4-3 win wilder for Cubs than Sosa Wednesday hero goes 0-for-4 with walk

September 18, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN DIEGO -- Sammy Sosa's afternoon came and went quietly yesterday. There were no home runs, no kisses sent home to his mother in the Dominican Republic, no fireworks to celebrate another long ball.

But Sosa smiled anyway. He smiled and talked about another victory that moved the Chicago Cubs closer to the playoffs, and that seemed reason enough to celebrate.

"For me," he said, "the playoffs count more than the home runs."

Sosa went 0-for-4 with a walk and drove just one ball deep, leaving his homer total at 63 and keeping him tied with Mark McGwire. But right now he is thinking more about his team, which got a pinch home run from Gary Gaetti in the 10th inning to beat the San Diego Padres, 4-3, and nudge its wild-card lead to one game over the New York Mets and five over the fading San Francisco Giants.

That's what mattered to Sosa, that the Cubs won and took three of four from the Padres.

It didn't mean, however, that no one cared about the record. They did, and Sosa had to answer questions about it in waves after the San Diego Chargers closed off their locker room to the Cubs. Reporters were allowed into Chicago's clubhouse 20 at a time after the game to keep crowds to a minimum.

Sosa stood patiently at his stall and spoke about his day, about the victory and about whether he thought he might hit another homer.

"I'm not going to hit a home run every day," he said, "but at least I'm going to have confidence in myself that I can do it. And, hey, tomorrow is another day."

The Cubs returned home after the game for a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. They close the season with two games in Milwaukee and three in Houston.

How many could Sosa hit by then? He smiled and said, "I'll let you know when the year is over."

He might not want it to end. San Diego fans toasted him every time he came to the plate, even if it angered Padres players. The Padres fumed Wednesday night when fireworks exploded after Sosa hit No. 63 and their fans cheered wildly.

"We're in this to win," pitcher Joey Hamilton said. "Fireworks -- give me a break. Somewhere along the way, someone's priorities got mixed up. Let's just throw a party and stop the game."

Said outfielder Greg Vaughn: "I stand here and salute Sammy Sosa. But is this our city, or is it?"

Asked if the reception he received from Padres fans, many of whom are Hispanic, was the best outside of Chicago, Sosa answered: "I'd have to say yes. The fans here in San Diego showed me [their] appreciation, which is nice. It's something I'm never going to forget -- and believe me, I'm going to try to continue to make people happy."

He had done that earlier in the day, meeting with Fabian Perez Mercado, the fan who caught Sosa's 63rd homer and wanted to present it to him. It was a photo op for Sosa, but Mercado, of Tijuana, clearly enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame.

"To me," Mercado told reporters, "Sosa is No. 1 and Mark McGwire is No. 1. Viva Mexico and viva la tierra de baseball."

In exchange, Mercado will get two jerseys, two gloves, a bat, two balls, five caps -- all signed -- plus seven prime tickets for each of the Padres' home games in the first round of the playoffs.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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