Having obliterated the home-run record with a mind-boggling 70, Mark McGwire wouldn't mind it a bit if the new mark stood for a while.

"I don't know if I want to break my own record," McGwire said after hitting Nos. 69 and 70 Sunday in the St. Louis Cardinals' season finale. "I think I'd rather just leave it as is."As is. Right.

What McGwire has done is awe-inspiring for teammates as well as the fans who abandoned the concession stand lines whenever he picked up a bat and stood cheering for every at-bat the final month of the season both at home and on the road. McGwire is four homers ahead of Sammy Sosa, who gets an extra game tonight in a wild card playoff with San Francisco, and an incredible nine better than Roger Maris' 1961 rec-ord.

"Unbelievable," outfielder Brian Jordan said. "Yesterday he hit two and I said `Wow'. Today, it was `Wow, Wow.' Hitting 70 homers, and hitting one in your final swing, that's a storybook ending right there. See you. Let's go home for the winter."

General manager Walt Jocketty, who engineered the deal that brought McGwire from Oakland on July 31, 1997, for pitchers T.J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein, was glowing as he strolled the club-house.

"We may never see anything like this again," Jocketty said.

The storybook season began with a grand slam on opening day, and McGwire surpassed Roger Maris' 37-year-old record on Sept. 8. He had a mighty finishing kick, belting five homers in his final 11 at-bats. Buried in the hubbub over his achievement was the fact his three-run shot in the seventh inning off Carl Pavano (6-9) was the game-winner in a 6-3 victory.

There were only two things missing. For one, McGwire was a bit envious that it was Sosa and not him with a shot at the postseason. For another, with a 3-for-3 finale he ended up one hit shy of .300.

"I've hit a lot of home runs, but maintaining an average, I'm pretty proud of that," McGwire said. "Being one hit short of .300, that's just the way it goes."

Mostly, McGwire's finale was a feel-good experience for everyone, even for a largely inexperienced Montreal Expos' pitching staff that served as his personal punching bag throughout the final weekend. Manager Felipe Alou instructed his pitchers to challenge McGwire, and they lost.

"I left it up to God and the kids on the mound," Alou said. "I didn't want to tamper with history."

Pavano didn't mind his place in history a bit.

"I've got no regrets," Pavano said. "I gave up a home run to the best home-run hitter in history. I went after him the way he went after me and I guess you could say he won."

The same went for Mike Thurman, victim No. 69.

"I hope people don't call my house," Thurman said. "Mine isn't the only one that left the park. He hit them off 69 other guys."

With two outs in the third and at 2:10 p.m. CDT, Big Mac hit a 1-1 breaking ball from Thurman 377 feet into the left-field seats. After stomping on home plate, he took a few slow steps, then made several salutes to the crowd.

The usual sellout crowd that had stood well before his at-bat demanded and got not one but two curtain calls.

With two on and two outs in the seventh and the score tied 3-3, McGwire connected off Pavano, lining a first-pitch fastball 370 feet over the left-field wall at 3:19 p.m.

The homer was reminiscent of No. 62 because it was a liner that you'd have missed if you blinked, rather than his usual majestic shot. Also, Expos infielders, sensing the moment, were shaking his hand as he rounded the bases.

"It's stranger than fiction, what this man has done," manager Tony La Russa said.

The second home-run ball landed in a party box and was snared by Phil Ozersky, 26, of Olivette, Mo., attending the game with a group of Washington University research lab scientists. He said he didn't know what he'd do with the ball, which could be worth $1 million or more on the collectibles market.

McGwire, who has 10 multi-homer games this year and 53 in his career, hit a go-ahead homer for the 24th time this season.

He opened the year with a slam on March 31 against the Dodgers' Ramon Martinez, then led the home run race all season except when Sosa twice passed him briefly - and then for only 103 minutes in all.



The Swat Team

- 70 Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals, 1998

- 66 Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs, 1998

- 61 Roger Maris, N.Y. Yankees, 1961

- 60 Babe Ruth, N.Y. Yankees, 1927

- 59 Babe Ruth, N.Y. Yankees, 1921

- 58 Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia Athletics, 1932

- 58 Hank Greenberg, Detroit Tigers, 1938

- 58 Mark McGwire, Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals, 1997

- 56 Hack Wilson, Chicago Cubs, 1930

- 56 Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners, 1998

- 56 Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners, 1997