Mark McGwire killed Red Sox pitching while making Lansdowne Street a danger zone yesterday.
And no, you are not reading your Sunday sports section by mistake today.
For the second straight day at Fenway Park, the Oakland first baseman had a multihomer game, except this time he went one better than Saturday by hitting three home runs off Boston starter Zane Smith in an 8-1 victory.
Although he helped rub out the Red Sox for the second straight day, McGwire -- who tied a major league record with five home runs in two games -- was not about to rub it in.
He preferred to talk about the Boston fans, who gave him several standing ovations -- after his third home run, before his next two plate appearances and, finally, when he was removed from the game in the ninth for a pinch runner after walking -- instead of himself.
“That doesn’t happen very often to a visiting player,” said McGwire, who had two chances to tie the major league record of four home runs in a game, but struck out swinging against Mike Maddux in the eighth and walked on four pitches against Joe Hudson in the ninth.
You can’t blame Smith for not trying every pitch in his repertoire. McGwire said that Smith’s gopher balls included a fastball, curve and slider -- and that all were thrown around knee level.
“But he didn’t know I’m a golfer. I like to hit those low balls,” said McGwire with a smile. “I hit those three balls pretty squarely,” he added, in the understatement of the day.
There was nothing Bucky Dent-ish about any of McGwire’s homers. The first carried over the screen on a line, bounced off the roof of a parking garage and settled out of sight 463 feet away, the longest Fenway homer of the year. The second banged off a loudspeaker in left-center, a mere 411-footer. The third was another moon shot over the Green Monster and into the street and was estimated at 452 feet -- the second-longest Fenway homer of ‘95.
McGwire has battled all the way back from two operations on his left heel that limited his playing time to 74 games over the last two seasons. Yesterday he vowed that if another heel injury were to strike him down, “I’d retire from the game the next day.”
Oakland manager Tony La Russa could only marvel at McGwire’s comeback, which has vaulted him into the major league lead with 17 homers and 40 RBIs.
“He’s got so much power, but it’s such a clean, compact, pure stroke,” said La Russa. “He had three home runs in a game in ‘87, but two of them just got over the fence. These three were real solid.”
The manager said McGwire “is in the best shape of his life in terms of strength and quickness. The concern was whether he could play a lot. He worked in the gym last winter every day, and it’s paid off.”
McGwire has played in all but one of Oakland’s 43 games, and he said he approaches each one in the same way -- not over-analyzing his performance and having a healthy respect for the opposing pitcher.
“I never stand at home plate and watch these homers. I like to hit them and run,” he said. “Sure, it’s nice when you put good swings on the ball and hit it squarely, and this is a great hitter’s ballpark.”
And a pretty hospitable place, too, considering the damage inflicted on the home team by McGwire.
But the fans knew they could be witnessing a bit of baseball history, so they responded in kind.
“It’s not often you’re away from home and the fans are rooting for you,” said McGwire. They might have been rooting for him on a more consistent basis if McGwire had been signed in 1992 by the Red Sox as a free agent.
“At the time, Boston was the only team negotiating with me. We tried to negotiate some more, but they just didn’t want to budge from their first offer, and then Oakland came back to offer substantially more,” said McGwire. ‘’I was pretty close to coming to Boston, but Mr. Mo Vaughn has had a couple of great years and I’m happy for him.”
That’s the same Mr. Vaughn whom Mr. McGwire passed for the major league RBI lead yesterday -- and was cheered doing it.