Originally created 09/07/98

McGwire, Sosa go head-to-head



ST. LOUIS -- First guy to hit one over the Gateway Arch wins.

The schedule says Cubs at Cardinals, but baseball fans everywhere know better. Make it Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa, starting this afternoon (2 p.m., ESPN).

"It's going to be unbelievable, you know," Sosa said. "There's going to be a lot of people cheering for Mark McGwire and me. And, hey, we'll see how it goes."

McGwire at 60 , Sosa at 58. Home run derby, for real. History on deck, the whole country watching them take aim at Roger Maris' record of 61.

Busch Stadium is sold out for the two games, though never have these old rivals created such a stir. In fact, it's hard to remember the last time any series attracted this kind of attention.

"It is so good what is going on right now for the game of baseball," McGwire said. "And if you want to say it has brought America together, it has."

Chicago, which lost to Pittsburgh 4-3 in 10 innings on Sunday as Sosa failed to get a home run, is in the wild-card chase and St. Louis is out of contention. Yet the only standings most people care about are posted on the scoreboard in center field, just below the out-of-town NL games -- that's where the current homer count for McGwire and Sosa is displayed.

"It's the most excitement we've had in baseball in a long time. The two guys going against each other and the entire country is interested," Cardinals great Ozzie Smith, now one of the team's broadcasters, said Sunday. "I'm a strong believer in manifest destiny, that some things are meant to be. Evidently, this was meant to be."

Judging by what happened the previous time McGwire and Sosa met, their totals might be changing real soon.

On Aug. 19 at Wrigley Field, McGwire hit two home runs and Sosa hit one. Earlier in that month, they both connected in a game at St. Louis.

"I think we're motivation for each other a little bit," Sosa said. "I try to go up there and do my job and I came through, and I know he does, too. It's unbelievable."

In all, McGwire and Sosa have homered in the same game 20 times this season. And when they're apart, they try to catch each other on TV.

"I am a fan of the game as well as a player, and I absolutely enjoy watching him play," McGwire said. "He is having an absolutely magical year and, you know, I root him on just like anybody else."

McGwire and Sosa got to talk for a few moments before they played last month at Chicago. Following that friendly get-together, McGwire went on a tear and hit 13 home runs in 18 days.

"We don't, as players, have much time to spend with each other when teams come in or we are going there," McGwire said. "Basically, the only time I get to visit with him is when he is at first base."

And, for sure, neither McGwire nor Sosa plans on stopping there starting today.