[Author’s Note: This article originally ran on October 13, soon after the Chicago Cubs beat the San Fransisco Giants in the 2016 National League Division Series with a 3-run comeback win in the 9th inning of Game 4. Since then the Cubs have gone on to win the NL and the World Series and this article has been updated to reflect that.]
I’ll always remember Wednesday night.
Watching the Cubs end 108 years of futility was special. And not just that they did it, but how they did it. They lit up pitchers who had dominated this postseason. Fowler’s lead off HR. Baez ending a terrible slump with a HR. Grandpa’s HR to stop the bleeding in the 6th.
They also bounced back from a horrid 8th inning meltdown, which any other year would have sunk the Cubs. But not this team. They scored twice in the 10th and hung on just enough to send Chicago into an oblivion of celebration.
It wasn’t just the World Series clinching game that brought memories of joy to this Cubs postseason. We also had the grand slam by Russell in Game 6. The bunt by Zobrist vs LA to get us out of a 21-inning funk. And the most miraculous of all–the 3-run 9th inning comeback vs. San Fransisco in Game 4 of the NLDS, when it seemed like we were going to choke again. As the Cubs had always done. But not this year. Not this Cubs team.
It’s kind of poetic that my first October memory was of the team with the only other 3-run 9th inning comeback in the history of baseball’s postseason. I was 8 years old but I remember so much about those ’86 Mets. I especially remember the World Series. My dad, a lifelong Boston fan who at that point had endured 46 years of losing at the hands of the Red Sox and our beloved USC Gamecocks, let us stay up to watch some of it. Those who watched will never forget Game 6. Never. Buckner. Mookie Wilson. Ray Knight. The names, the sounds, the images. All legendary.
But I remember so much more after that, having watched the baseball playoffs every year since. So much stands out…
…Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson hobbling to the plate in the 9th inning. I remember knowing that if he hit a grounder he would be out by a mile. I remember the stat flashing on the screen that Dennis Eckersley had not given up a home run since early August. I remember the feeling of watching one of the most iconic HRs in World Series history.
I remember Orel Hersheiser. I remember the reports of him singing Christian hymns in the dugout when he pitched. I remember finding my sports hero for the next 10 years that night.
…Minnesota’s Kent Hrbek pulling Atlanta’s Ron Gant off the bag in the 1991 World Series and the outrage my family and I felt as Braves fans (apart from my dad who was pulling for the Twins). I remember my dad saying as the Twins Mike Pagliarulo came to bat in Game 4, “Here comes a run” and then watching Pagliarulo hit a HR. I remember the look of utter glee on my dad’s face. And the inevitable gloating. You have to know my dad to appreciate the joy that was on his face that night. I remember Jack Buck’s call at the end of Game 6. I remember Lonnie Smith getting fooled by the hidden ball trick in Game 7 and getting stranded on third, for what would have been the World Series winning run. I remember Jack Morris pitching the most incredible, clutch game I’ve ever seen–10 innings of shut out baseball in Game 7 of the World Series.
…3rd String catcher Fransisco Cabrera coming to back in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded as the Braves trailed Pittsburgh 2-1 with two outs. I remember the hit. I remember Barry Bonds could not throw out Sid Bream, who actually lost a race for slowest man on Atlanta’s team, and scored from 2nd. I remember the Sports Illustrated photo of Pirates CF Andy Van Slyke sitting motionless on the field after the game, completely stunned, trying to process what just happened. It was as clear a picture of the agony of defeat that I’ve ever seen.
…in the 1996 World Series, the Braves got up two games to one and were leading Game 4 at home 6-0 in the 6th. I remember the Yankees scoring three in the 6th. And I remember Braves 100-MPH throwing closer, Mark Wohlers, facing Yankee back up catcher Jim Leyritz in the 8th with two men on. I remember Leyritz fouling back two fastballs before Wohlers threw him a slider, that Leyritz blasted out of the park and turned the World Series on a dime. I remember Joe Buck’s epic call of “WE..ARE…TIED!” I remember the next night hearing Tim McCarver (who I never liked) say something I’ll never forget about Wohlers not throwing the fastball again and throwing the off speed pitch instead: “Wohlers did what Leyritz could not do for himself; he sped up his bat.”
I remember the Yankees continually bringing in an otherwise unknown reliever named Graeme Lloyd to face Ryan Klesko, lefty vs. lefty, and Lloyd getting Klesko out every time, in crucial spots.
