Sosa's HR streak ends at 3 games Cubs slugger goes 2-for-5 with 2 singles, 2 strikeouts in 4-3 setback to Pirates

September 07, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- For Sammy Sosa, yesterday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates amounted to a lost opportunity. And it had nothing to do with being held to two singles.

Sosa has insisted all along that his first priority is making the playoffs, not surpassing Roger Maris' record for home runs in a season. His count stayed at 58 yesterday, three short of Maris, but of more importance to Sosa was a 4-3, 10-inning loss that prevented the Chicago Cubs from increasing their lead in the wild-card race.

Pirates catcher Jason Kendall did what a crowd of 22,209 at Three Rivers Stadium had expected of Sosa, homering with one out in the 10th. Chicago maintained a one-game lead over the New York Mets for the wild card, which was small consolation for Sosa, who went 2-for-5.

"On one side, we have to be OK because the Mets also lost today, but our opportunity was here today. This was a situation we should have been able to take advantage of," he said.

Sosa had homered in three straight games to close on St. Louis' Mark McGwire, who remained at 60. Leading off the second inning, he worked the count full before striking out on a low fastball from left-hander Chris Peters. He reached on an error by shortstop Lou Collier in the fourth, lined a single to left in the sixth and grounded one up the middle in the seventh.

Sosa was given another chance when the game carried into extra innings, but he swung through a fastball from Rich Loiselle with the count full in the 10th.

"I was too much in front with my bat today," he said. "[Loiselle] pitched me pretty good. I have to take my hat off to him. He challenged me. But, hey, I'll see you next time."

Except for two singles and the Loiselle fastball, Sosa wasn't given much to hit. He flailed at a few balls that tailed away from him and watched others skip in the dirt. Other than jumping on Peters' first offering in the sixth, he saw at least five pitches in each at-bat, few of them enticing.

"Not every time that I go to home plate am I going to hit a home run," he said. "If it's going to happen, I just let it happen. I don't go up there trying to hit one."

Sosa said he would lie in bed thinking about what to say to McGwire when the teams meet for a two-game series in St. Louis beginning today. "There's so much that I might not remember everything," he said.

"The fans will be going crazy. The situation will be out of control. I'll just take it slow and relaxed and not try to impress everybody."

Asked if the scene there will resemble a playoff atmosphere, Sosa said, "Yes, and tomorrow will be the World Series."

Sosa continues to draw attention away from the Cubs' pursuit of the wild card, no matter how many times he reminds the media of the real importance of these games. But that appears to sit well within the clubhouse.

"I can't see it affecting the team negatively," said third baseman Gary Gaetti. "I certainly don't think anybody's jealous. A feat of this magnitude, more power to him."

Gaetti can offer a unique perspective on the great home run chase. He began the year in St. Louis, was released and signed with the Cubs as a free agent on his 40th birthday, Aug. 19.

"There are a lot of similarities to how they go about their business, the types of hitters they are," he said of Sosa and McGwire. "But pitchers don't seem to be as intimidated by Sammy as they are by Mark, as far as intentional walks. Whether that's the pitcher or manager, or just the imposing physique. But I feel like Sammy is every bit as dangerous a hitter, and not just the home run."

And to think Sosa almost quit when he was a skinny 18-year-old playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and Cubs pitching coach Phil Regan was his manager.

"Sammy came to me one day and said he didn't want to play anymore," Regan said. "He was tired of hitchhiking to San Pedro, which was about two hours away, then hitchhiking back in to Santo Domingo for the games. He didn't have enough money to live closer. I went to the owner and asked if he could get Sammy a room in Santo Domingo, and he did."

Eleven years later, there's room for Sosa and McGwire to make history. Perhaps tonight, this afternoon, it will happen for one of them, in the presence of the other.

Sosa watch

A look at how Sammy Sosa fared yesterday:

Second: Struck out swinging.

Fourth: Reached first on an error.

Sixth: Singled to left.

Seventh: Singled to center.

* 10th: Struck out swinging.

Power numbers

How teams with 50-home run hitters fared during seasons:

6 teams had best record in baseball

17 had winning record

6 won league championship

4 won World Series

2 lost World Series

4* had losing record

*Not including Mark McGwire's split-season total of 58 HRs for 1997 A's and Cardinals

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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