ST. LOUIS -- Mark McGwire and the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals could count, so they knew this day was coming: The day Big Mac would have to share his home run record with Barry Bonds.
Bonds matched McGwire's mark of 70 home runs when he connected Thursday night as the San Francisco Giants beat Houston 10-2. He had three games left to claim the record to himself, starting Friday night at home against Los Angeles.
McGwire was watching the Giants game on TV with his girlfriend, and he had a feeling Bonds was about to connect. He left a message on the cell phone of Giants closer Robb Nen and asked him to forward his congratulations to Bonds.
"I wish him luck this weekend," McGwire said Friday night. "I know he's got other things on his mind. They're in the playoff hunt, just like we are."
When McGwire broke Roger Maris' 37-year-old record of 61 home runs in a season in 1998, the St. Louis slugger tacked on a few more to bring the mark to 70 - seemingly putting it out of reach.
For only three years, it turned out. Now, he wouldn't be surprised if it's broken again in another three years.
"It's a crazy number and we all thought it was crazy at the end of '98," McGwire said. "But now we're looking at it like it's not crazy. That's just the way the game's gone, there's so much offense."
McGwire believes Bonds has already topped him, no matter what happens this weekend. McGwire hit his 70 home runs in 509 at-bats, and Bonds' 70th came in his 468th at-bat. Bonds also has drawn 175 walks, breaking McGwire's NL record of 162 and Babe Ruth's major league mark of 170.
Sammy Sosa, who this week became the first player to reach the 60-homer mark three times, said he planned to send a congratulatory note to Bonds.
"If you sit back and relax in your house and you say to yourself, 'Ah, 70 home runs,' before you go up there and you chase that, that's a big number," the Chicago Cubs star said.
"But when you have a chance to hit 60 early in the season and you keep swinging the bat really well like the way he was this year, you're going to have some hard times, but he's in a zone. When he's in his zone, there's nothing you can do about it."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sees Big Mac as a trailblazer.
"Mark's been hitting a lot of home runs for a bunch of years," La Russa said. "So I think you give him credit for showing some new levels were possible."
McGwire agrees with that assessment.
"I'm happy to say I set the bar," McGwire said. "I'm proud of it. I have nothing to be ashamed about."
La Russa also believes Bonds has had it a lot easier this season because the record is not nearly as big of a deal. Again, thanks to McGwire.
For Bonds, there's nowhere near the media circus that followed McGwire from city to city, especially as he closed in on No. 62.
"I watched every day what Mark went through from the first day of spring training to the last day of the season, and that was a real special burden he had to carry," La Russa said, choosing his words carefully. "Sammy didn't have it the same way because Sammy caught it about midseason.
"And Barry hasn't had it the same way, maybe because Mark's shown the way, whatever."
Earlier this month, McGwire was criticized for saying essentially the same thing. Now he's keeping quiet on the subject.
La Russa, who's been on the bench for almost all of McGwire's homers in Oakland and now St. Louis, also is OK with the record falling.
"Hey, I expect Barry to break it," the manager said. "He deserves a terrific amount of credit. He's doing it with fewer times at bat."
McGwire, who turned 38 Monday, is enduring his second straight injury-plagued season because of a balky right knee, and is closing in on a dubious distinction.
With one more homer, he'll likely become the first major leaguer to hit 30 homers with a sub-.200 average.
Despite a big day Thursday in Milwaukee in which he drove in five runs, McGwire was batting just .190.
"I've been playing all year on one leg," McGwire said. "Sometimes I question Tony putting me out there, but he wants me in there and my teammates want me in there, so I go out there."