Sammy Sosa lived up to his part in the hype first, hitting a long two-run homer to left field.
Now the pressure was on Mark McGwire. And he didn't disappoint.McGwire bested Sosa in their home run derby Wednesday, hitting Nos. 48 and 49. Even better, McGwire's two home runs gave the St. Louis Cardinals an 8-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings. It was the 49th multi-homer game of McGwire's career and his sixth this season.
"THAT's why he is the man," Sosa said, repeating what he's been saying all season.
McGwire, who occasionally has struggled with the pressure of the chase for Roger Maris' season record of 61 home runs, acknowledged he's nearing his personal benchmark of where hype becomes reality. Fifty home runs - that's when talk of breaking the record can truly begin.
"That's when somebody has a legitimate shot at breaking the record," McGwire said. "If you get there, you get there."
"There is a long way to go," he added. "There are six weeks. Until that last out of the last game of the season, that's when it means something."
But this game meant something, too. Even McGwire and Sosa, whose homer was his 48th, admit they enjoy watching each other hit home runs as much as the next baseball fan. This gave them a front-row seat for the action.
And there was plenty of it. McGwire had been in a slump, going homerless in 20 at-bats. The two were hitless in Tuesday's matchup, going a combined 0-for-9. They started off slowly Wednesday, with McGwire going 0-for-2 with two walks, and Sosa going 1-for-2.
Sosa started the hitting show in the fifth inning, sending Kent Bottenfield's first pitch over the left-field wall for No. 48. The two-run homer put the Cubs ahead 6-2 and gave Sosa 121 RBIs this season, tops in the major leagues and a career high. He had 119 RBIs in 1997 and 1995.
Then it was McGwire's turn. With one out and the Cardinals trailing 6-5 in the eighth, he slammed a 3-1 pitch out of the ballpark.
And McGwire wasn't done. With the score still tied in the 10th, he put a 2-0 pitch into the shrubbery in center field. Ray Lankford, batting after McGwire, hit another home run to make it 8-6.
METS 2, ROCKIES 1: Masato Yoshii allowed one run in 72/3 innings Wednesday night to earn his first win since May 27, and Mike Piazza drove in a key run as the Mets beat swept Colorado Rockies and won for the 10th time in 13 games.
New York swept the three-game series and won for the 10th time in 13 games. The victory gave the Mets a one-game lead in the National League wild-card race over the Chicago Cubs.
PIRATES 6, DODGERS 5: At Pittsburgh, the Dodgers squandered two leads as Mike Williams (3-1) got the win with two scoreless relief innings before Jason Christiansen pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth save. L.A. now trails the Mets by eight games.
REDS 8, BREWERS 2: Pete Harnisch allowed five hits in 72/3 innings and Sean Casey had a homer and an RBI double as Cincinnati won at Milwaukee.
EXPOS 8, DIAMONDBACKS 2: Dustin Hermanson gave up three hits in seven innings as Felipe Alou broke the record for most wins by a Montreal manager with 521.
MARLINS 6, PADRES 0: Brian Meadows pitched seven shutout innings as Florida snapped its five-game losing streak.
ASTROS 4, PHILLIES 3: Derek Bell's two-run single with two outs in the ninth rallied Houston to a victory Philadelphia.
GIANTS 6, BRAVES 2: Charlie Hayes had a two-run single and Mark Gardner pitched six solid innings as San Francisco defeated Tom Glavine at Atlanta.
ANGELS 2, TIGERS 0: Jack McDowell, one of the AL's top pitchers in the early 1990s and a Cy Young award winner in 1993, pitched seven strong innings after being sidelined 2 1/2 months with a sore elbow.
Darin Erstad, also just off the disabled list, put Anaheim ahead with an RBI single in the third. Reggie Williams made it 2-0 in the fifth with an RBI single.
TWINS 5, YANKEES 3: Minnesota made it 3-for-3 against Andy Pettitte this season, getting outstanding relief performances from Dan Serafini (6-4) and Mike Trombley.
The Twins, who won for just the third time in August, handed the Yankees their second loss in 14 games.
ATHLETICS 6, WHITE SOX 0: At Oakland, rookie Blake Stein (5-7) threw a two-hitter for his first major league shutout, allowing only a bunt single by Mike Caruso in the first and a bloop triple by Magglio Ordonez in the second.
ORIOLES 6, DEVIL RAYS 4: At Baltimore, Mike Bordick hit a three-run homer and Mike Mussina struck out 10 in seven gritty innings.
RED SOX 11, ROYALS 1: Mike Stanley homered twice and drove in six runs at Kansas City, and Tim Wakefield pitched his second complete game of the season.
RANGERS 3, INDIANS 1: At Arlington, Charles Nagy gave Texas the lead with two straight bases-loaded walks during the Rangers' three-run sixth inning.
BLUE JAYS 16, MARINERS 2: Toronto hit a season-high seven homers, two each by Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado, and Ken Griffey Jr. went homerless for Seattle.