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THE PITCHER

When He Threw It He Didn't Know It Would Be History

Baseball: 'It wasn't going to be a strike,' says Trachsel after giving up No. 62.

September 09, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — For 11 minutes, he was the loneliest man in America.

For 11 minutes, he stood 60 feet 6 inches from ground zero, the happiest spot on the planet, with nothing to celebrate.

Finally, mercifully for Chicago Cub right-hander Steve Trachsel, after 11 minutes of cheers and goose bumps and hugs and high-fives and friendly pats to the stomach at Busch Stadium, the excitement over Mark McGwire's record-setting 62nd home run of the season calmed down enough for Tuesday night's game to resume.

But for Trachsel, the man who threw the fourth-inning pitch that the St. Louis Cardinal first baseman hit over the left-field wall, resuming his previous life won't be so easy. He will be forever linked to McGwire as the man who served up the ball that McGwire smashed into history.

Trachsel doesn't think it will necessarily be so. At least he hopes it isn't so.

Just as he supplanted the Cincinnati Reds' Dennis Reyes [who threw home run ball No. 60 on Saturday] and Chicago teammate Mike Morgan [No. 61 on Monday], Trachsel figures others will come along to take his place.

"He will probably break the record again [Wednesday]," Trachsel said. "Once he gets to No. 63 and 67 and 70, those guys will be talked about more than me. Especially if he gets to 70. They will remember the one who gives up the last one."

But right now, McGwire sits on No. 62. Does it bother Trachsel to think about spending the rest of his life watching a highlight film in which he is hammered for a home run?

"No," he insisted in the locker room after the game, "I've already seen it 15 times tonight."

There is plenty for Trachsel to take pride in. Despite losing Tuesday night's game to drop to 14-8, the 27-year-old already has a career-high number of victories. And he has big plans for the future.

"I'm hoping that people will talk about Steve Trachsel getting the Chicago Cubs to the World Series this year," he said. "That's what I hope they are talking about."

Trachsel had a 2-0 lead Tuesday when McGwire came up with two out and the bases empty in the fourth.

They both have similar roots, both coming from Southern California. Trachsel attended Troy High School and Fullerton College in Orange County.

But they were about to take opposite paths to a place in baseball lore.

Trachsel started McGwire off with a fastball that sailed inside no higher than McGwire's shins, a unlikely pitch to smack out of the park.

"It wasn't going to be a strike," Trachsel said. "When he hit it, I thought it was either going to be a foul ball or a double."

Instead, the ball stayed just fair and just made it over the fence, a 341-foot home run, the shortest hit by McGwire this season.

That gave Trachsel a small measure of satisfaction. So did the fact that the ball landed short of the seats and was picked up by a groundskeeper.

"I'm glad no fan could get it," Trachsel said, "and charge a ridiculous amount for it."

While Trachsel was trying to downplay his role in baseball history, his batterymate, catcher Scott Servais, enjoyed his front-row seat, although he certainly would have preferred for it to have come in a Chicago victory.

"It was exciting just to be in the ballpark," Servais said. "People all around the country are going to remember where they were when McGwire hit No. 62. I was a little closer than all of them and that's something I'll always remember."

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