June 23, 2009
A mere two swings introduced the world to its best second baseman in a generation, and also signaled a ballpark's transcendence into a national shrine.
Twenty-five years ago today, future Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg clubbed a pair of tying home runs against future Hall-of-Famer Bruce Sutter, keeping the Cubs alive long enough to win an 12-11, 11-inning thriller against the Cardinals on NBC's Saturday Game of the Week.
"The Sandberg Game," as it came to be known, simply is some of the best theater ever produced by the sport. It concluded with Sandberg going 5-for-6 with seven RBIs, trumping the cycle performed by St. Louis' Willie McGee on the same day.
The game also marked the first turning point in the Cubs stunning 1984 season, one that concluded with Sandberg winning the NL MVP and the team contending for the World Series for the first time in nearly 40 years.
"It was nothing to his career," Sandberg has said of the game's impact on Sutter. "It was everything to mine."
Just a year before, Sandberg was an OK young infielder for one of the worst teams in the league in ballpark that was perceived by its own city, at best, as a buried treasure. The Friendly Confines was a place where the Cubs hoped to get hot and win a few games, "just to stuff it up them 3,000 people that showed up every day."
And that was the team's manager talking.
Sutter already had established himself as the top closer of his generation, and had won a World Series with St. Louis two years earlier. On his way to a career season of 45 saves, Sutter entered in the bottom of the seventh to protect a 9-8 lead against the Cubs, who were playing competitive ball for the first time in a long time.
Sutter was doing his job until Sandberg led off the bottom of the ninth (VIDEO).
Ryno took the first two pitches before sending the third to the last row of bleachers in left-center, tying the score. Wrigley went up for grabs and the Cubs had established a semi-special moment.
The Cubs threatened to win the game later in the inning but Sutter turned them away and the Cardinals, thanks to McGee's RBI double and run scored, took an 11-9 lead going into the bottom of the 10th.
His team down to the last out, Bob Dernier drew a two-out walk to give Sandberg another chance. On 1-1, he swung and sent the ball toward the bleachers again, prompting NBC analyst Tony Kubek to exclaim, "Ohhhhhh!" and Bob Costas to say, "Look out! Do you believe it?" as it landed in the crowd.
It almost made a 12-year-old boy wish he was raised a Cubs fan.
If you watch the replay over and over, I swear you can hear Sutter let out a "G*d dammit!" just before the crowd roar overtook all other sounds at Clark and Addison.
As many don't remember, the blast had only tied the score. The Cubs had to win the game on a single by Dave Owen in the 12th, after Sutter had left (and pitched 3 1/3 innings). Sandberg never came up again.
But the die had been cast. Sandberg showed something for Hall of Fame voters to file away for later. The Cubs, flanked by a colorful broadcaster named Harry Caray, were on their way to the NL East title and the World Series-free rockstar status they still, to this moment, enjoy.
And, probably for the first time, an ignorant world collectively realized, "Say, that Wrigley Field looks like a fun place to spend a summer afternoon, eh?"