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There It Goes. Here He Comes.

September 14, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ Every day in baseball is cause for a party.

Or a fiesta.

On Sunday at Wrigley Field, Ernesto Kranwinkel jumped to his feet and added his voice to the rest of the loony congregation screaming its lungs out in salute to Sammy Sosa. What distinguished Kranwinkel from everybody else in the joint at the time was that a.) he was screaming in Spanish; and b.) having access to the airwaves of TV Dominican-Channel 4, he was screaming to an audience thousands of miles away.

``There it goes!″ Kranwinkel shouted once, twice, a third time. ``There it goes!″

On the occasion of Sosa’s 62nd home run of this delirious baseball season, a more appropriate call might have been ``Here he comes!″ As in: Now that Sosa, too, has passed Babe Ruth and Roger Maris, here he comes after Mark McGwire.

``It was chilling when McGwire did it. I was dumbfounded,″ said teammate Mark Grace, whose dramatic leadoff homer in the 10th sealed an 11-10 win and kept the Cubs a game ahead of the Mets in the NL wild-card chase.

``I thought pretty much the home run race was going to be McGwire’s. But when my buddy gets hot, he can hit them in a hurry. And he proved that. I just hope Sammy gets the attention he deserves.″

That may yet come at season’s end, when it’s time to total up the home runs and call in the sculptors, or cast votes in the balloting for National League MVP. In the meantime, Sosa will have to make do with the noisemakers and party favors left over from the McGwire celebration.

Not only that _ major league baseball’s security staff has been taken off full alert. The balls weren’t marked with special ink and nobody from the commissioner’s office was there to bail out the guys who tracked down the last two homers off Sosa’s bat. That duty fell to the Chicago cops.

``We got him out of there,″ police Sgt. Mary O’Toole said of the man who wound up in possession of No. 62, ``because we thought he was going to get his behind kicked.″

Both balls are likely headed for auction, which isn’t the only less sentimental touch. When commissioner Bud Selig did get around to congratulating Sammy, he did so by phone. It seems the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers was watching his old team get beat from the comfort of his home and apparently decided to pick up the horn not long after the youngest of Maris’ four sons, Randy, did.

And not only was Sosa shortchanged on the up-close-and-personals; there isn’t a chance in the world that the Cubs, like the Cardinals, would present him with a classic ’62 Corvette as a token of their appreciation.

``A blue Corvette,″ Grace suggested in the giddy aftermath of the Cubs’ second comeback win in as many days. A second later, he came to his senses. ``The team is going to be mad at me just for mentioning it.″

The guest of honor, though, didn’t feel slighted at all. Sosa was nervous and near tears half the time; he was thumping his heart, blowing kisses and thanking everybody he could remember the rest of it. Especially McGwire.

``Mark, you know I love you. It’s been unbelievable. I wish you could be here with me today,″ Sosa said. ``I know you are watching me and I know you have the same feeling for me as I have for you in my heart.″

After all this time, it’s still impossible to tell whether Sosa is a con man or a real-life version of Chico, the character from the old ``Saturday Night Live″ routine whose ``baseball been very, very good to me″ line he has appropriated. He may even be a little of both. Sosa may be willing to let McGwire have the attention and all the attendant pressure so he can make his final run at the wire.

Every time Sosa pulled even or went ahead in the race, McGwire answered within 24 hours. But Sunday night, he went 0-for-2 against the Astros in Houston and left the game in the fourth inning with minor back spasms.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. After going without a homer for five games, Sosa has three in his last two games. He is pumped, is in the middle of the race for a playoff spot. McGwire, on the other hand, is showing the wear and tear of the chase. Through Sunday night, he was just 1-for-14 since hitting No. 62.

This is what people mean by slippery slopes: Maris has the record to himself for 37 years. McGwire has been forced to share it after just six days.