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Monday, October 9
Though hobbled, Big Mac still delivers his magic
By Jayson Stark

ST. LOUIS -- Two years ago, he was Babe Ruth. And now, says Mark McGwire, "I'm just a pinch-hitter extraordinaire. I'm Manny Mota, I guess."

If ever there were two people you never thought would be confused, it was Manny Mota and Mark McGwire. But these are crazy times. And they are especially crazy times for the heavyweight home-run champion of the world.

He can't run. He can't play. He can't do anything but pinch-hit. Yet still he finds a way to spin his own special Big Mac-cian magic. And Thursday, in the Cardinals' 10-4 win over the Braves in Game 2 of their National League Division Series, Mark McGwire did it again.

He popped out of the dugout in the bottom of the eighth inning. His team already had plowed out to a 9-4 lead without him. He was facing the Braves' sixth pitcher of the day (Mike Remlinger). He was pinch-hitting for the Cardinals' least-effective pitcher of the day (Mike Timlin).

But it was as if someone down at the electric company had just switched on the main generator. Flash bulbs popped. Everyone in Busch Stadium stood. The noise could have drowned out a space-shuttle launch.

"The electricity in this town," said McGwire later, "is just incredible."

So naturally, four pitches later, McGwire let that big bat fly -- and pounded a baseball off the grassy knoll beyond the 402 sign in dead center field, for the most memorable pinch homer in a 10-4 game that you may ever see in your life.

He's had bigger moments, obviously. He's had more historic moments, even more obviously. But this was still a very cool Mark McGwire moment. And no one had to explain that to the King of Swing.

"Any time you hit a home run in a playoff game or a World Series game, it's a great moment," McGwire said. "People forget, I once played in a World Series (in 1988) in which my only hit was a home run. But it was a game-winning home run. So I remember it."

And we'll remember this one. Because any Mark McGwire moment you get this October is more than you easily could have gotten.

"I'm just thankful I can do this," McGwire said. "The way it looked a couple of months ago, it looked like I wasn't even going to be able to participate. Now at least I get to pinch-hit, and I'm satisfied with that. But it's not easy."

It can't be as easy as he's made it look. That's for sure. This makes 14 pinch at-bats since he came off the disabled list -- and three home runs. That comes to one every 4.7 at-bats. And you can bet Manny Mota never did that.

McGwire's manager, Tony La Russa, compared him Thursday to Michael Jordan. McGwire just shook his head in confusion over that comparison.

"I wish," he said. "I've got that jumping disease. I can't do it. I don't think Jordan had that problem."

Yeah, but Jordan couldn't sit around for three hours and then hit one 412 feet, either. So they're even.

McGwire wasn't as big a star on this day as Darryl Kile, who threw seven brilliant four-hit innings. He also wasn't as big a star as Jim Edmonds, who thumped three doubles and made a catch that invoked a few mentions of the name, Willie Mays.

In fact, McGwire wasn't even as big a star as the man who has filled in for him so spectacularly, Mr. Will Clark. All Clark did was crash a three-run homer in the first inning. It was his 13th in two months as a Cardinal.

Which makes some people wonder if McGwire needs to keep hitting all these home runs just to make sure he doesn't turn into Wally Pipp.

"Thank God he's a free agent," McGwire quipped. "Otherwise, I might have lost my job.

"You know, when Will got here," Big Mac went on, "he started hitting all those home runs. And I said, 'It's a good thing there are 29 other teams out there, so I can find a job. I'm sure somebody will need a first baseman.' "

Sure. Not to worry. There's always room in this game for Manny Mota.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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Will Clark comments on Mark McGwire's home run in the eighth inning.
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