Cubs 3, Devil Rays 2

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CHICAGO (AP)—Once Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked bat, there was one big question: Was he cheating when he hit any of those 505 home runs?

The Chicago Cubs’ star slugger, 17th on the career home-run list, was ejected in the first inning of Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after umpires found cork in his shattered bat.

Sosa said it was all an honest mistake.

“I use that bat for batting practice,” he said. “It’s something that I take the blame for. It’s a mistake, I know that. I feel sorry. I just apologize to everybody that are embarrassed.”

Sosa, who gained national prominence in 1998 during his home-run battle with Mark McGwire, apologized to fans, his teammates and the commissioner of baseball. Sosa’s other bats were confiscated by security personnel and turned over to major league baseball.

“Deep down in my heart, I truly believe Sammy didn’t know that was in there,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “But I just hope that this event, whatever it was, doesn’t tarnish his career or take away all that Sammy Sosa’s done. For baseball and for Chicago.”

The Cubs had runners at second and third when Sosa broke his bat with a grounder to second base that at first appeared to drive in a run.

Crew chief Tim McClelland gathered with the other three umpires to examine the handle area of the bat. Cubs manager Dusty Baker came out and the umpires showed what was left of the bat to him.

Mark Grudzielanek was sent back to third base, the run was wiped off the board and Sosa was ejected as he stood in the dugout.

Sosa said he hoped fans will believe he didn’t intend to use a corked bat.

“That’s why I’m here right now, to explain that it was a mistake,” he said. “I know that right now, anybody or somebody probably want to think whatever comes to their mind, but you know, I just picked the wrong bat.

“I don’t really need to use that. I break so many bats in my life. But when you make a mistake like that, you got to stood up and be there for it. … It’s a mistake, and I take the blame for it.”

Sosa said he had the corked bat “for batting practice—just to put on a show for the fans … I like to make people happy and I do that in batting practice.”

Some fans didn’t like what they saw.

“I think it’s a disgrace, a shame. Everything that he’s done now is called into question,” said Craig Carr, a 35-year-old spectator from Newton.

Cork inside a wooden bat is thought to help players hit the ball farther and is against baseball rules. Several players have been caught using altered bats in the past, including Albert Belle, Wilton Guerrero, Chris Sabo, Billy Hatcher and Graig Nettles. All were suspended.

“You don’t want to see that happen to a great player like Sammy,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “I care about the great players in this game, and Sammy certainly is in that category.”

Umpires initially took part of the corked bat into the Cubs dugout and down the runway toward their clubhouse before security came and took it away about an inning later, McClelland said.

McClelland said he wasn’t sure what happened to the other part of the bat that was split away and landed between third and shortstop. But he said a batboy may have picked it up and took it to the dugout, and it may have been tossed into the stands.

McClelland also was the umpire who took away a home run from Kansas City’s George Brett in 1983 because of excessive pine tar, a decision later reversed by AL president Lee MacPhail.

McClelland said the cork was clearly visible.

“I turned it over and there was a small probably half-dollar size piece of cork in the bat right about halfway down the barrel head, I guess,” he said. “It was notched in there. I felt it, and it obviously was cork, so I called the crew together and it was reminiscent of what happened about 20 years ago with me.”

Sosa’s bat immediately became a big topic around the major leagues.

“Everyone who hits a home run now, they’re going to think you’re using a corked bat,” said Atlanta’s Andruw Jones, who hit a game-winning, two-run homer against Texas.

“Unfortunately, it’s a dirty mark, when you consider all he’s accomplished,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “It’s really unfortunate for the game. Everybody’s scratching their heads right now. … It’s embarrassing. He’s too good of a player. It’s too bad.”

Sosa just came off the disabled last Friday after having the nail taken off his big right toe and missing 17 games.

Entering Tuesday, he was just 2-for-15 in his three games since coming off the DL, including one five-strikeout game in which he also had the game-winning single against Houston.

“I just hope it doesn’t taint what he’s done,” Seattle second baseman Bret Boone said. “Corked, not corked, he’s got as much power as anyone in baseball. He’s probably got as much power, outside Mark McGwire, as anyone in history.”

Sosa, a six-time All-Star who reached 500 career homers earlier this season, hasn’t homered since May 1 and his power numbers have dropped drastically since he was beaned April 20 by the Pirates’ Salomon Torres.

He has just six homers this season and 24 RBIs, while batting .285.

Sosa has the most 60-homer seasons in major league history, hitting 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001.

Chicago’s then Comiskey Park was the site of one of baseball’s biggest corked bat capers in July 1994 when the bat of Belle, then with Cleveland, was confiscated.

Umpires took it to their dressing room before an Indians teammate crawled across the ceiling and switched Belle’s confiscated bat with one belonging to a teammate.

Once the caper was discovered, the original bat was finally examined and Belle was suspended for 10 games, a penalty that was reduced to seven games.

Guerrero, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was suspended for eight games in 1997 for using cork in his bat. Sabo, a part-time third baseman with Cincinnati, was suspended for seven games and fined $25,000 for using a corked bat against Houston in 1996.

Hatcher was suspended for 10 days in 1987 after using a corked bat for Houston. It was the first such ejection since Nettles, then with the New York Yankees, was tossed in 1974 after six superballs came out of his bat during a game against Detroit.

Chicago won Tuesday’s game in the ninth when Al Levine (2-2) threw a wild pitch that allowed Troy O’Leary, who had replaced Sosa, to score from third.

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