4th Longest Home Run Game Recap
Dodgers 7, Cardinals 6

ST. LOUIS (Sep 17, 1997 - 03:51 EDT) -- Spoiling Mark McGwire's big day gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a big boost heading into perhaps their most important series of the season.

The Dodgers reached Dennis Eckersley for four runs in the ninth inning of a 7-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night. They lead the NL West by two games, with the opener of a two-game series against the second-place Giants tonight in San Francisco.

"This was one of those games," said Eric Karros, who doubled and scored in the ninth. "But the next day might be bigger.

"This has been the biggest game to date, but will it be the last big game? No, there's plenty left."

Busch Stadium was buzzing because of McGwire, who decided not to test the free-agent market and signed a $28.5 million deal with the Cardinals, with an option for a fourth season that would push the package to nearly $40 million.

In the end, the Cardinals had to settle for a few fireworks. In the first, McGwire tied Ken Griffey Jr. for the major league lead with his 52nd home run, a 517-foot blast, while Ray Lankford's 30th home run was a three-run shot in the seventh that put the Cardinals ahead 5-3.

The crowd was on its feet for all of McGwire's at-bats and gave him an ovation for striking out in the third. They booed vociferously when he was intentionally walked with a runner on third and one out in the seventh, preceding Lankford's home run.

"That was kind of magical the way the crowd responded," manager Tony La Russa said. "But you can't come in and celebrate in a proper way."

Trailing 6-3, the Dodgers opened the ninth with four hits off Eckersley (1-5), including RBI singles by Raul Mondesi and Todd Zeile. A fielding error by shortstop Royce Clayton, playing in, on pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth's bases-loaded smash tied it and Eric Young's sacrifice fly off John Frascatore delivered the game-winner.

This is the first time since 1971 that the Dodgers and Giants have met in September games with a playoff spot at stake. The loser ends up with nothing, with Florida close to clinching the wild-card berth.

"I don't think you'll see a tight team," manager Bill Russell said. "We're just going to go in there and take care of business."

To Eckersley, who didn't get an out, the Dodgers definitely had the look of a winner.

"These guys are in a pennant race and stuff like that is what championship teams do," Eckersley said. "It just so happened that it was against me."

Rick Gorecki (1-0) worked 1 2-3 scoreless innings and Scott Radinsky struck out the side in the ninth for his third save.

The biggest cheers for McGwire came after he hit a 3-1 pitch from Ramon Martinez off the facade above his last name on the scoreboard in left field.

The homer was the longest at Busch Stadium since the Cardinals began estimating distances in 1988. The previous best was McGwire's 504-foot shot against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 2.

McGwire has 18 home runs in 39 games with the Cardinals, who acquired him from Oakland on July 31. He has five 500-foot plus home runs in his career, all this year, and three have come with the Cardinals.

Mike Piazza hit a two-run homer in the first for the Dodgers. It was Piazza's 36th homer of the season, matching his career high set last year. Notes: The Dodgers used 26 players in their 7-6, 15-inning victory over St. Louis on Monday night. It's their most in an extra-inning game since Sept. 28, 1986, when 27 players saw action against San Francisco. The teams combined to use 50 players, three shy of the league record. ... McGwire entered the game with three career home runs off Dodgers pitchers. All came off Tom Candiotti, a longtime starter in Toronto. ... Piazza has 20 home runs since the All-Star break. ... Clayton, who doubled in the third, has a career-high 51 extra-base hits and also leads the Cardinals with 20 infield hits. ... Lankford is only the Cardinals' 17th player to hit 30 home runs.