Saturday, October 14, 2000

McGwire becomes patient hitter

        NEW YORK— Mark McGwire can't run and he can't hide. He has a bad knee and a worse disguise. He looks exactly like the fellow who swatted 70 home runs a few years ago. The cameras, consequently, follow his every step.

        The St. Louis slugger has been like a caged lion during the National League Championship Series, prowling the dugout in search of prey. He's not well enough to play in the field and he has not been fortunate enough to be called on for a meaningful cameo.

        You imagine his frustration. You imagine him wrong.

        “You've got to take what's given to you,” McGwire said Friday at Shea Stadium. If he said it once, he must have said it half a dozen

        There was no anger in his voice, no anguish on his face, no outward sign of exasperation. The Cardinals have reached the desperate stage of the playoffs — they trail the Mets, two games to none —- yet Big Mac remains as placid as a Zen master with a trust fund.

        He doesn't second-guess his manager. He doesn't lament his luck. He leans back in his locker, chewing gum, accepting fate. McGwire wants to manage some day, and he already understands that much of baseball is beyond anyone's control. He will take what he's given, however meager the portions.

        McGwire has yet to swing the bat in this series. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa did not to use him in Game 1 though the Cardinals brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh inning. In Thursday's Game 2, McGwire was walked intentionally in the eighth inning with the go-ahead run at second and first open.

        Under the circumstances, McGwire would have had as much chance of seeing something good to hit if he had come to bat blindfolded.

        “Five times in two games he's had his (batting) helmet on, ready to pinch hit,” LaRussa said. “But I can't script this thing.”

        McGwire had 30 home runs when patella tendinitis forced him out of the St. Louis lineup on July 6. He has not played in the field since then and has logged only 15 at-bats since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 8. Rather than rush McGwire's rehabilitation, the Cardinals acquired Will Clark as a fill-in first baseman.

        “If Will wasn't there, it might be a different story,” McGwire said. “But when every pitch, every play means so much ... I wouldn't want to put the team in jeopardy.”

        Ideally, LaRussa would like to use McGwire in the late innings of a tight game, in a situation where he might see a strike. These conditions, however, are not always easily arranged.

        When J.D. Drew tied Thursday's game with an eighth-inning hit, LaRussa yelled at his young outfielder to stop at first base. Drew's decision to run to second took the bat out of McGwire's hands.

        “The thing is, if I do see a pitch to hit, there's no guarantee I wouldn't foul it back,” McGwire said. “In my role, your normal four or five at-bats a game is coming in one at-bat. I'll give it my best shot, but getting a pitch to hit in the playoffs is tough.”

        Should the Cardinals somehow advance to the World Series, McGwire could serve as a designated hitter in the American League park.

        “I've never been an advocate of the DH,” McGwire said. “I love playing first base. I'm only doing what I am now because I have to. I'm not going to make it a career move.”



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