For the last 45 days of the regular season, no more than one game separated the leader in that race from the team ranking second. The Mets led for a time, then the Cubs, and in the season's final week, the Mets fell away, the Giants went on a winning streak, and because of Brant Brown's famous dropped fly ball in Milwaukee, the Cubs and Giants entered the regular season's final day tied for the wild-card lead.
The Giants were in Colorado; the Cubs, in Houston. I don't usually do this sort of thing, but that afternoon I was invited to join some bleacher friends at a bar near Wrigley to watch both games (there was no MLB.TV or Extra Innings at the time, so this was the only way to do that).
The Cubs blew a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 to the Astros in 11 innings. Those of us who were paying close attention to that game turned our heads to monitors showing the Giants and Rockies. The Rox needed to win to force a wild-card tiebreaker the next day at Wrigley Field.
It couldn't have been more than 30 seconds later when future Cub Neifi Perez became a hero to Cubs fans everywhere by hitting a walkoff home run for Colorado, defeating the Giants 9-8 and forcing the tiebreaker. It was about ten minutes after 5 p.m. in Chicago and that's when the scene around Wrigley Field became wild. The Tribune's Jeff Coen tells the story:
Fans ran through the North Side streets for a chance to buy seats in the moments after the Giants fell to Colorado. The Giants' loss kept the Cubs alive even though they had lost to Houston moments earlier. Many fans stood for hours early Sunday afternoon before thousands more rushed to Wrigley Field for a ticket. The swarm came from all directions: Buffalo Grove, Schiller Park, Highland Park, Glenview and Gary. Some scalpers were looking to deal Monday box seats on the third base line for $250. Ray Finnerty jumped off his couch in the seventh inning of Sunday's 4-3 Cubs loss, running to Wrigley from his nearby home. "It was unbelievable," said Finnerty, who was able to get tickets with a couple of friends. "We thought it would be a bad line but this was nuts. People were running to the back of the line high-fiving us." The line for tickets wound far from the ticket windows at the corner of Clark and Addison Streets. Thousands of people wrapped around three sides of the stadium and beyond for a shot at being on hand Monday.
Coen wrote "fans ran through the streets," and that was no exaggeration. I left the bar to the sight of literally hundreds of people running down the middle of Clark Street to get in line at the Wrigley ticket windows. It was, sadly, an era before smartphones with cameras, or I'd have incredible photos and maybe video to share with you. All I have is the memory of seeing something I'd never seen before -- and likely never will again, because even if something like this ever happens again, the Cubs would likely only sell tickets online and by phone for such an event.
As a season-ticket holder, of course, I had a tiebreaker game ticket, and the game itself, as you well know, was memorable, with Gary Gaetti smacking a two-run homer off Mark Gardner and Mark Grace squeezing a Joe Carter popup (the last at-bat of Carter's career, incidentally) for the final out of the 5-3 Cubs tiebreaker win. Two other former Cubs -- and Rey Sanchez -- played for the Giants that day, as did future Cub (and new Cubs hitting coach for 2014) Bill Mueller.
I remember telling my bleacher group, knowing a tough division series against the Braves was coming up, "If the Cubs don't win another game, it was all worth it." They didn't -- they got swept by Atlanta -- but yes, it was all worth it, one of the most memorable years in franchise history.
The Cubs issued a special scorecard for the tiebreaker game. Here's what it looked like. (Click images to embiggen.)