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SOSA BOMBS 52ND, MCGWIRE ANSWERS BACK

When Sammy Sosa homers, stand by for a long ball from Mark McGwire.

Last week, Sosa overtook McGwire for the major-league home run lead with No. 48, and it held up about an hour as the St. Louis Cardinals' slugger responded with two to beat the Cubs in extra innings. McGwire was watching on TV in the clubhouse when Sosa hit his 52nd home run Wednesday afternoon in Cincinnati, a towering 438-shot shot off an advertising panel on the third deck in left-center field. The homer was the grandest stroke in the Chicago Cubs' 9-2 victory over Cincinnati.

Hours later, McGwire had a 509-foot answer off rookie Justin Speier in a 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Florida Marlins. The ball smashed into a black screen some 40 feet high that rises above a grass terrace in dead center.

Center fielder Todd Dunwoody never moved.

"I knew it was gone," Speier said. "You want to challenge a hitter like him and go right after him, and if he hits one off you, oh well."

"I can only take care of myself," McGwire said after the game to reporters. "I guess that makes your job much more interesting, and the public gets a lot more interested in it, too."

He was decidedly down after the game. His homer contributed to a five-run eighth before the Marlins hit four home runs in the ninth, including three on consecutive at-bats by Derrek Lee, Cliff Floyd and Orie, in an eight-pitch sequence off reliever John Frascatore.

Mark Kotsay's three-run pinch-hit homer off Jeff Brantley tied it 6-6 and Randy Knorr's RBI double in the 10th off Juan Acevedo (6-3) sent the Cardinals to their fifth straight loss.

Sosa's homer upstaged a 16-strikeout, eight-inning performance by Kerry Wood.

The homer also overshadowed an act of kindness by Sosa. He delighted a young fan behind the Cubs' dugout by giving him a bat he cracked while lining out in the ninth.

"He was almost crying when I gave him that bat," Sosa said. "That's why they came to the ballpark, to see the Cubs play."

THE MARIS CHASE

Charting Major League Baseball's top home run hitters chasing Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in 1961:
Through team's 132nd game
Mark McGwire: 54 homers
Roger Maris: 51 homers
Through team's 133rd game
Sammy Sosa: 52 homers
Roger Maris: 51 homers
MARIS' 1961 PACE
Number, team's game number, date and opponent:
51 (129) -- Aug. 26, at KC
52 (135) -- Sept. 2, Detroit
53 (135) -- Sept. 2, Detroit
54 (140) -- Sept. 6, Wash.
55 (141) -- Sept. 7, Cleve.

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