A Very Odd Cubs Coincidence

You remember the Bartman play. (The national media won't let us forget.) But did you know something almost exactly like it happened in a famous Cubs game, 19 years earlier?

You'll probably have the same reaction I did after you see the GIFs below.

Last Monday, on an otherwise dull winter evening, I decided to get in the mood for the coming baseball season by taking out my boxed set of Cubs greatest game DVDs. You might even own this set yourself; it includes big games from popular Cubs stars like Rick Sutcliffe, Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux and Derrek Lee.

The set also includes the Sandberg Game, played on June 23, 1984, one of the most talked-about games in recent franchise history. That was, as you know, a thrilling, come-from-behind win and the game that's generally acknowledged to have given Ryne Sandberg the national attention he had not previously had. Sandberg hit two game-tying home runs of Bruce Sutter in the game, went 5-for-6 and drove in seven runs. Announcers Bob Costas and Tony Kubek, covering the game nationally for NBC, noted often through the late innings just how exciting the game was.

But that's not what this post is about. Instead, it's about a play that I had forgotten -- and you probably did, too, if you had even paid attention to it at the time, or if you've watched this game since that day, now almost 29 years ago.

Let me set the scene. The game has gone into extra innings, tied 9-9 after Sandberg's first homer off Sutter. Lee Smith, the last reliever in the Cubs' then six-man bullpen, had entered the game in the top of the 10th. Leading off the inning was Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith.

Ozzie fouled off the first pitch, and then this happened:

Does that play look familiar to you? Here's another angle:

That's the Bartman play. It's almost identical; I haven't looked at it closely enough, but it might have been in the exact location as that play more than 19 years later. I don't write much about that play, or like to talk about it much, as I'm sure most of you don't. It's a crutch for the national media, far too many times.

But when I saw this play on my TV screen this week, it was incredibly eerie, to know that this almost-forgotten 1984 play would be replicated in the 2003 playoffs; that game, as you well know, ended in calamity. Even the reaction of the Sarge, Gary Matthews, in those images above, was remarkably similar to what Moises Alou did after... well, you know.

So what happened next? Ozzie Smith fouled off another pitch, then singled sharply into the hole between short and third. He stole second and scored on a double by Willie McGee -- a double that gave McGee a cycle for the day; he's the last visiting player to hit for the cycle in Wrigley Field. Two groundouts later, McGee scored to give the Cardinals an 11-9 lead.

It's impossible to know what would have happened if Matthews catches that foul ball. Would Bob Dernier still have walked, and Sandberg still have hit the second home run off Sutter, if the Cardinals hadn't scored in the top of the 10th? If so, Sandberg's homer would have been a walkoff, an even more dramatic blast than it was. As you know, the winning run was eventually plated, in the 11th inning, by the last position player on Jim Frey's bench, little-used infielder Dave Owen. Owen hit just .194 in 93 at-bats that season with 10 RBI, none more critical nor memorable than that one.

Anyway, thought you all would like to see this slice of Cubs history that was a weird foreboding of something that would happen again, much more disastrously, 19 years later.

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