The thing I remember most about this day at Wrigley Field was the cold. The boxscore says these were the game-time weather conditions:
37° F, Wind 10mph in from Rightfield, Cloudy, No Precipitation.
Sounds about right. That computes to a wind chill of 29°, but I can tell you with no sunshine it felt colder, impossible to get warm in the bleachers that day. Imagine how hitters felt.
The Cubs had been swept on a six-game season-opening road trip to Miami and Atlanta, and then lost the home opener to the Marlins. So they were 0-7 heading into this matchup of Alex Fernandez vs. Frank Castillo, and the latter had his own experience with losing a no-hitter in the ninth less than two years earlier.
A single, stolen base and another single by Gary Sheffield gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. The Cubs could do nothing against Fernandez. He retired the first 14 Cubs before Shawon Dunston reached on an error in the fifth. Dunston then stole second and took third on a throwing error, but was stranded.
Meanwhile, Castillo was throwing a nice game himself. From the second through the eighth he allowed just five more hits, all singles. But the Cubs still could not score — or get a hit — off Fernandez through eight. No other Cub reached base, in fact, and entering the ninth manager Jim Riggleman made a move that proved to be Fernandez’ undoing. He lifted Castillo, who had thrown 115 pitches, and put Mel Rojas in the game, double-switching Dave Hansen in to play third base, since the pitcher’s spot was due up second in the last of the ninth.
Rojas wasn’t very good in 1997 and would be traded before the season ended, but on this day he did just fine, retiring the Marlins 1-2-3.
Fernandez struck out Dave “Not The 60s Singer” Clark looking to begin the ninth. Two outs to go for a no-hitter.
Hansen came to the plate. Then this happened [VIDEO].
That’s Joe Angel, the then-Marlins TV voice, on the call. A little dribbler off Fernandez’ glove, no play was made, base hit. Jose Hernandez ran for Hansen, another fateful choice.
It’s what happened afterwards that seemed to define the Cubs’ 1997 season. The top of the order was due up. Brian McRae hit a ground ball to third baseman Bobby Bonilla that could have been a game-ending double play, but Bonilla made a bad throw and both runners were safe. Then Brant Brown hit a ground ball to shortstop Edgar Renteria. Andrew Bagnato of the Tribune describes what happened next:
Then came an astounding display of Cubbishness: Renteria committed a fielding error that would have loaded the bases with one out, but his throw to third nailed pinch-runner Jose Hernandez, who had overrun the bag and was caught scrambling back.
The tying run was still in scoring position, now with two out. The next batter was Ryne Sandberg.
Unfortunately, the 1997 version of Sandberg wasn’t as good as the 1984 version, and Fernandez struck Sandberg out to complete a one-hit shutout and send the Cubs to an 0-8 start. It got to 0-14 — the 14-game losing streak is still the franchise record — and an eventual 94-loss season, though they did recover enough to go 13-12 in September, perhaps presaging their 90-win wild card season in 1998.