Slammin' Sammy evened the home run race again, fittingly, with a grand slam.

With a mighty swing at a dramatic moment, Sammy Sosa hit his 63rd homer to a place balls rarely go at Qualcomm Stadium, the second deck in left field. Just like that, after struggling for two games, Sosa pulled back into a tie with Mark McGwire in the greatest home run derby ever."It was something exciting, I have to say, especially with the game on the line," Sosa said after driving in all his team's runs in the Chicago Cubs' 6-3 win over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night. "I never thought I would get No. 63 with the bases loaded."

Or with two outs and the score tied 2-2. In that situation, he said, he didn't want to strike out. Instead, he continued to make history.

With cameras flashing from all around the stadium and most of the crowd of 49,891 on its feet, Sosa drove a 93 mph fastball from Brian Boehringer an estimated 434 feet.

The crowd went wild when Sosa's ball settled inside the foul pole, setting off a mad scramble for the souvenir, and Sosa was summoned back onto the field for a curtain call. Mark Grace stepped out of the batter's box and Boehringer stepped off the mound during the ovation.

The cheering continued after the inning ended, and Sosa doffed his cap to the crowd when he went to right field.

"I'm back. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I wanted to be patient," Sosa said.

"People are excited about the home run race, and rightfully so," winning pitcher Terry Mulholland said. "There's no telling if they'll ever see it again."

Sosa and McGwire, tied for the most home runs in a season, each have nine games left. Sosa said he didn't care who wins the thrilling race for the single-season homer record.

"I got to the point that everybody wanted me to go, and whatever happens from now on is a gift. Now I want to go to the playoffs."

Sosa, who hit a two-run, bases-loaded double in the seventh, helped the Cubs hold their half-game lead over New York in the NL wild-card race.

"Right now, I feel great," he said. "The game tonight was unbelievable."

Boehringer wasn't worried about his place in history.

"Nobody's going to remember it when he hits 69," the right-hander said.

"I tried to go inside, but I left it . . .," said Boehringer, who then asked reporters if they saw where the pitch was. "It went off the bat too quick," Boehringer said.

Only 22 home runs have been hit into the second deck in 30 seasons, including seven this year - yes, McGwire hit one of them. The St. Louis slugger parked his 43rd homer 458 feet from home plate on July 20, also off Boehringer.

Fabian Perez Mercado, 32, of Tijuana, Mexico, ended up with the ball. He was at the game with his pregnant wife and two children. He is expected to present the ball to Sosa before this afternoon's game, the Padres said.

The historic home run race has fostered goodwill throughout baseball, except, it seems, in the Padres' clubhouse.

"Everyone in this clubhouse feels like we have our road uniforms on," slugger Greg Vaughn said in profanity-laced remarks to reporters. "Hell, let's play all of our playoff games on the road.

"Don't get me wrong, everybody in this clubhouse loves Sammy," Vaughn said. "But how are we supposed to take it? What happens when they leave town on Thursday? Are we supposed just to take them (the fans) back with open arms?"

The Padres clinched the NL West title Saturday night and are fighting an uphill battle for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"It's a joke," pitcher Sterling Hitchcock said. "We're out there fighting for home-field advantage and they're rooting for the guy."

Sosa finished 3-for-5 with six RBIs as Chicago won its second in a row and fourth in five games.