Two games, no homers. For the first time in his record-setting month, Mark McGwire has slowed down.
Since he broke Roger Maris' record, the new home run king has spent two days catching up on sleep and catching his breath. His only two trips on the basepaths were walks that ended at first base.He went 0-for-3 Thursday with two walks that pushed his season total to 151, matching Barry Bonds' NL record from 1996. But he went without a homer for the second straight game as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-7.
It's the first time he's gone consecutive games without hitting a homer since Aug. 28-29, when he was beginning his final lunge at Maris' record.
And he had an inkling this might happen.
"I just hope that in the next couple of days I can get some sleep and let my insides relax," McGwire said before the series began.
Another large crowd - 50,971, all of them McGwire fans - pleaded with him Thursday to get back in the swing and get No. 63 in Cinergy Field, where he's never gotten as much as an extra-base hit.
Owner Marge Schott had him pet her St. Bernard before the game, hoping it would bring McGwire luck. It backfired - McGwire is allergic to dogs, and his 0-for-Cinergy Field streak remained intact.
Now, he's off to Houston to try to pad his home run total, taking all of the excitement with him.
"I'll miss it," Reds manager Jack McKeon said. "It was good for the players. I think they enjoyed it."
The Reds have done a better job than most at taking the fun out of McGwire's at-bats this season.
By pitching around him earlier in the season and challenging him lately, the Reds managed to hold him to one homer - No. 60 given up by Dennis Reyes in St. Louis - and a .107 average in 11 games. The Reds won eight of them.
Even more impressive is the job they've done on him at Cinergy Field, one of only two major league parks where he has never homered. A banner in right field summed up his predicament: "Cinergy Field 26, McGwire 0."
He had not homered in 26 previous plate appearances in the stadium where Hank Aaron hit the first homer in 1970 and tied Babe Ruth's career mark four years later.
Make that 0-for-31. He struck out in his first two at-bats against Mike Remlinger (7-15), walked twice and popped out in the eighth inning against Gabe White, drawing a groan from the crowd.
It was a missed opportunity for McGwire, who declined interviews afterward.
"The first ball was right down the middle," White said. "I said, `Thank you.' That was a situation where the hitter gets himself out. But he is awesome."
He was the only thing the fans cared about in a sloppy game - each team walked 10 and the Reds stranded a season-high 16 runners.
Ray Lankford hit a two-run homer and J.D. Drew had a pinch two-run single in a seven-run fifth inning that put the Cardinals ahead to stay.
The only consolation for Reds fans was that the home team tried to throw McGwire strikes.
"They can't gripe about me walking McGwire," said McKeon, who was criticized for having the Reds pitch around him in July. "We walked everybody else with him."