Roger Maris' children weren't in the stands Sunday at Wrigley Field. The commissioner couldn't make it. The official National League baseballs bore no infrared markings. And the only nation with a live broadcast was the Dominican Republic.
Someone forgot to tell Sammy Sosa that the home-run race was over.With his 61st and 62nd home runs on the same afternoon, the Dominican slugger for the Chicago Cubs moved even with Mark McGwire of St. Louis, who went hitless in two at-bats against Houston. For the moment, the tortoise has caught the hare.
So the 37-year-old record for most home runs in a single season has been passed twice in less than a week. The name next to the new mark in baseball's record book will be decided over the next two weeks by the friendly competitors, McGwire and Sosa. One, a college-educated, white son of a dentist from California, has had all the attention. The other, an uneducated, black man whose first baseball glove was made from a milk carton in San Pedro de Macoris, now has all the momentum.
After Sosa's record-tying blast, it took three curtain calls to sate the overflow crowd of 40,846, the largest this year at Wrigley. The crowd roared for five minutes until the game continued and buzzed for an hour after with chants of "Sammy! Sammy!"
After the game, Sosa conducted interviews in two languages and received congratulatory telephone calls from Randy Maris, one of Roger's sons, and from Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball and an owner of the Brewers.
"It's unbelievable," Sosa said graciously in words that echoed Mc-Gwire after he hit his 62nd home run last Tuesday. "I have to say what I did is for the people of Chicago, for America, for my mother, for my wife, my kids and the people I have around me." He went on to name even the manager of the opposing team.
Sosa would have had another chance for a home run Sunday if the veteran Mark Grace hadn't hit a home run to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning, 11-10. Sosa, who would have batted next, was so happy he hugged the umpire. "I'm sorry that I hit that home run so Sammy couldn't come up to the plate," Grace said.
For Chicago baseball fans, the significant event of the day was when the Cubs raised the "W" flag above the scoreboard for a victory. Chicago stayed ahead of the New York Mets by one game in the competition for the last spot in the National League playoffs. The Mets also won a close one, 1-0, in Montreal. The Cubs haven't played a post-season game since 1989.
When asked how he felt about the home runs, Sosa said, "I have a good feeling we're going to make it to the playoffs."
After McGwire broke the record on Tuesday, Sosa might have begun trying too hard to hit home runs. He went five days without coming close to a homer. By then, McGwire was the toast of the world with 62, and Sosa remained four back at 58, the race conceded even by Sosa, who continued to declare, "Mark is the man."
Sosa showed grace on Saturday and Sunday by muting his celebration. While each of his home runs pulled his team closer, the Cubs still trailed. After he hit No. 60 on Saturday, he didn't even smile. Sosa just waved his cap to the crowd and took his seat. But when Orlando Merced hit the game winning home run in the ninth, Sosa was the first one to home plate. Sunday he helped carry Grace off the field.
Both of Sosa's home runs - estimated at 480 feet - Sunday sailed over the ivy-covered wall in left field, over the fence and over Waveland Avenue beyond. After each impact, Sosa made his trademark leap of exulation and clenched his fists. No member of the Milwaukee Brewers offered a pat on the back or applauded, as the Cubs had done for McGwire when he broke the record in St. Louis on Tuesday.
Could Sosa, who is the leading candidate for most valuable player in the league, end up with more home runs than McGwire?
After Sunday, Sosa has 12 games remaining, McGwire 13. Both sluggers will face the weak-pitching Brewers and the powerful Houston Astros. Sosa also draws the first-place Padres and the lowly Cincinnati Reds, while McGwire plays two poor teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos.