With a Ruthian shot, Mark McGwire met the Babe.

McGwire was watching the whole way, taking a wide turn while his eyes followed the flight of the ball he launched Saturday. And when that high-arching drive landed in the left-field seats, home run No. 60 was his.McGwire became just the third player to hit so many, tying Ruth's mark and moving within one homer of Roger Maris' record total.

"To be compared with Babe Ruth is just awesome," McGwire said. "Until recently, I never thought anything like that could happen."

Sammy Sosa, meanwhile, refused to let McGwire get too big a lead in their home run derby, hitting his 58th in the sixth inning of the Chicago Cubs' game Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

Sosa worked the count to 3-1 from rookie left-hander Sean Lawrence before hitting a high drive - it almost resembled a McGwiresque shot - into the third-level seats in right field.

The close-to-capacity crowd in Three Rivers Stadium gave him a resounding ovation - and, yes, a curtain call, too - that was nearly as loud as that McGwire received while homering twice there Aug. 22-23.

A night after appearing anxious at the plate, McGwire connected for a two-run shot in the first inning against Cincinnati rookie Dennis Reyes. Fireworks exploded over Busch Stadium and McGwire saluted the sellout crowd of 47,994 with a curtain call.

The home run came in the Cardinals' 142nd game, including a tie. Ruth hit No. 60 on the final day of a 154-game season in 1927, and Maris hit No. 61 on the last day of a 162-game schedule in 1961.

Now, McGwire has 21 games left to beat Maris and hold off Sosa.

McGwire will try to make home run history Sunday against Brett Tomko, who recently said he wouldn't mind being the victim.

"He's capable of doing it anytime," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He could do it in his first few at-bats or it could take him a couple of days."

Even on the first Sunday of the NFL season, the whole nation will get a chance to watch - the gametime was moved back two hours to 4:10 p.m. EDT to let the Fox network televise it.

"I play this game and it happens to be America's pastime," Mc-Gwire said.

"What's happening now has put baseball back on the map."

McGwire struck out swinging in his other three at-bats, his feet often flying off the ground because of his big cuts, in a 7-0 win over the Reds.

Each time he came to the plate, everyone in the ballpark was ready.

Several Reds players sprung to the top step of the dugout every time McGwire batted, leaning on the rail to get a better view.

And in the seventh, when he struck out on a high fastball from John Hudek, Cincinnati reliever Danny Graves stopped throwing in the bullpen to watch.

McGwire's home run came on a 2-0, low-and-in fastball from Reyes.

"Like I said yesterday, if he's going to get me, he's going to get my best pitch," Reyes said.

"When he hit the ball, I knew it was out."

An afternoon that began with Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on his harmonica near home plate quickly turned into McGwire's day.

Even Musial admitted that when he asked his grandchildren to name their favorite player, they answered, "Mark."

At 381 feet, McGwire's homer was not one of his longer ones, but its height and the way he watched it was reminiscent of the kind made famous by Ruth, who died 50 years ago.

The souvenir was caught by Deni Allen, 22, who works in the St. Louis Rams' marketing department.

Allen snuck a couple of sections from his seat to get in position and managed to catch the ball after it bounced off another fan's hands.

"When the ball was in the air I sprinted up a few stairs," Allen said.

"I'm not sure what happened then, but I knew I took a few punches, a few kicks.

"I've watched on the replays, and the first guy never catches it," Allen said.

"I knew that, so I waited for the rebound."

Allen agreed to give the ball to McGwire. In return, the Cardinals said they will give him two season tickets for 1999, some bats, hats and autographed balls, plus a round of batting practice before a game at Busch later this season.

McGwire seemed to spend the rest of the game trying to hit a ball off the Gateway Arch, visible way beyond the left-field roof.

McGwire struck out against Reyes in the second, fanned on three pitches from Mike Remlinger in the fifth and struck out on a full count against Hudek in the seventh.

"You can't try to hit home runs," McGwire said. "They just happen."