…the late Tommy Gregg umpiring Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS and having a strike zone for Marlins starter Livan Hernandez so big that I thought that Atlanta’s Fred McGriff could not have hit some of his pitches with a 50-inch bat.
I remember Jose Mesa coming to the mound for Cleveland in the 1997 World Series vs. those same Marlins, with the chance to save Game 7 and end decades of sports futility for a whole city and watching him blow the save. Cleveland would wait nearly 20 years for it to finally end.
….everything about the 2001 World Series. I remember it beginning late into October due to delays after the 9-11 attacks. I remember Game 4 starting on October 31st and going extra innings and past midnight EST. I remember Derek Jeter hitting a 10th inning, Game-winning HR off of Byung-Hyun Kim and a Yankee fan in the stands holding up a recently made sign that said, “Mr. November”. One of the most surreal moments I can recall watching baseball.
I remember Scott Brosius hitting a game-tying 2-run HR in the 9th inning off of Kim the next night. I remember Bob Brenly coming to the mound to take Kim out of the game. I remember Kim crouching and hanging his head in shame after blowing two consecutive saves in the World Series. I remember never ever having felt so badly for a professional athlete.
I remember the greatest post season pitcher ever come to the mound to save Game 7 and the Series for the Yankees. I remember thinking,”Mariano Rivera is coming in. It’s over.” I remember Rivera’s throwing error. I remember Tony Womack got the biggest hit of the inning. I remember Luis Gonzalez hit it just hard enough past a drawn in infield to drive in the Game 7, World Series winning run. I remember being in Goen Hall of Free Will Baptist Bible College and the room exploding with joy. I remember shouting “They lost! They lost!” since the Yankees had won 4 of the previous 5 championships.
…the exact spot I was standing at on Waveland Ave. outside of Wrigley Field, when Moises Alou missed a foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS that prompted the mother of all playoff meltdowns. I remember never feeling sicker over a sports result. I remember thinking how fascinating it was that in back to back nights, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs both lost Game Six’s, up three runs, 5 outs away form the World Series, with their aces on the mound. Curses felt real that week.
…”19-8 Yankees” in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS. I remember thinking, “It’s over. The Yankees always win and the Red Sox always lose”. I remember The Steal by Dave Roberts in Game 4 in the 9th inning. I remember Mueller’s single. I remember Ortiz ending it in the 12th.
I remember Ortiz ending it the next night as well, in the 14th inning. I remember the bloody sock. I remember Johnny Damon, with his Jesus like appearance that everyone raved about, hitting a Grand Slam in the 2nd inning of Game 7, making everyone say, “This is going to happen. The Red Sox are going to come back from down 3-0 and beat the Yankees.”
…St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina breaking a 1-1 tie in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS vs. the Mets with a 2 run home run. I remember the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that the franchise I hated so much was going back to the World Series. I remember Endy Chavez robbing the Cardinal’s Scott Rolen of a HR earlier that game and thinking, “It’s a shame that play went to waste”.
…Albert Pujols hitting a HR off of Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS that hasn’t landed yet.
…Scott Posendnik, he of zero HR’s in the regular season, hitting the game winning HR in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series. I remember my roommate, lifelong White Sox fan Chris, tackling me in celebration.
…David Freese saving St. Louis in the 9th inning of Game 6 in 2011.
I remember Daniel Descalso and John Jay saving St. Louis in the 10th inning of Game 6 in 2011.
I remember Freese again in the 11th. The last twenty feet of his home run trot. The exuberant run-in-place. The batting helmet flipped between the legs. The mosh pit of euphoria. The tipping of the cap by Joe Buck to his father 20 years prior: “We will see you tomorrow night.”
…Ortiz vs. Detroit in 2013.
…Bumgarner vs. Kansas City in 2014.
….Daniel Murphy vs. the Record Book in 2015.
I love October. I especially love October baseball. It bonded me with my dad. With my brothers. With my Chicago roommates. With random strangers on Waveland Ave. The magic in it is that I can reminisce about the success of the Yankees and Cardinals–teams I hate–with such awe. Because I love October for the wins and the losses. I love it for the heroes and the villains. And the goats. I love it for pulling off this drama without any true Cinderella’s or a one and done format. Only in October could I be simultaneously jealous and blown away by a walk off home run.
But mostly I love it for the memories. I can’t wait to make more. Bring on the 2017 season!
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