Moments after Mark McGwire stepped to the plate, bats cracked and balls sailed over the fence. But it was his St. Louis teammates doing the homer-ing; McGwire came up empty, his day's legacy a wicked line drive that curved heartachingly foul.

Now, with Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs in town today and McGwire on pause at No. 60, baseball's leading home-run hitters are set to spend the next two days watching each other try to become the king of the long ball. Busch Stadium is sold out; anticipation grows with each at-bat."If you can't be looking forward to these two games, then your heart is not beating," McGwire said.

"The situation is going to be pretty much out of control," said Sosa, nipping at McGwire's heels with 58 homers.

Oh, and by the way - the Cardinals beat the Reds 5-2 on Sunday in a game that had little statistical significance to either team, both of which are hovering under .500. Not so the Cubs.

"What they're going for is more meaningful, obviously," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "They're trying to qualify for the playoffs. We're just trying to finish over .500."

One key question - are opposing pitchers throwing around McGwire? - still hangs, though Sunday's at-bats seemed to indicate McGwire was getting his shots in. The sixth-inning screamer into the stands left of left field - off Reds starter Brett Tomko - could just as easily have been fair, and a line shot at the mound in the eighth almost took reliever John Hudek's head off before second baseman Bret Boone threw McGwire out.

"He was just one person I had to get out," said Hudek, ice packs attached to both a shoulder and a knee. "I just didn't do a very good job of getting anyone else out."

Tomko, who said last week he wouldn't mind surrendering No. 62, concurred.

"I think Mark knows that I went after him aggressively. It's not even an issue," he said, though he allowed this much: "Either way, I was going to have a story. Now I can say I struck him out with history on the line."

The sixth-inning drive, off Tomko's 93-mph fastball, silenced Busch's 47,904 fans for a heartbeat. Then the crescendo of screams rose - and fell just as abruptly when the ball landed 7 feet foul.

"After a career of being on the sidelines, from the bench I knew it was foul," La Russa said.

McGwire struck out three pitches later, ending up 0-for-3 but managing to score once after being walked amid a hearty cacophony of boos.

Watching in the stands were Roger Maris' four sons and two daughters, with Roger Maris Jr. holding the bat his father used to hit No. 61 some 37 years ago. The Maris boys, boys no longer, have their father's intense gaze and carry his mantle; they lined up after the game to praise McGwire and Sosa.

"Dad always said every record was made to be broken," said Randy Maris, 37, "He knew this one was going to be broken, too."

In all, McGwire and Sosa have homered on the same day 20 times this season. And when they're apart, they try to watch each other on television.

"I am a fan of the game as well as a player, and I absolutely enjoy watching him play," McGwire said. "He is having an absolutely magical year and, you know, I root him on just like anybody else."