62! McGwire now slugger supreme Liner off Trachsel passes Maris to set all-time HR record

History made at home

'Short' 341-footer puts him over top

Baseball: Mcgwire Passes Maris

September 09, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Home run king Mark McGwire didn't let the suspense build the way Roger Maris did in 1961. He didn't let the suspense build at all.

It took him all of five at-bats to hit his 62nd home run and break a record that had stood for 37 years. He jumped on a first-pitch fastball from pitcher Steve Trachsel and sent it whistling over the left-field fence in the fourth inning of last night's 6-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs at sold-out, wrung-out Busch Stadium.

History in a hurry.

The crowd of 49,987 clearly felt the sense of urgency. The St. Louis Cardinals had a bus waiting outside to whisk them away to the airport to begin a five-game road trip. The Maris record -- which McGwire had tied in Monday's series opener -- didn't figure to last until they got back.

"Was it that quick?" McGwire said. "It has been awesome. I'll tell you what: The last week and a half my stomach has been turning, my heart has been beating a million miles a minute. To do it that fast, I don't know. I just give thanks to the man upstairs and all of them -- Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, everybody who is watching up there. What a feat."

What a week! McGwire never dawdled in his pursuit of immortality. He broke Hack Wilson's National League record of 56 homers last Tuesday in Florida. He went on to hit seven home runs in seven games to politely push Maris out of the record book -- the final shot making its dramatic exit at 8: 18 p.m. (CDT). He let go of the bat and watched the low liner streaking toward the left-field corner.

It wasn't one of those no-doubt shots that have made McGwire a staple of the late-night baseball highlight shows. In fact, it was the shortest home run he has hit all year -- just 341 feet -- but it went just far enough to land in the record book.

When it cleared the fence, McGwire was so overcome with excitement that he almost missed first base, which would have negated the home run if first base coach Dave McKay had not called him back to touch it.

"I didn't think it was out," McGwire said. "I thought it was going to hit the wall, but I looked up and Dave McKay was jumping up and down. In the same motion, he said, 'Touch first base.' " That's probably the first time that has ever happened to me. I'll always remember that sweet, sweet run around the bases."

The rest was a montage of magic moments.

McGwire got a hug at third base from from former teammate Gary Gaetti, who was released by the Cardinals and signed by the Cubs just a few weeks ago. He got a forearm bash from third base coach Rene Lachemann, who also coached him when McGwire was one of the Bash Brothers in Oakland.

The scene at home plate was reminiscent of the celebration of the record-tying 61st home run on Monday afternoon. McGwire greeted his teammates and picked up his 10-year-old son, Matt, before wading into the crowd that was forming outside the Cardinals' dugout.

He hugged almost everyone in a Cardinals uniform, picked up his son again, then hopped the waist-high fence for an emotional meeting with the six children of Roger Maris.

"I told them today when I met with the officials from the Hall of Fame, they pulled out Roger's bat that he hit his 61st home run with and I touched it," McGwire said. "I touched it with my heart. Now I can honestly say that my bat will lie next to his in the Hall of Fame and I am damn proud of it."

The Cardinals unfurled a banner above center field with a picture of McGwire and a large red "62" that was mildly reminiscent of the number that was unfurled on the B&O Warehouse on the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games-record on Sept. 6, 1995.

The two events have a lot in common. If Ripken's run at the "Iron Horse" helped baseball rebound in the bitter aftermath of the 1994 strike, McGwire has completed the healing process with his heart-stopping climb past several of the greatest home run hitters in the history of the game.

"People have been saying that this has brought the country together," McGwire said. "If that's the case, so be it. I'm happy to bring the country together."

The groundskeepers rushed under the bleachers and retrieved the historic ball, rendering moot the $1 million bounty that was placed on it earlier in the day by an Illinois memorabilia company. Cardinals employee Tim Forneris delivered the ball to McGwire in the midst of the celebration.

Everything just seemed to fall into place.

The evening could not have been orchestrated any better. Fellow record-chaser Sammy Sosa, who watched the historic shot from right field, was waiting for McGwire when he returned from the stands. The two went through an exaggerated version of McGwire's post-homer ritual and then embraced, which only raised the decibel level in the stands.

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