Colorado Rockies: The connection to the great home run chase of 1998

ESPN’s documentary on the historic home run chase of 1998, “Long Gone Summer,” is set to debut on Sunday night. Let’s look at the role the Colorado Rockies pitching staff played in the race for long-ball supremacy that season between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

“Long Gone Summer” will focus plenty on the memorable back-and-forth between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs for the Major League Baseball record for home runs in a single season. McGwire would eventually win the battle, slamming 70 homers while Sosa notched 66. Both surpassed the mark set by Roger Maris in 1961 with 61, and both would be surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2001 with 73.

Both Sosa and McGwire took their share of swings against Colorado Rockies pitching during that historic season. With that in mind, I thought I would take a look to see exactly how many of those record-setting home runs were surrendered by the Rockies.

As it turns out, unless your name is John Thomson, you as a Rockies pitcher kept the ball in the park pretty well when facing McGwire or Sosa in 1998.

McGwire would go for 7-for-28 against the Rockies in 1998, hitting a pair of home runs and driving in four. Those two homers both came off Thomson and both came in the first inning, part of 21 total homers Thomson would surrender in 1998.

McGwire’s 25th home run of the year would come on May 25 in St. Louis off Thomson while his 44th homer of the season would be logged on July 26 off Thomson at Coors Field.

Just over a month later, Thomson would give up the 53rd of the season hit by Sammy Sosa when the Cubs visited Coors Field on August 28. Sosa’s 54th of the year would come later in the homestand when he took a first-inning pitch from Darryl Kile deep. That would be one of 28 home runs given up by Kile that season

Sosa would also hit one in Colorado’s visit to Wrigley Field on July 31, taking Jamey Wright deep in the first inning for his 42nd homer. That was one of 24 homers surrendered by Wright.

In all, Sosa would go 10-for-33 against the Rockies with three homers and nine RBI. Like McGwire, all of his homers against Colorado would come in the first inning, part of a year-long problem for Colorado starters, who surrendered 137 of the 174 homers given up that season by Rockies pitchers.

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It’s also interesting to note that McGwire and Sosa combined to go 10-for-36 with three home runs at Coors Field during their 1998 visits to Denver (a combined 10 games). You can say “Coors” all you want, but altitude did not play a huge role in the home run chase (or batting averages) for either player.