Sosa has answer, hits 58th homer He remains 2 behind McGwire, gears up for Busch showdown

September 06, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- A few players sat in chairs pulled close to the television, while others stayed in front of their lockers with eyes fixed on the screen. More than three hours remained before the )) Chicago Cubs' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates last night, and the visitors' clubhouse at Three Rivers Stadium was full. What better way to pass the time than watch Mark McGwire's every move?

He already had belted his 60th home run in the first inning, creeping within one of Roger Maris' single-season record. But that was the end of McGwire's power display, leaving the Cubs to seek their entertainment elsewhere and a crowd of 37,711 waiting for Sammy Sosa to respond.

They wouldn't be disappointed. Sosa led off the sixth by hitting a fastball from Pirates rookie Sean Lawrence 417 feet to right for his 58th homer in an 8-4 victory that kept Chicago one game ahead of the New York Mets for the NL wild card.

The homer was Sosa's third in three games and fifth in seven days, and it brought the usual curtain call. Though Glenallen Hill had stepped into the batter's box, Lawrence didn't move until after Sosa emerged from the dugout and raised his helmet. Only then would the ovation subside.

"I'm enjoying every moment. My situation is great right now. We know we have a great chance to go to the playoffs and I'm taking over," he said.

"This is all like a miracle for me. That's why I love America. What a country."

Sosa, who went 2-for-5 and increased his RBI total to 140, has another game remaining with the Pirates this afternoon before the pairing of baseball's most prodigious home run hitters occurs tomorrow and Tuesday in St. Louis.

McGwire and Sosa on the same field, in the same race to make history. How meaningful will it be for the Cubs' right fielder?

"Buddy, you don't want to know," he said "I think it's going to be real exciting. There are so many people waiting for that moment. This is my last series I'm going to play against St. Louis. It's going to dramatic."

Especially if McGwire holds at 60 today.

"It would be special for me to see it, but if he's going to take care of his business, just do it. Don't wait for me," Sosa said.

"There's no competition. My only competition is to make the playoffs. I want that more than the home runs, believe me."

Sosa watched from his hotel room yesterday as McGwire connected off Cincinnati's Dennis Reyes. He noticed how McGwire became emotional upon returning to the Cardinals' dugout, appearing to choke back tears.

"No. 60's big for him," Sosa said. "After he hit the home run he sat on the bench and closed his eyes. He probably was saying 'Thank you' to God."

At least he was saying something. McGwire skipped a pre-game session with the media Friday, leaving others to talk about him. Sosa, meanwhile, plopped down on an equipment trunk yesterday and chatted with about 10 reporters before heading to the field to stretch, the kind of intimate gathering that McGwire wouldn't recognize.

If Sosa doesn't enjoy these daily exchanges, he hides it well.

"Probably because I'm a little more of an easy guy. I'm a little bit more Rico Suave," he said, bursting into laughter.

So far, there hasn't been a price put on the baseballs that Sosa has hit into the stands. He's been given many of them by generous fans, including a woman who retrieved No. 56 while sitting in the right-field bleachers. Sosa scribbled his name on the ball and handed it back to her.

"She was real excited," he said.

There was a similar feeling within the crowd each time Sosa came to the plate last night.

Sosa hit a long foul to right on the first pitch thrown to him, then took three straight balls. Lawrence, making only this third major-league start at age 28, was showered with boos. After swinging through a fastball, Sosa lined a single into center field and later scored the Cubs' first run.

He also grounded into a force in the third inning before jumping on a 3-1 pitch from Lawrence and staying on McGwire's heels. In the ninth, he hit a foul ball into the upper deck in left before taking a called third strike that brought another round of jeers.

"He's gotten more selective," said Cubs first baseman Mark Grace. "Like a lot of young hitters, he used to be afraid to get deep in the count. He'd always want to go up and hit the first pitch out of the ballpark. I told him one time, 'What's wrong with hitting the fourth pitch out of the ballpark?'

"He's realizing that the more pitches he sees, eventually a pitcher will make a mistake. And when he's getting a mistake, he ain't missing it. He's knocking the crap out of it."

Sosa watch

A look at how Sammy Sosa fared last night:

Second inning: Singled to left-center.

Third inning: Grounded into fielder's choice to shortstop.

Sixth inning: Hit his 58th homer to right-center.

Seventh inning: Struck out swinging.

Ninth inning: Struck out looking.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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