Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sandberg Game

Twenty-four years ago - June 23, 1984 -I was sitting in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals.

For most of the game, it was miserable. The Cubs trailed 7-1, then 9-3. A bunch of us Cub fans sitting under the upper deck overhang on the third base side of stand had to put up with a loud-mouthed Cardinals fan during the game. The Cubs rallied to make it 9-8, but the outcome looked dismal as the Cardinals featured one of the game's best relievers, Bruce Sutter.

Leading off the ninth inning was Ryne Sandberg. The young Cub had been making some noise that year after a productive, but not exciting, two years in Chicago. But today would be a turning point in his career.

Sandberg deposited a pitch from Sutter into the bleachers in left field to tie the game at nine. Wrigley got LOUD! But in the top of the 10th inning, the Cardinals scored twice to take a 11-9 lead.

With two outs, Bob Dernier walked, bringing up Sandberg with the tying run. Everyone was hoping - and only the most desperate would have bet money - that Sandberg could hit another homer.

The folks watching at home - a nationwide audience thanks to a rainout of NBC's other game that day - were watching the credits role. NBC announcers already named Willie McGee - who hit for the cycle and drove in six runs - as its player of the game.

Then it happened.

Sandberg blasted another home run near the same spot he'd hit the first one. If Wrigley was loud before, it was at another level now. The Cubs eventually won the game 12-11 in 11 innings. Sandberg - with two home runs and seven runs batted in - was named player of the game. Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog (perhaps in a fit of hyperbole) proclaimed Sandberg as the greatest player he ever saw.

But maybe Whitey was on to something. When Sandberg did hang up his cleats 14 season later, he was rewarded for his outstanding career with election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I've been to some great games in Wrigley, but this one tops them all.

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