Big Mac overpowers Big Unit
JUNE 24, 1997
Pedro Gomez of the Sacramento Bee
SEATTLE -- Two of the game's greatest contemporaries, Mark McGwire and Randy Johnson, did what they do best Tuesday night at the Kingdome. The result was major league history -- on both ends.
McGwire reinforced why he is considered the game's greatest current slugger when he blasted the longest home run of his career, a shot that traveled an astounding 538 feet.
It's the farthest home run recorded since baseball started keeping track in 1992 and possibly the second longest in history, bested only by Mickey Mantle's legendary 565-foot blast in 1956.
Not to be outdone, Seattle's Johnson, arguably baseball's greatest power pitcher, struck out a career-high 19 batters, tying Hall of Famer Steve Carlton for the most strikeouts ever by a lefthander in a nine-inning game.
When it was all said and done, the A's had somehow managed to beat Johnson on a night when he became only the sixth pitcher (Roger Clemens has done it twice) since 1900 to strikeout at least 19 batters in a nine-inning game.
The A's, whose entire roster entered the night with 12 career hits against Johnson, cracked 11 hits and beat Seattle 4-1 in front of 34,801 fans who witnessed two of the greatest individual performances of the 1997 season.
"The Big Unit won the battle but we won the war," a smiling manager Art Howe said afterward.
Howe praised his starter, Steve Karsay, who pitched six scoreless innings and won for just the second time this season. Strangely, Karsay's last four victories have all come in domed stadiums.
But Karsay's performance, although his strongest of the season, was all but lost in the hoopla surrounding McGwire's titanic blast and Johnson's record-setting outing.
"When McGwire steps up to the plate everybody drops whatever they're doing," said Karsay (2-7). "I was trying to find the ball. I saw everybody jumping up in the first deck and looking up. Then I saw everybody jumping up in the second deck."
McGwire's 27th home run came off a 97 mph fastball from Johnson (11-2). The Mariners' radar gun registered that the ball left McGwire's bat at 105 mph.
"Basically, the pitcher supplies all the power," McGwire said. "Pitchers get pumped up to face me and I get pumped up to face them. I just let it happen. It was a free and easy swing."
McGwire, a teammate of Johnson's for one season when the pair played at Southern Cal, didn't seem to put much into his swing. As he said, it was "free and easy."
The majestic shot seemed to float through the air forever inside the Kingdome until it finally landed eight rows deep in the second deck.
It was just 10th time a ball has reached the Kingdome's second deck in left field. McGwire, who plays no more than six or seven games per season in Seattle, has launched three of them.
"I can't imagine any human being hitting a ball farther than (McGwire)," Howe said.
McGwire surpassed Colorado's Andres Galarraga for the farthest home run hit this season or since the advent of the measurements.
Galarraga tagged a Kevin Brown fastball 529 feet in Miami's Pro Player Stadium on May 31. McGwire has now hit two home runs over 500 feet. He also hit a 514-foot blast over the left field roof at Tiger Stadium earlier this season.
While McGwire's monumental shot stole the show Tuesday night, it was by no means alone in receiving top-billing.
Johnson, who has regained his dominant 1995 Cy Young Award winning form, came within one strikeout of tying Clemens' major league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Of Johnson's 142 pitches, 100 of them were strikes.
Johnson could have tied Clemens but Jason McDonald flied out to left for the A's 27th and final out. Johnson's outing tied Carlton for the most strikeouts in a losing performance.
"Mainly I was still in awe of McGwire," said Johnson, who established the record for strikeouts by a lefthander in the American League. "I tipped my cap to him when I was in the runway (in the back of the dugout) and he tipped it back.
"I didn't know if I should meet him at home plate or not," Johnson added. "He took the day off (Monday). Why couldn't he have taken today off?"
McGwire now the focus of home run chase|
JUNE 27, 1997
OAKLAND, Calif. - With Ken Griffey Jr. sidelined by a hamstring injury, the focus in the early season ''Who Can Catch Roger Maris?'' sweepstakes has switched to Mark McGwire.
McGwire hit his 28th homer of the season, a grand slam against the Rangers, in Oakland's 6-3 win Thursday night over Texas to pull within one home run of Griffey for the major league lead.
McGwire, who generally is uncomfortable talking about his homers, sneers at suggestions he could threaten Maris' record of 61 homers in a season. And Oakland manager Art Howe says it's too early for such talk.
But a couple of the Rangers' big hitters say they think McGwire, if he stays healthy, has a good shot at the record.
''He's unbelievable. He is the best power hitter in baseball,'' Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez said. ''I think Mark will break Maris' record. He's such a strong man he can hit it out off the handle.''
Griffey is expected to be out of Seattle's starting lineup through at least the weekend with a mildly strained right hamstring.
''One thing about Mark is, if anybody is going to break Maris' record, it will be him,'' Will Clark of the Rangers said. ''His swing gets the ball in the air. Griffey basically sprays the ball around.''
The biggest problem for McGwire always has been staying healthy. Back and heel injuries limited him to 74 games combined in 1993 and 1994, and he has not played in 140 games in a season since 1991.
Last season, he missed the first 18 games with a foot injury but still hit a career-high 52 homers to lead the majors. It was the highest AL home run total since Maris hit 61 and Mickey Mantle had 54 in 1961.
McGwire, who appeared in 130 games in 1996, became the only player in major league history to hit 50 homers while playing in fewer than 140 games. He did it by averaging a home run every 8.13 at-bats, tying his own major league record.
So far this season, McGwire has been healthy. He has appeared in 77 games, which ties him for the AL lead.
''The difference this year is that he's playing,'' Howe said. ''He's getting more opportunities.''
McGwire, whose 357 career homers entering Friday night's game against Texas left him one behind Yogi Berra for 44th place on the career list, has hit some mammoth shots this season. His longest came Tuesday, a drive off Seattle's Randy Johnson that traveled an estimated 538 feet in the Kingdome.
His homer Thursday was considerably shorter. In fact, when McGwire hit a high fly ball toward left-center with the bases loaded in the first, he figured he'd just get a sacrifice fly out of it.
Instead, he ended up with his ninth career grand slam.
''When I hit it, I knew I got it in the outfield deep enough to be a sacrifice fly,'' McGwire said. ''Then it just left the ballpark. I was as surprised as anyone.''
Howe started yelling at his players to tag up when he saw McGwire's shot head toward the outfield.
''It was so high and so deep,'' the manager said, ''but it went out. Just another example of his strength.''
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound McGwire, who has spent his entire 11-year career with Oakland but will be eligible for free agency after this season,is averaging a home run every 12.17 at-bats during his career. That's second only to Babe Ruth's average of a homer every 11.76 at-bats.
''He does something for our profession that I'm proud to be a part of,'' Texas manager Johnny Oates said. ''I can ... shake his hand and get a thrill just knowing him. He's very special.''
The redesign of the Oakland Coliseum, part of a $130 million renovation of the ballpark to lure the NFL's Raiders back to Oakland, has made it a hitter-friendly park.
The fences were brought in along the lines, and center field was closed off with stands. That blocks the winds that often knocked down balls, turning potential homers into harmless outs.
McGwire makes no excuses for his homers.
''They always say, when you're a kid, use the dimensions of the ballpark,'' he said.
And opponents join teammates in saying that most of McGwire's shots would be homers no matter where he plays.
''Not only does he hit tape-measure shots, but he's a good all-around player,'' Texas' Dean Palmer said. ''He's one of the people you pay money to see hit. And you'd better be there, because you might miss something. I don't think there's anyone in his league.''
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