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McGwire, Sosa Reach 66, Two Games to Go

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HOUSTON — Sammy Sosa ripped home run number 66 deep over the left field wall in the top of the fourth inning Friday night against the Houston Astros.

Less than an hour after Sosa's shot, Mark McGwire drove a deep fly ball off of Montreal reliever Shayne Bennett to tie the home run race at 66.

Sosa took over the home run lead, moving ahead of McGwire for only the second time this season. On August 19, Sosa hit No. 48 in a game against St.Louis -- about an hour later, McGwire also hit his 48th and the Cardinals slugger connected later in the game to take the lead.

After Sosa rounded the diamond, it prompted a collective groan from a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium and booing when Sosa's home run number was changed on the scoreboard.

Facing friend and fellow Dominican Jose Lima, Sosa lined an 0-1 pitch into the third deck in left-center field to lead off the fourth inning.

His 462-foot shot was his fourth in nine games against the Astros, and his third against Lima, who yielded Nos. 50 and 51 at Wrigley Field on Aug. 23.

Sosa tied McGwire at 65 with two home runs Wednesday at Milwaukee, snapping his 0-for-21 slump.

The packed Astrodome cheered loudly as Sosa rounded the bases, flashbulbs popping. He acknowledged fans with a curtain call.

Before the game, Sosa admitted he was playing with a heavy heart having heard details of the destruction in the Dominican Republic caused by Hurricane Georges. His charitable foundation is organizing an emergency relief effort.

``The president (Leonel Fernandez) called me and explained what has happened,'' Sosa said. ``He told me to go out and play the games, because this is my job and I'm here to do it, no matter what.''

The 66th shot was McGwire's second homer this year against Montreal and first since he connected off Trey Moore on April 21.

On the first pitch from Bennett, McGwire nearly homered on a ball that landed just to the left of the foul pole in the upper deck in left field. Busch Stadium personnel inadvertently set off fireworks after the near-miss, but the fans didn't have to wait long for the real thing.

McGwire had been 2-for-11 on the homestand with a pair of singles and hadn't homered in 14 at-bats before connecting. He extended his NL record to 161 walks on a full count in the first and lined out to left in the third against Miguel Batista (3-6) and singled off rookie Kirk Bullinger to lead off the seventh.

McGwire and Sosa each have two games left, with McGwire's at home against the Expos and Sosa's on the road against the Astros. McGwire faces right-hander Dustin Hermanson (14-11) Saturday while Sosa faces right-hander Shane Reynolds (19-8).

The latest homer was No. 453 of McGwire's career, putting him in 20th place ahead of Carl Yastrzemski. He has hit 176 homers the last three seasons.

In 204 career games with the Cardinals, McGwire has 90 homers, 182 RBIs and 204 walks. He has 47 homers and 95 RBIs in 104 career games at Busch Stadium.

From staff and wire reports.


Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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