds starters:

Day..Starter .....HR ...H-AB Avg.

Sat. Dennis Reyes 0 ....0-1 .000

Sun. Brett Tomko .0 ....3-9 .333

McGwire watch

A look at how Mark McGwire fared last night:

First inning: flied out to right field.

Third inning: Struck out swinging.

Fifth inning: Walked with two runners on.

Seventh inning: Struck out swinging.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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