When you think about slugger Mark McGwire playing at Jacobs/Progressive Field, everyone recalls the 485-foot bomb that he hit in 1997 that hit the Budweiser sign by where drummer John Adams sits.
What most people don’t remember was the following season, when McGwire, now a member of the St.Louis Cardinals, strolled into Cleveland in the midst of the most memorable home run race of all-time.
McGwire and Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa spent 1998 going back and forth in a home run race that captivated all of baseball.
Many say it was that home run race that brought fans back to the game after many were disgruntled in 1994 over a strike that ended the season early.
McGwire would end 1998 with a whopping 70 homers, and by the time he rolled into Cleveland for a short two-game set in June of 98, he was already the talk of baseball with 33 homers.
With the new ESPN “30 for 30” documentary coming out Sunday, June 14 titled “Long Gone Summer,” today we take a quick look back at the two games and two homers McGwire crushed in Cleveland during that 1998 campaign.
The first game of the series came on Wednesday, June 24th, and featured Indians second-year thrower Jaret Wright on the mound for the Tribe.
Wright had an up and down 1998, and was 6-4 when he entered his 16 start of the season. He was pitching much better for the Tribe than earlier in the season, winning five of his last six starts to go two games over .500.
The Indians were 43-31 as they began the two-game set against the Cards, who came in a game over .500 at 38-37.
McGwire has been in a bit of a home run drought when he came to Cleveland, having gone six days and 18 plate appearances since the last homer he hit, a mammoth shot in the Astrodome against the Houston Astros the Thursday prior.
43,321 packed into Jacobs Field on a hot, dry 87 degree night, many of which were there to root on the Indians, but also to see if McGwire could give them a memory.
He didn’t disappoint.
Following up his Budweiser sign homer the season before against Orel Hershier, McGwire hit the Jacobs Field scoreboard for the fourth time in his career during batting practice.
McGwire was the only player to reach the scoreboard in either batting practice or in a game.
He maintains two of the longest homers at Jacobs Field, hit in the same game in April of 1997 while with Oakland.
Most of the drama of the actual game between Cleveland and St.Louis was over in the first inning, as the Tribe piled on the Cards for seven runs in the first to give Wright all kinds of room for mistakes, and to make it a laugher 7-0.
While not quite the same distance that McGwire put on his eventual homer, both Tribe hitters Manny Ramirez and Travis Fryman homered in the first to push the Indians out to a touchdown lead.
That left most fans just wanting to see if McGwire would come through, which he did in the fourth inning.
On a 1-1 count from Wright, McGwire slammed a line drive to deep left center, way back into the bleachers for his 34 homer, a solo shot.
As described in the AP game story, the ball “landed about 10 rows from the top of the left-field bleachers and was estimated at 433 feet.”
It was McGwire’s 34 homer in 70 games. He was lifted in the sixth inning after the Indians put up a five-spot in the 5 to take a 12-1 lead, eventually going on for a 14-3 win.
The next day was even hotter, as first pitch at 7:07pm was a sweltering 92 degrees. 43,309 again packed the park to see mostly if the Indians could win again, but also to see if McGwire could deliver homer 35 or even 35 and 36.
It didn’t take long for McGwire to hold up his end of the deal, as in the first inning against Dave Burba he connected on a 2-2 curveball that traveled 461-feet.
The bomb ended up hitting a steel support beam attached to the left-field scoreboard. The homer was measured as the second-longest homer hit at the ballpark. McGwire at the time owned the top three longest shots at Jacobs/Progressive Field.
It was the only homer McGwire would hit that night, as the Indians would get two homers from their all-time home run leader in Jim Thome as they topped the Cardinals 8-2.
After the Tribe’s second straight win over the McGwire led Cardinals, Thome spoke about the St.Louis sluggers race to Roger Maris’ record of 61 homers in a single season. A number he would end up passing by nine.
"If there's one guy in baseball who we want to do it, it's him," Thome said. "It's truly a pleasure to watch him, to watch how he handles himself."
Never has a visiting player drawn so much attention at now Progressive Field, but for a pair of games in 1998, it was “McGwire-Mania” while the Indians gained a pair of wins to send the fans home happy.