CHICAGO 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.
''I use that bat for batting practice,'' Sosa 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 apologized to fans, his teammates and the commissioner of baseball. His bats were confiscated by security personnel.
The Cubs had runners at second and third when Sosa broke his bat with a grounder to second that at first appeared to drive in a run.
But crew chief Tim McClelland gathered with the other three umpires to examine the bat. Cubs manager Dusty Baker came out and the umpires showed 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, who gained national prominence in 1998 during his home-run battle with Mark McGwire, 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.''
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.
''I saw what the umpires saw. It was cork,'' Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. ''You don't want to see that happen to a great player like Sammy.''
Security workers were seen carting off two boxes of Sosa's bats in the ninth inning, as well as a bat bag.
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 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.
''I thought about that when I picked the bat up,'' McClelland said. ''I was on the crew for Albert Belle and the White Sox. Strange bats follow me around, I guess.''
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.
''I wanted to make sure the crew knew it was cork, we all knew it was cork, and what the ruling would be. We all agreed that it was cork and he had to be ejected and runners would go back. All action would be nullified.''
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. ''It just makes home-run hitters look bad.''
''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. It's probably embarrassing for him.
''Pitchers cheat all the time. They scuff balls, use pine tar. I've never used a corked bat, not even in batting practice. If I was guaranteed I wouldn't get caught, I probably would.''
Sosa, a six-time All-Star who reached 500 career homers earlier this season, hasn't had a homer 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 (three) in major league history, hitting 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001.
Reds 4, Yankees 3
CINCINNATI Juan Castro slapped a run-scoring single just inside first base with two outs in the ninth inning, giving Cincinnati a victory in New York's long-awaited return.
Fifteen of the Reds' 28 wins have come in their final at-bat. Seven of them came on game-ending hits at Great American Ball Park.
Angels 15, Expos 4
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon and Jeff DeVanon homered in the first inning to spoil the opener of Montreal's second homestand in San Juan.
While the fans were still settling into their seats, the World Series champion Angels struck for five runs against Tomo Ohka (4-6) before the first out.
Marlins 13, Athletics 2
MIAMI Mike Lowell hit a pair of three-run homers and Florida sent Mark Mulder to his worst start in nearly two years, beating Oakland.
Brad Penny (4-3) pitched seven strong innings and hit a three-run triple for the Marlins, who won for the eighth time in 11 games.
Mariners 4, Phillies 0
PHILADELPHIA Jamie Moyer pitched seven sharp innings and Bret Boone homered, leading Seattle to its seventh straight victory.
The AL West-leading Mariners improved the majors' best record to 38-18. The Phillies had won three straight.
Braves 6, Rangers 5
ATLANTA Andruw Jones came off the bench and hit a two-out, two-run homer in the eighth inning, lifting Atlanta over Texas.
Rangers closer Ugueth Urbina (0-2) got ahead 0-2 before Jones connected for the first pinch-hit homer of his career.
Astros 11, Orioles 6
HOUSTON Morgan Ensberg hit his first career grand slam in a six-run eighth inning, and Houston rallied past Baltimore.
Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent also homered for the Astros, who moved within a game of the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
Cardinals 11, Blue Jays 5
ST. LOUIS Matt Morris won his third straight decision and Jim Edmonds' two-run homer sparked a four-run seventh inning as St. Louis beat Toronto.
Edgar Renteria had three hits and three RBIs, Tino Martinez had two hits and three RBIs and Scott Rolen had three hits and scored twice as the Cardinals evened their record at 4-4 on a 13-game homestand, the longest of the season.
Rockies 7, Indians 3
DENVER Juan Uribe, playing for the first time this season after breaking his right foot in spring training, hit a pair of two-run homers to power Colorado to a win over Cleveland.
Uribe, activated from the 60-day disabled list earlier in the day and playing second base for the first time in his career, hit a two-run shot in the third and another in the sixth both off Ricardo Rodriguez (3-6).
Twins 6, Giants 4
SAN FRANCISCO Doug Mientkiewicz homered and doubled twice and Joe Mays won his fourth straight start as Minnesota defeated San Francisco.
Barry Bonds homered in the fourth, driving a 1-1 pitch from Mays (7-3) into the seats in right-center at Pacific Bell Park. It was Bonds' 14th homer of the season and No. 627 of his career.
Diamondbacks 2, White Sox 1
PHOENIX Chad Moeller singled home Shea Hillenbrand in the ninth inning, giving Arizona a victory over Chicago.
The Diamondbacks, who found out before the game they lost ace Curt Schilling to a broken right hand, rallied with runs in the eighth and ninth after seven shutout innings by Chicago's Esteban Loazia.
Tigers 3, Padres 2
SAN DIEGO Dmitri Young hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to give Detroit a win over San Diego in a matchup of the worst teams in the majors.
Earlier Tuesday, Young's brother, Delmon, was the top pick in the amateur draft, going to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Dodgers 4, Royals 3
LOS ANGELES D.J. Carrasco walked Adrian Beltre with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, giving Los Angeles a victory over Kansas City.
Shawn Green started the winning rally by drawing a one-out walk, and he went to second one out later when Carrasco threw a wild pitch.
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