ST. LOUIS -- Mark McGwire became the 16th member of the 500-home run club Thursday night, beating Tony Gwynn to his 3,000-hit milestone with a third-inning shot to dead center field.
The sellout crowd had come to Busch Stadium hoping to see history, and the St. Louis star did not make his fans wait long.
McGwire hit a hanging, 1-1 breaking ball from San Diego's Andy Ashby an estimated 451 feet over the wall.
The solo shot was McGwire's 43rd of the season, moving him one past Sammy Sosa for the major league lead. McGwire tops the NL with 100 RBIs.
McGwire became the fastest player ever to reach 500 homers, doing it in his 5,487th at-bat. Babe Ruth held the previous mark, having done it in 5,801 at-bats.
Every player with 500 home runs eligible for the Hall of Fame has been elected to the shrine.
McGwire connected in the same ballpark where he broke Roger Maris' 37-year-old homer record last Sept. 8 when he hit No. 62. McGwire went on to hit 70 homers, finishing ahead of Sosa in a race that captivated the nation.
After hitting a fly ball that was caught on the center-field warning track in the first inning, McGwire came back to hit his 16th home run in 21 games -- and his fourth-longest of the season.
McGwire, however, remains behind last year's pace. His 43rd homer this season came in the Cardinals' 109th game; last year, he hit 43 in the first 98 games.
The ball cleared the wall and deflected off the base of an advertisement, then landed in an area of shrubbery beyond the wall as fans scrambled to come up with the prize.
Jim Shearer, a 28-year-old architect from St. Louis, wound up with the souvenir and was whisked away by authorities.
"We kind of joked about it before," said his wife, Jennifer. "He said if it comes this way, get out of here, and so I did. I said he should give it back. He said he's going to sell out."
Gwynn, who needed two hits to reach the vaunted 3,000 mark, took off his glove in right field and applauded as McGwire rounded the bases.
McGwire jumped on home plate with both feet before being greeted by teammates, who exchanged his signature fake gut punches along with high-fives.
McGwire then made his second curtain call in as many nights as Ashby stood off the mound, looking out towards center field.
McGwire, who hit his 400th home run last season, couldn't have had a much better foil for his 500th. He's 7-for-14 against Ashby with three homers and four doubles, with this home run tying the game at 2.
Before the game, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa compared the atmosphere to the Cubs-Cardinals series last September. That's when, with Sosa standing in right field, McGwire surpassed Maris' mark.
"If something happens, everybody will go nuts," he said. "If it doesn't happen, it's going to be an event just to be here with the possibility."
McGwire has reached his last four big milestones, starting with Nos. 61, 62 and 70 last year, in front of the home fans. He wanted to hit No. 500 in St. Louis, too, and did it just in time -- the Cardinals begin a road trip Friday with a doubleheader at Pittsburgh.
The last player to reach 500 homers was Eddie Murray on Sept. 6, 1996, at Baltimore against Detroit's Felipe Lira. Murray is 15th on the career list with 504.
McGwire has already passed five players on the list this season -- Lou Gehrig (493), Stan Musial and Willie Stargell (475) and Dave Winfield (465).
Musial was at Busch Stadium for the big night and sat next to fellow Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock, the last NL player to reach 3,000 hits.
At 35, McGwire is a year older than Ruth was when he reached 500. He's had to make up for lost time after totaling 18 home runs in injury-plagued 1993 and '94 seasons for Oakland, and the homer put him on pace to hit 64 this season.
Gwynn began the night close to his milestone, and was on edge.
"I'm scared to death," he said before the game. "I'm nervous. I've never been this nervous before."
Even the national anthem singer seemed jittery, forgetting the words midway through the song.
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