McGwire leaves game with back spasms Home run leader expects to be back by the weekend


SAN DIEGO -- Mark McGwire's assault on baseball's single-season home run record was put on hold temporarily when he was forced to leave last night's game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Padres because of a back spasm.

McGwire, who has a long history of lower back problems, reached for an outside pitch in the first inning and grounded weakly to the right side, then jogged uncomfortably down the first base line before taking himself out of the game.

"It's the same thing I deal with every year," McGwire said after the Padres scored a 3-2 victory in the finale of a four-game series at Qualcomm Stadium. "I have dealt with it since 1989, so it's nothing to be overly concerned about. It's a day-to-day thing."

Club officials announced that he had suffered a back spasm and would be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. The injury is not expected to keep McGwire out of action more than a few games, but the Cardinals are unlikely to take any chances with the man who turned the early months of the 1998 season into a personal showcase.

"Right when I swung and came out of the box, I felt a twinge," McGwire said. "When I was running down the line, I didn't want to believe it really happened."

The big first baseman has 27 home runs through the club's first 55 games, a pace that would carry him to 80 home runs over tTC full season and obliterate the major-league record of 61 established by Roger Maris in 1961. McGwire could miss the next 16 games and still remain on a record pace, but he said he expects to be back in the lineup by this weekend.

"I'm not going to push it," he said. "When I was younger and stupider, I probably would have tried to stay in the game, but I know my back like the back of my hand and I know what I need to do."

McGwire had put on quite a show in San Diego. He homered in each of the first two games of the series and had put on two electrifying displays in batting practice Friday and Saturday. He did not hit as many balls out of the park during BP yesterday but said there was no discomfort until after the game began.

Few doubt that McGwire is physically capable of breaking the Maris record, but a variety of injuries called his durability into question during a frustrating five-year period (1992-1996) in which he spent significant time on the disabled list every season.

He was sidelined for most of 1993 and 1994 with a persistent heel injury that twice required surgery, but he also spent time on the disabled list in 1994 and '95 -- and missed a handful of games in '96 -- with lower back soreness. He shook off those concerns in 1997 when he appeared in 156 games and came up just three homers shy of equaling the single-season record.

Since the start of the '96 season, he has 137 homers in 1,138 at-bats, or one every 8.3 at-bats.

This season, he had improved on that pace, hitting a home run every 6.5 at-bats until he was removed from the lineup last night.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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