Last night was the first Cubs win at Wrigley Field where I didn’t sing “Go Cubs Go.” It’s not that I didn’t want to sing the song, it was too loud in section 229 to hear Steve Goodman’s song that is played after every Cubs’ win. By the time I was done screaming, jumping around and hugging random strangers I realized that the song was already in the third verse and I’d just witnessed the greatest moment I’ve ever seen in person at a professional baseball game (apologies to the previous record holder, which is still a strong second and also involved a Max Scherzer no decision).
Somewhere between losing my voice from screaming, chanting “Bote! Bote! Bote!” as I walked through the concourse, and smiling ear to ear for over an hour last night I decided that this magical play deserved a much closer look. So this snapshot is devoted to one of baseball’s rarest and most exciting plays: the two-out, pinch hit, ultimate grand slam.
Setting the stage
As the Cubs were imploding a bit in the eighth inning I was doing my usual optimistic routine. I took solace in the fact that the Nationals normal closer, Sean Doolittle, is on the disabled list, that Koda Glover had already pitched and the guy who would have gotten the ball for the Nationals a few weeks ago, Brandon Kintzler, is now on the Cubs. I looked at my scorecard and realized that any team that had Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Albert Almora Jr. due up with Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras to follow had a chance. Mostly, I was just reminding myself that this iteration of the Cubs is magical, they never quit and I wasn’t about to give up on them.
They loaded the bases in the most improbable of ways.
After Zobrist grounded out to Zimmerman, Heyward hit a routine ground ball to second baseman Wilmer Difo. Difo had entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement, and while MLB’s box score is still insisting this is a hit, I beg to differ:
As you can see below, his grip on the ball isn’t great and he rushes the transfer. That looks more like an error than a hit to me, but whatever. The Cubs needed base runners and with one down in the ninth, they got one.
Almora came to the plate next and Ryan Madson’s second pitch to him sailed up and in, hitting him in his arm guard and putting two men on base for Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber popped out to Anthony Rendon on the second pitch of the at bat. He was visibly frustrated for not making better contact. Willson Contreras came to the plate representing the Cubs last chance in the ninth.
Props to Willson for some gamesmanship here. This at bat took a long time, because Willson kept stepping in and out of the box. Any time it looked like Madson was getting settled, or close to settled, or in a rhythm, Willson called for time. He fouled off three pitches and with a 2-2 count, and the Cubs down to their last strike, Madson lost control on another ball that sailed up an in, hitting Contreras and loading the bases.
The Legend of David Bote
I can’t be the only person that thought back to the last time David Bote came up in a big spot with the Cubs trailing in the ninth, but even that thought in the back of my mind didn’t prepare me for what came next.
With a 2-2 count, and the Cubs down to their final strike for the second time in the last five minutes, David Bote squared up a low strike from Madson.
My favorite thing about this shot is that Bote clearly knows he got all of that ball. Madson clearly knows he got all of that ball. Wieters clearly knows he got all of that ball. But only a handful of the fans behind home plate have figured it out. Most of them, including Marlins Man and dozens of other stoic fans can’t quite bring themselves to believe it’s true:
That deserves a bat flip:
Almora knows it’s gone:
They tell you to watch outfielders rather than the ball to see if a hit is a home run or a long fly. I watched Michael A. Taylor run out of room, and it was beautiful.
The ball hits off the batter’s eye in center:
And Bote does his best airplane impersonation as he rounds the bases:
Baseball is fun.
The Cubs Reactions
So, clearly the grand slam is the best part of this montage, but the reactions of the Cubs players are almost as good. Let’s rewind a bit to just before the hit:
The dugout reacts:
I love how skeptical Kyle Hendricks and Anthony Rizzo are. I love how Willson and Zobrist are mid-reacting here. Most of all, I love how Javier Baez already knows.
Guess who is out of the dugout first?
Javy, Almora and Willson each wanted a piece of this jersey, and I’m sure it didn’t survive:
Baseball is a wonderful, ridiculous, incredible game. Every now again fans are rewarded with stunningly perfect moments like this: