Tuesday night, in Game 3 of the World Series, 49,316 fans at the Oakland Coliseum heard the thunderous crack of McGwire's bat with 1 out and the bases empty in the ninth inning of a tie game.
His line-drive home run off Dodger reliever Jay Howell, making his first appearance since the infamous pine-tar episode, lifted the A's to a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers, who had won the first 2 games and were threatening to put Oakland on the brink of elimination.
Instead, McGwire's blast, his first hit of the Series, injected some life into the A's after another night of limited offense. It also touched off a flurry of pent-up forearm bashing by McGwire's teammates, waiting for him at the plate.
If the Dodgers ever tried such an act of celebration, somebody probably would get hurt. Already without Kirk Gibson, whose right knee and left hamstring are injured, the Dodgers lost starting pitcher John Tudor in the second inning with soreness in his left elbow and right fielder Mike Marshall in the fourth inning with a back injury.
Marshall's injury appears the most serious. He said he "threw out" his back late in Game 2 but tried to play Tuesday night. He left after 3 innings and received a cortisone injection from Dr. Frank Jobe that might keep him out of the lineup tonight.
Like Tudor's elbow and Marshall's back, the Dodgers felt an ache over this loss. It wasn't so much that they felt they could not lose to the A's, it was the manner in which they faltered that was irking.
Not only did the Dodgers squander a bases-loaded situation with none out in the sixth inning, failing to hit a ball out of the infield, but Howell, their ace relief pitcher, delivered a fastball down the middle against McGwire with 1 out in the ninth.
The result was a line drive that left the Coliseum post haste. Howell watched in disbelief as only the second home run he has allowed this season settled into the seats. It ended the A's slump, McGwire's 0-for-9 drought in particular, and maybe slapped the Dodgers back into reality after two emotion-charged victories in Los Angeles.
On the World Series thrill-meter, this one ranked below Gibson's 2-run home run that gave the Dodgers a victory in Game 1. After all, McGwire didn't have to limp around the bases after hitting it. The only thing hurting on McGwire before the home run was his batting average.
But, given the circumstances, the A's thought McGwire's home run could turn their Series fortunes around.
"People have been talking that we're all in slumps because we didn't get any hits the first 2 games," McGwire said. "Well, during the year, some of our guys did go a game or two without a hit. But we've always managed to come back. We have too many good hitters on this team to stay in a prolonged slump.
"As far as the team goes, I'm sure the home run will pick us up."
You would think such a loss would have had the Dodgers as low as the A's were high. But they reacted as if this was the 85th game of the season, not the third game of the 85th World Series.
"I made a bad pitch, and he hit it," Howell said. "Give him credit."
Howell, who hadn't pitched since Oct. 8 in Game 3 of the National League championship series when he was ejected for putting pine tar in his glove, was brought in to replace Alejandro Pena at the start of the ninth inning.
A former Athletic who fell out of favor with Oakland fans last season, even being booed by them at the All-Star game, Howell found things had not changed. Only this time, the booing was augmented by chants of "Pine Tar."
Howell managed to silence the fans temporarily when he got Jose Canseco out on the first pitch with a broken-bat pop fly to second baseman Steve Sax.
Then came the Howell-McGwire showdown. Throwing only fastballs, Howell got ahead in the count, 1-and-2. His next pitch was a ball, and then McGwire fouled off 3 straight fastballs.
Instead of mixing in a curveball, catcher Mike Scioscia called for another fastball, though, assuredly, he did not call for the pitch to be out over the plate and in McGwire's comfort zone. McGwire pounced on it, and the A's had gone from the brink of being down 0-3 to 1-2 heading into Game 4 tonight.
"He's a good breaking ball hitter," Howell said. "I tried to throw another fastball away, but I made a bad pitch."
McGwire said he was looking for nothing but fastballs against Howell, whose best pitch is the curveball.
"No, I thought he would stay with a fastball," McGwire said. "It was what I was looking for in that situation. I had some pretty good cuts during the game. It was just a matter of me catching one."
Scioscia said Howell went exclusively with fastballs because Dodger pitchers had used them to get McGwire to chase pitches and pop up.
"I'm not going to say anything about what we were trying to do with McGwire," Scioscia said. "That situation might come up again."
The Dodgers certainly hope not. Or, they would prefer a different result.
But the way the A's were talking, the Series has shifted.
Between Canseco's grand slam off Tim Belcher--tonight's Dodger starter in Game 4--and McGwire's home run Tuesday night, the A's had scored just 1 run in 25 innings.
After Tudor's untimely departure, the A's scored a run in the third against Tim Leary but then failed to mount a threat against Alejandro Pena, who gave up 1 hit in 3 innings.
