He is shouldering his way past the icons of his sport, so tearing up the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday wasn’t all that big a deal to Mark McGwire.
McGwire is the hot topic in baseball this month - those not wondering where the Oakland first baseman is going via trade are asking about his pursuit of the single-season home run record.
“All Mac likes to talk about is playing golf with his son,” Ken Griffey Jr. said.
It was on the diamond, not the course, that McGwire took his swings against the Mariners, and in the end, his four-RBI game was crucial in Oakland’s 8-5 victory over Seattle.
He hit a long home run, his 32nd of the season and the 361st of his career - pushing him into a tie with Joe DiMaggio for 42nd on the career home run list. McGwire drove in another run with a third-inning ground ball.
And in the eighth inning of a one-run game, it was McGwire at the plate - with first base vacant - with the chance to break the game open.
Seattle manager Lou Piniella went to the mound, asked reliever Norm Charlton what he wanted to do. Jason McDonald, hitting .210, was on-deck.
“I gave him the option,” Piniella said. “If we walk McGwire, they bring up Jose Canseco with the bases loaded. Norm wanted to go after McGwire.”
“Mark’s up there thinking we’re not going to give him anything to hit, so I thought I could get ahead of him and then put the ball where I wanted,” Charlton said. “I’d rather face Mark there than load the bases.”
Charlton jumped ahead of McGwire, 0-1, then put a fastball in on the big first baseman’s fists.
McGwire doubled home two runs.
“Sometimes, that’s just the way baseball is,” Griffey said.
Would Piniella do it again?
“Obviously not,” the manager said.
As for McGwire, he shrugged his massive shoulders when asked about the decision.
“It’s not a great position either way - me with two on or Jose with the bases loaded,” McGwire said. “If I pop that pitch up, the inning is over.”
Sipping a beer, Charlton shook his head.
“It’s been awhile since something I did worked out, hasn’t it?” he asked.
It was not a great afternoon for Mariners pitchers. Not for Charlton. Certainly not for reliever Mike Maddux. Nor for starter Jamie Moyer.
“I put us in a hole and it got deeper and deeper,” Moyer said. “I thought in the first inning, there were borderline pitches that weren’t called strikes. If they had been, those at-bats go differently. They weren’t, and when I was behind in the count instead of ahead I threw a couple bad pitches.”
One was hit for a two-run home run by Matt Stairs - his third of this two-game series. The other, McGwire hit out. So Seattle trailed 3-0 after an inning.
After the Mariners cut that to 3-1, Oakland pushed home a fourth run on a single, walk, stolen base and McGwire’s run-scoring grounder. In the sixth inning, Moyer gave up a solo home run to catcher George Williams.
It was Moyer’s last inning of work, and he left trailing, 5-1.
“I’ve had better days,” Moyer said. “When you only pitch every fifth day, you want to give every start your best. This wasn’t my best.”
Maddux, pitching for the first time since coming off the 15-day disabled list, wasn’t sharp and gave up a quick run in the seventh inning.
That seemed only to pad a big lead, but that sixth run became more telling when Seattle rallied for runs in the eighth - after Junior and Edgar Martinez opened the inning by striking out.
“We came back at them, but we never caught them,” Piniella said. “You can’t keep giving up runs and expecting the offense to make up the ground.”
Russ Davis dropped a two-run single on Oakland in the eighth, then Jay Buhner came off the bench and drilled a two-run, two-out pinch-hit single to make it 6-5.
McGwire’s quick showdown with Charlton padded that lead, and the Mariners went quietly in the ninth inning.
In the end, Moyer was as upset over his pitch to Stairs as anything that transpired afterward.
“He’s hot, he’s swinging the bat well, but he’s not Babe Ruth,” Moyer said. “He hit three home runs in two games? That’s bad pitching.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.