Roger, over and out

Wednesday, September 9, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[mcgwire]
Mark McGwire salutes fans as he's driven around the stadium after his record-breaking night.
(AP photo)

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ST. LOUIS -- Mark McGwire rounded first base in a fog. So many emotions. So much on his mind.

He followed the flight of his home run until it had cleared the left-field wall, and then he lost his way for a little while. He was a step toward second base before coach Dave McKay reminded him that he had neglected to touch first.

It was a wonder, in retrospect, that Big Mac managed to make contact with any of the bases Tuesday night. "I sure as heck was floating," he said. He was living a dream a lifetime in the making, unseen in more than a century of major-league baseball.

No. 62. A new milestone in the statistics of sport. A new standard for sluggers. What Commissioner Bud Selig called "baseball's most important individual record."

The formidable St. Louis first baseman reached down for a first-pitch, fourth-inning sinker from Steve Trachsel and struck a 341-foot tee shot that consigned Roger Maris to the ranks of former record holders. It was McGwire's shortest home run of the season, but almost certainly his sweetest.

"I thought it was going to hit the wall," McGwire said later. "And then the next thing I knew Dave McKay was jumping up. . .I just hope I didn't act foolish, but this is history."

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McGwire hoists his son, Matt.
(AP photo)

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For 11 minutes, Busch Stadium was a scene of sentiment and spectacle, with fireworks and confetti and the raising of a huge banner above the scoreboard in center field. McGwire circled the bases slowly, accepting handshakes and high-fives from the Chicago infielders, hugging former teammate Gary Gaetti as he approached third base, saluting the crowd, and arriving home to the sort of reception that met another Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

For the second straight day, McGwire celebrated by lifting his 10-year-old son, Matthew, off the ground. Later, he climbed into the stands behind first base to exchange hugs and handshakes with Maris' children.

Earlier, McGwire had held the bat with which Maris had surpassed Babe Ruth. Later, he claimed a kinship with Maris.

"I touched (Maris' bat) with my heart," McGwire said. "My bat will lie next to his (in the Hall of Fame) and I'm damn proud of it."

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Thousands of cameras flashed when McGwire was at bat in the first inning.
(AP photo)

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McGwire had hoped to set the record in St. Louis, and faced some deadline pressure to do it. The Cardinals start a road trip tonight in Cincinnati, and will be on the road through the weekend. Because he had grounded out on a 3-and-0 pitch in the first inning Tuesday night, his approach suggested some anxiety.

But few hitters have ever been on a tear to match what McGwire has accomplished over his last 21 games. His 62nd home run was his 15th in 68 at bats, a ratio that projects at about a 140-home run pace. Under the circumstances, it is unbelievable.

McGWIRE SPECIAL
Expanded coverage
from Associated Press
For seven solid months, McGwire had been building toward this climax at center stage of the most anticipated baseball record since Pete Rose surpassed Ty Cobb as baseball's career hits leader in 1985.

A new round of expansion, following McGwire's 58-homer 1997 season, had made a run at Maris' 1961 record appear not only possible, but likely. From the first day of spring training, McGwire has faced questions about a feat no other player has seriously challenged in 37 years. Amazingly, he kept coming up with the right answers. That he could deliver under all that scrutiny -- and do so with 18 games to spare in the St. Louis season -- speaks to his profound power and unbending will. Still, he would hardly be human if he did not admit to some relief Tuesday night.

"I don't know how much the Arch weighs," Mark McGwire said, "but I'm glad to have it off my back."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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