Jeff Nelson

How Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 home run race unfolded in season's final weeks

How Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 home run race unfolded in season's final weeks

In 1998, Mark McGwire beat Sammy Sosa in the race to eclipse Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. However, the race was very much in the air down the stretch that September. 

McGwire hit his 62nd home run on Sept. 8, leaving Sosa four behind with 18 games left on the schedule (the Cubs wound up playing in a Game 163 to clinch a wild-card spot).

Sosa was close but McGwire pulled away in the end. Here’s a look at how the race unfolded in the winding weeks of the season.

RELATED: 7 of Sammy Sosa's milestone home runs with Cubs in 1998

Sept. 12 (Cubs vs. Brewers)

On a Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Sosa joined McGwire, Maris and Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in a season. (Sosa went on to become the only player to do it three different times.) He moved to within two of McGwire, who had been held without a homer since breaking Maris’ record on Sept. 8.

Sept. 13 (Cubs vs. Brewers)

Sosa tied Maris' record at 61, launching a blast onto Kenmore Ave. off Brewers starter Bronswell Patrick in the fifth inning. He tied McGwire at 62 in the ninth, sending a pitch from Eric Plunk over the left-center bleachers and onto Waveland Ave.

Sept. 16 (Cubs at Padres)

McGwire snapped a six-game homerless streak on Sept. 15 to regain the lead. A day later, Sosa drew even with him at 63, hitting an eighth-inning grand slam off Brian Boehringer. It was Sosa’s third slam of the season after hitting none entering 1998. 

Sept. 23 (Cubs at Brewers)

While Sosa went a week without going yard, McGwire homered twice to reach 65 on the season. But Sosa broke out in a big way , hitting Nos. 64 and 65 against Milwaukee — his 11th multi-home run game of the season.

Sosa’s performance was completely overshadowed by how the game ended. Brant Brown dropped a routine fly ball that would have given the Cubs the victory. Instead, three runs scored to give the Brewers the win, and Ron Santo’s cries of “Nooooooo!” can still be heard by Cubs fans today.

Sept. 25 (Cubs at Astros)

Sosa hit one into the third deck of the Astrodome in the top of the fourth inning, becoming the first player to hit 66 homers in a season. But that would be his last home run trot of season.

A short time later in St. Louis, McGwire tied Sosa’s mark. Big Mac homered twice in his next game and then hit two more on the final day of the season to finish the year with 70, leaving Sosa to settle for second place.

More on Sammy Sosa and 1998 MLB season:

-Why Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 home run race was bad for baseball
-How Cubs came to acquire Sammy Sosa from White Sox ahead of 1992 season
-How Sammy Sosa came out of nowhere to jump into 1998 home run race
-Why Sammy Sosa celebrated Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run with him

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

How Sammy Sosa remembers historic 1998 MLB season: 'We brought baseball back'

How Sammy Sosa remembers historic 1998 MLB season: 'We brought baseball back'

Sammy Sosa spent most of the summer of 1998 telling everyone Mark McGwire was “the man.” And when it came to breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record and finishing first in the home run race, it was true.

But Sosa’s numbers from that season could also earn him that distinction as. His 66 homers were second most in MLB history in a single-season, 10 more than Ken Griffey, Jr., who finished third in the ‘98 home run race.

Sosa finished that season with 158 RBIs and 134 runs scored, leading baseball in both categories. He hit .308, his highest average in 10 years in the majors. And for his efforts, he received 30 of 32 first-place votes for National League Most Valuable Player.

RELATED: 7 of Sammy Sosa's milestone home runs with Cubs in 1998

“That was the level I was looking at for myself for many years,” Sosa told NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan in 2018. “I have to put all those pieces together, and when I really have it, I can go to right field, I can go to center field and I can go to left field. So, as a hitter when you have that control, you’re never going to struggle. You’re always going to find a way.”

Sosa had been working with Cubs hitting coach Jeff Pentland on trying to keep his hands further back during the pitcher’s delivery, giving him more time to see the ball. His approach helped him reach base — he had at least one hit in 10 of his first 11 games, and his average never fell below .300 after April 8.  

But his power numbers were down early in the year; he hit just six home runs in April and seven in May. He quickly turned things around in June, when he hit a record-setting 20 that month.

Perhaps most importantly, Sosa helped break a nine-year postseason drought on the North Side, as the Cubs won Game 163 against the Giants to claim the NL wild-card spot. 1998 was the year Sosa became known worldwide. How would he like to be rememebred years from now?

“A kid coming from Dominican Republic, hungry, makes it to the major leagues," he said. "Be here on the big stage and perform the way I was performing in 1998. That year, nobody’s going to scratch it from the board, we brought baseball back. We shocked the world.”

More on Sammy Sosa and 1998 MLB season:

-Why Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 home run race was bad for baseball
-How Cubs came to acquire Sammy Sosa from White Sox ahead of 1992 season
-How Sammy Sosa came out of nowhere to jump into 1998 home run race
-Why Sammy Sosa celebrated Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run with him

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

9 of former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa's milestone career home runs

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USA TODAY

9 of former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa's milestone career home runs

Sammy Sosa drilled 609 home runs in 18 big league seasons, 545 of which came in a Cubs uniform from 1992-2004. Sosa not only put his name in Cubs record books but also those of Major League Baseball.

Here are nine milestone home runs from Slammin' Sammy's big league career.

9 of Sammy Sosa's career milestone home runs

More on Sammy Sosa and 1998 MLB season:

-Why Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 home run race was bad for baseball
-How Cubs came to acquire Sammy Sosa from White Sox ahead of 1992 season
-How Sammy Sosa came out of nowhere to jump into 1998 home run race
-Why Sammy Sosa celebrated Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run with him
-How Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire 1998 home run race unfolded in season's final weeks
-How Sammy Sosa remembers historic 1998 MLB season: 'We brought baseball back'

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.