ST. LOUIS -- Can you imagine the panic at FOX headquarters when Mark McGwire paused in his bid for immortality to argue a third strike with a rookie umpire Saturday afternoon?
"Please shut up, Mark," the executives in dark suits begged, watching the red goatee move closer and closer to Sam Holbrook's face. "Go sit down. No, no, don't keep talking. Please, go grab some bench. MARK, SHUT UP!"
A game that became a theater of the absurd had a little bit of everything. What it didn't have was McGwire, who was ejected in the first inning. Thus, the cries of anguish emanating from the West Coast reverberated throughout baseball as FOX lost its audience and baseball's home run king lost three at-bats in his bid to eclipse Roger Maris' record.
"I get upset like any normal American," said McGwire. "I was caught off-guard and I got upset and I let steam roll off."
"I truly believe you guys shouldn't be having heat on the umpire," McGwire said. "He has a job, I have a job, I crossed the line, I owe up to it. Period."
Minus McGwire, St. Louis generated only three hits against Tom Glavine, who became the National League's first 18-game winner, and Atlanta unveiled a new closer as the Braves shrugged off Friday night's 10-inning loss with a 4-3 victory over the Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd of 47,627 fans at Busch Stadium.
"It was a weird game, just nonstop," Braves left fielder Ryan Klesko said. "It really didn't feel like a baseball game. It felt like we were playing in an over-30-league game with a lot of arguing and a lot of yelling."
It started with a third-strike call on McGwire to end the first inning. Glavine's 3-2 pitch was low, but Holbrook called it a strike and McGwire, who had taken several steps toward first base, had to be restrained by third base coach Rene Lachmann. As McGwire became irate, he shoved Lachmann aside and got into Holbrook's face and was ejected, then manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan were tossed.
"When Mark started to argue, I told him I had the pitch," Holbrook said. "I believe I warned him three times. The last thing on my mind was ejecting Mark McGwire. I want to see him get the record as much as anybody."
Said McGwire, "It was ball four. I'm not any bigger than the game. He had a right to throw me out. Thank God we didn't have a riot. We don't need that in baseball."
Glavine said he lost sight of the pitch, but catcher Javier Lopez confirmed the pitch was low.
"It was low, no doubt," he said. "I wouldn't say borderline. It was in the strike zone, but a little low. I guess I blocked the umpire's view."
McGwire's ejection incited the crowd, and they pelted the field with cans, bottles, balls and other debris, causing the game to be halted as the Braves left the field.
Crew chief Harry Wendelstedt, who said afterward he has never forfeited a game in 33 years as a National League umpire, indicated he was never close to calling it off.
"There's nobody who wants to throw Mark McGwire out of a ballgame," he said. "We want to see him achieve whatever he's to achieve. But the rules have to stay the same for everybody."
If all that wasn't strange enough, how about Glavine (18-5) walking three consecutive hitters in the fourth inning for the first time in his memory, forcing in a run, then yielding a two-run single to rookie shortstop Placido Polanco for a 3-2 lead?
The game took another bizarre turn in the fifth when John Mabry lined an apparent single to left field with two runners on base, only to discover he'd actually hit into an inning-ending double play.
Klesko dove and gloved the ball, but couldn't hang on and as rookie third base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt signaled it was a hit, the confused runners didn't advance and shortstop Ozzie Guillen was credited with a pair of putouts.
"When I landed, I dropped it," Klesko said. "My sunglasses poked my eye and the ground caused a fumble."
The Braves, who took a 2-0 lead on Lopez's 29th homer against Kent Bottenfield (4-6) in the fourth, tied the game on Keith Lockhart's two-out RBI single in the fifth. They regained the lead the next inning when Klesko doubled and Andruw Jones sent a two-out wall-rattling double to left for his sixth RBI on this trip.
That was enough for Glavine and the bullpen. The left-hander departed after seven, then John Rocker pitched a dominant eighth inning and Rudy Seanez, giving Kerry Ligtenberg a rest, worked the ninth for his second save.
That brought an end to the game, but not the controversy as the crowd booed the four umpires off the field and the Braves retreated to their clubhouse to sort through three hours of memorable baseball.
"It was a game that had a weird feeling to it," Glavine said. "There was kind of a circus atmosphere to it. For all you know you're one step away from a forfeit."
Atlanta -- 0 0 0 2 1 1 0 0 0 -- 4 6 0
St. Louis -- 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 -- 3 3 2
E -- FTatis (10), Polanco (3). LOB -- Atlanta 7, St. Louis 4. 2B -- Klesko (25), AJones (29), Marrero (11). HR -- JLopez (29) off Bottenfield. RBIs -- Lockhart (34), JLopez 2 (91), AJones (73), FTatis (9), Polanco 2 (9). SB -- AJones (21). GIDP -- JLopez.
Runners left in scoring position -- Atlanta 3 (Lockhart, ChJones, Glavine); St. Louis 1 (Bottenfield).
Runners moved up -- Glavine.
DP -- Atlanta 1 (Klesko and OGuillen); St. Louis 1 (Witt, DeShields and Mabry).