A's Manager Tony La Russa had told his players not to concern themselves with the long ball, to try to manufacture runs the way the Dodgers routinely do it.
But the A's, apparently, have to do things their way.
"I felt kind of ridiculous (watching the home run)," La Russa said, "because I had just yelled that we had put the ball in the air enough. I just wanted a couple of line drives, back to back. The next thing I know . . . It's was a line drive--a high line drive."
Instead of focusing on the obvious--McGwire's game-winning home run--Dodger players and Manager Tom Lasorda talked instead about that foiled sixth-inning rally, about the possible effect of Marshall's injury on an offense already hurting and about the importance of bouncing back tonight in Game 4.
The biggest Dodger mistake, before Howell's entrance, was stranding 3 baserunners in the sixth.
Danny Heep, Marshall's replacement as cleanup hitter, opened the inning with a double to left-center. He went to third on John Shelby's single, Shelby taking second when Luis Polonia made the mistake of throwing to home plate instead of second. Then, Mike Davis walked.
That set up a major pratfall by the Dodger offense, as the A's bullpen bailed out starter Bob Welch.
Left-hander Greg Cadaret was summoned to face the left-handed hitting Scioscia, who usually does not hit against left-handers. But Lasorda chose to stay with Scioscia, who meekly popped to third.
"It was either Scioscia against the left-hander or (Rick) Dempsey against the righty," Lasorda said. "With no outs, I was hoping (Scioscia) could get a run in."
Cadaret's work done, La Russa then brought in Gene Nelson to face Jeff Hamilton. That move worked, too. Hamilton grounded to third, and a charging Carney Lansford forced Heep at the plate. Alfredo Griffin then ended the threat by grounding the first pitch to McGwire at first. Gibson went to Lasorda during the rally and offered his services. And, when asked if he thought about pinch-hitting Gibson for Hamilton, Lasorda said he did not.
"We had a lot of opportunities to win, and we didn't execute," Scioscia said. "We definitely should have scored at least 1 run in that inning."
Added Mickey Hatcher, who doubled in the seventh but also was stranded: "We had our chances; that's what is so frustrating. All it would take would be 1 run to win."
Or, at least, tie.
"I don't blame Jay Howell," Hatcher said. "We should have given him more runs to work with."
Given their depleted offense, the Dodgers seemed fortunate even to threaten Tuesday night.
Gibson's absence obviously has hurt the Dodgers, and the uncertainty surrounding Marshall's status has the Dodgers looking at a lineup featuring Hatcher as the third hitter and Heep or Davis hitting cleanup.
Marshall, whose back injury recurred when he was sliding into third base Sunday night in Game 2, said he tried to adjust Tuesday night.
"I tried to change the way I played and do the best I could," Marshall said. "It comes to a point where you are no good to the club. I couldn't run (well) or bend over even, and I couldn't continue.
"Dr. Jobe gave me an injection. I really didn't want to have one, because I don't know how (the back) will react (today). I want to play, but I don't know."
A long night for the Dodgers began with Tudor's battle with pain in his left elbow in the first inning.
He apparently felt the first twinges on his second pitch to Canseco in the first inning.
At 3-and-1 on Canseco, the pain became obvious enough that trainer Bill Buhler and pitching coach Ron Perranoski made a trip to the mound.
It was decided Tudor would remain, even though he was noticeably hurting.
He got through the inning as Leary was rushed to the bullpen to warm up.
And Tudor tried it again in the second, using 4 pitches to strike out McGwire, the first batter. But on that fourth pitch, Tudor hung his arm and headed off the mound. He stopped just before reaching the first-base line, turned as if contemplating returning to the mound. But he was then escorted to the dugout by Buhler.
"John Tudor was in intense pain," Scioscia said. "I could see that. Everyone could see that."
The elbow injury is nothing new to Tudor. He said he has pitched through what he termed twinges of pain throughout the season.
Leary got out of the second inning without out difficulty. But he first ran into trouble in the third.
Glenn Hubbard led off with a single to left that would have been a home run had it carried a few feet higher. The ball hit the fence only a few feet from the top, and bounced so quickly to Hatcher in left that he fielded it and held Hubbard to a single.
Hubbard made it around the bases quickly after that, though. Hubbard easily stole second after Scioscia pumped once before throwing. He probably would have been better off not throwing at all. The ball skipped past Griffin and Sax and into center field, Hubbard taking third. Ron Hassey worked Leary to a full count before knocking a high fastball into left field for a single and a 1-0 A's lead.
The Dodgers tied it, 1-1, in the fifth with an unlikely rally. Hamilton led off with a single to center and went to second on Griffin's sacrifice bunt. After Sax grounded out, Franklin Stubbs launched Welch's first pitch to the right-center gap to score Hamilton.