No Home Runs, but They Are Happy to See McGwire in Miami
In a season of 91 losses, the Florida Marlins take their highlights where and when they can get them, which is why Brian Edmondson was talking about David slaying Goliath and Kirt Ojala was trying to explain his mastery of a hitter named Mark McGwire.
The Marlins lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3, Monday night, but Ojala, Edmondson and Vic Darensbourg prevented McGwire, looking to tie the National League record with his 56th home run, from hitting the ball out of the infield.
In the Great Home Run Chase, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs pulled even with McGwire by slugging his 55th in a victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
McGwire, relaxed and engaging during a 40-minute pregame news conference, elected not to talk after he popped out, walked and struck out swinging against Ojala; struck out called against Edmondson, and walked against Darensbourg.
A crowd of 36,584 at Pro Player Stadium, where the Marlins had been averaging 21,123, booed each time their pitchers threw a ball out of the strike zone to McGwire.
They also left virtually in mass after McGwire’s final at-bat in the ninth, another insult for the Marlins, who still had to bat in the bottom of the inning.
Ojala, a left-hander who is 1-4 despite a solid earned-run average of 3.86, has held McGwire hitless in nine career at-bats, registering five strikeouts.
“No, I can’t say I’m the guy he can’t hit,” Ojala said in response to a question. “So far he hasn’t hit me, but it’s far too soon to say it’s a trend. I hope I’m around long enough to get other opportunities. He might go four for four the next time.”
Ojala mixes what he calls a “nuclear knuckler” with a high-80s fastball. He said he tried to treat it like any other night, but “it’s obvious that every night for the rest of the season will be special for him, and special for the pitchers who are facing him. For the most part I wanted to throw strikes. I wasn’t trying to pitch around him, but sometimes you try to set up a pitch by throwing something out of the strike zone.”
Edmondson, a rookie right-hander, found it hard to contain himself. He said he grew up in Riverside watching McGwire play at USC and keeps a binder of McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. bubble-gum cards at his home there. He compared his strikeout to David slaying Goliath and said he dreamed of pitching to him for seven years.
“I probably won’t get much sleep tonight,” he said. “I still can’t believe I got him out. I tried not to smile out of respect for the man and his career, but that was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. You don’t get a chance to face a hitter doing what he’s doing every day.”