Baseball: McGwire homing in on run record

MARK McGWIRE, of the St Louis Cardinals, smashed two home runs on Saturday, almost guaranteeing himself ownership of baseball's hallowed single-season record of long balls.

The two blasts, his 67th and 68th of the campaign, came in a defeat in St Louis against the Montreal Expos on the next-to-last day of the regular season.

However, McGwire's neck-and-neck challenger for the record, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, had a bittersweet night in Houston.

He failed to knock one out of the park at the Astrodome and now trails McGwire by two home runs, despite his club gaining a vital win to remain in the National League play-off picture.

"I might never let this season go... It might never happen again," McGwire said.

McGwire could well have ended the great home run derby a day early, and the Cardinals' backup catcher Tom Lampkin was tipping him to reach 70 as the season drew to a close late last night. "All it takes is a couple of mistakes, and he's got it," Lampkin said. "You watch him. There's something special about the way he's going about his business"

Yesterday Sosa had all but conceded the contest. "It doesn't look good, but I still have a chance," he said after a pair of singles in Chicago's 3-2 win at Houston. "I've always been saying Mark is going to finish ahead of me."

"Obviously, it feels nice," McGwire said. "But I've got one more game, and so does [Sosa]. I think he's got bigger and better things on his mind, helping the Cubs get into the play-offs." Chicago, after beating the Astros 3-2, were tied with the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card race before the final day's play, with the New York Mets just one game back.

But in a bizarre twist, Sosa could be given a lifeline in the home run chase by being awarded an extra game if the Cubbies have the same number of wins and losses as the Giants after today. The two teams would face each other in a one-game play-off to decide who goes to the post-season.

McGwire was philosophical about the prospect of Sosa catching or surpassing him with an extra game.

"There's nothing I can do about it," he said. "I'll be home on the beach, so, sorry."

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