Baseball: McGwire's 70 surpasses his dreams

MARK McGWIRE yesterday admitted that he was confounded by his achievement in reaching the mark of 70 home runs in a season as he celebrated in style. "I can't believe I did it. It's absolutely amazing," McGwire said. "It blows me away. Reaching the 70 plateau - I never, ever thought about it."

The number 70 was bandied about on 8 September after McGwire had recorded his 62nd to break Roger Maris' mark of 61, which had stood for 37 years. "When I reached 62 so early in September everyone said to shoot for 70," McGwire said. "I went into the clubhouse after I was taken out and they already had a hat [with the number 70 on it] made."

McGwire went three-for-three for St Louis Cardinals against Montreal Expos on Sunday, connecting for a solo shot in the third inning and breaking a 3-3 deadlock with a three-run blast in the seventh. His 10th multi-homer game of the season moved him four in front of Sammy Sosa, of the Chicago Cubs, and gave him an astounding nine more home runs than Maris.

Sosa failed to homer yesterday but his Cubs earned a match with San Francisco for the National League wild-card place in the play-offs. Any home runs Sosa hits in the one-game play-off late last night will count in his regular- season total but four is a tall order, especially for a player more concerned with getting his team into the post-season. However, Sosa's presence has made McGwire's drive for Maris' record all the more compelling.

McGwire said: "I'm glad I've been associated with Sammy Sosa. It's been a great year for everyone. I'm absolutely exhausted. I don't think you can use your mind any more playing baseball. I've amazed myself that I've stayed in a tunnel for so long. It just proves to me I can overcome anything with the strength of my mind."

Meanwhile, Bernie Williams, Larry Walker and Greg Vaughn also managed breakthroughs in a season dominated by McGwire.

Williams won his first American League batting title on Sunday, going 2-for-2 in another historic New York Yankees win. He finished at .339, two points higher than Boston's Mo Vaughn but the lowest average for an AL champion since George Brett hit .329 in 1990.

Walker also won his first batting prize, going 2-for-4 for Colorado to wind up at .363, nine points ahead of John Olerud, of the New York Mets.

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