BOSTON -- Mark McGwire's message on Sunday was loud and clear: He hit three mammoth homers at Fenway Park, giving him five in the past two games, all of which said, "Mac's back."
"He makes that team go," said Boston first baseman Mo Vaughn, vying with McGwire for the American League lead in homers and RBIs. "That's a beautiful thing. We try to get five [homers] a month, and he got five in two days."
McGwire accounted for all the offense in Sunday's game through seven innings, and the A's went on to win, 8-1, giving them a victory in the three-game series and lifting them to 6-4 for the road trip. They return home to face Chicago at the Coliseum tonight.
McGwire became the first AL player to homer five times in back-to-back games twice during his career. The only other big-leaguer to do it was Ralph Kiner, who had five-homer flurries in August and September of 1947. McGwire hit five over two days back in 1987, his rookie season.
"I told him, 'I've got to believe that in '87, one was just a ball that got over the fence,' " A's manager Tony La Russa said. "He's in the best shape of his life as far as fitness and quickness. The ball's got more carry than ever."
McGwire, 31, pounded one in Saturday's game that flew so far over the big wall in left, the TV cameras couldn't come close to following it. Perhaps because of that, or because they miss watching Jose Canseco [disabled list], the Boston fans watched McGwire's batting-practice display Sunday with rapt attention.
He plunked ball after ball over the Green Monster and the fans oohed and aahed and craned their necks like Fourth of July revelers. "After batting practice, I said, 'He's going to get at least two,' " said A's reliever Carlos Reyes, who struck out the side in the ninth. "He was locked in. He must have lost two dozen balls himself."
McGwire appreciated the attention from the Boston fans, who cheered him more than they cheered anyone on the Red Sox side on Sunday. "They used to always do that for Jose when he came here," he said.
But that was just BP. The Boston fans gave him a spirited ovation after his fourth at-bat, a lengthy battle with reliever Mike Maddux that ended in a strikeout. The fans stuck around in large numbers until late in the A's ninth-inning outburst, eager to see him get one more. When reliever Joe Hudson walked him on four pitches, they headed for the exits.
"That's a rarity, you just don't see that much," McGwire said.
"It's Fenway Park," La Russa said. "These are great baseball fans."
Boston starter Zane Smith (1-2) had not given up a home run in six previous starts and had never faced McGwire before, but he was out there for all three McGwire homers. "I guess you can say he has the upper hand on me," he said.
McGwire spent much of his time on the bench the last two seasons with foot problems and hit nine home runs each of the past two years. His three solo shots on Sunday -- in the second, fourth and sixth innings -- give him a major-league leading 17 home runs and 40 RBIs. He appreciates his success now more than ever.
"I would say that being older now, and being more aware of things, it definitely feels better," he said. "I've been on top and I've been on the bottom."
McGwire said he was watching a television program about Cecil Fielder and Frank Thomas recently, and Fielder brought up McGwire's name. "I heard Cecil say, 'Mac's back,' and that's a good feeling when you're noticed by your peers."
Said Vaughn: "He has great leverage, he stays back, and he's very selective -- more selective than I remember him. He's having a great year. One of these days I'd like to get in that zone."
Then there's the awe factor. McGwire's first home run on Sunday was estimated at 463 feet, the longest hit out of Fenway this season. The second was 411 feet, just over the Green Monster's right edge in center field, and the third was 452 -- the second-longest hit at Fenway this year.
"It's a treat to watch a day like that," the A's Scott Brosius said. "He puts on a show in batting practice and the game. They were just majestic home runs. They're not just home runs with him, they've got a lot of hang time and air time. There are not too many who can hit them like that."