EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – JULY 23, 2008
By Rich Trzupek
National Guard units patrol the city, the parking lots and both foul lines. Preachers call for calm. An isolated group joins hands in Parking Lot D and sings “Give Peace a Chance”, before fans from both teams drench them with a total of 158 beers.
Authorities decide that there is no way they can keep order within the park, so they choose to contain the disorder instead. The park is sealed after the last of 41,453 fans walk in. Alcohol sales will be cut off after the second inning and mounted police ring the field. The media prudently chooses not to enter the war zone, instead covering the action from a fleet of blimps circling overhead.
This is Armageddon in the Windy City.
It’s a cold October day. A gentle snow starts to fall in the fifth inning, lending a surreal quality to a game that fans who were there (or, as they like to call themselves, “survivors”) will remember with hushed awe.
The Cubs take an early lead when Fukadome bangs a hanging Vasquez curve off of the foul pole in right. Unfortunately, the Japanese sensation is lost for the game after he screws himself four feet deep into the turf with his Bugs Bunny, corkscrew swing.
A run more apiece for each team and the Sox are down by one in the bottom of the ninth, with Zambrano still brilliant, despite having thrown 172 pitches. With half the pen suspended, and the other half burnt out, Lou has no choice but to leave him in.
The south siders are, if anything, in even worse shape at this point. Suspensions and substitutions have left Ozzie with eight position players to go along with his last pitcher, Mark Buehrle, who mowed down the Cubbies in relief in the top of the final frame.
Guillen is keenly aware that it’s now or never for his crew. Buehrle has nothing left, having pitched the day before. Alexi Ramirez’s pencil-thin body, finally worn down by the longest season he’s every played, is barely able to move.
Leading off, AJ contrives to get himself hit by a pitch, upsetting Big Z mightily. But, through sheer will, he calms himself back down. Quentin rips one in the hole toward short, but Cedeno (brought in for defensive purposes) makes a diving grab of the liner and narrowly misses doubling AJ off of first.
Zambrano then blows a three-two fast ball by Jermaine Dye, pumping his fist in glee as Dye walks glumly back to the dugout.
Only Paul Konerko stands between the Cubs and history.
After retightening his batting gloves forty seven times, Paulie stands in. He pauses and points to center, a la Tom Berringer in Major League. Following the script perfectly, Zambrano proceeds to knock Konerko down. Twice.
The big first baseman points again, before stunning everyone by dumping a bunt down the third base line. Aramis Ramirez fields it cleanly, but proceeds to throw the pill wildly down the right field line. AJ and Paulie chug around the bases in slow motion, as Reed Johnson in right falls over on the snow-slick turf. Sox and Cubs faithful battle to keep either side from interfering. Many will later swear that they saw the ghost of Steve Bartman roaming the field at this precise moment.
AJ is at third now. Sprinting over from center, Jim Edmonds retrieves the ball and makes the throw of his life, a perfect strike to Soto at the plate. AJ, by all rights, should have been out, but the catchers crash in a mighty collision that can be heard over the thunderous roar from the stands. The umpire calls AJ “out” then, a second later, he spots the ball, trickling out from under Soto’s glove. He corrects himself: “Safe! Safe!”
Soto rises to argue. Piniella and Guillen leap from their dugouts. Pierzynski crawls clear of the scene, having broken both legs in the collision, leaving the Sox with only seven position players now.
Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, knowing that this is the Sox last chance, Konerko is finally rounding third, his face beet red, his legs desperately clawing at the turf as if he were running in pudding. He feels both of his hamstrings tear at once, but grits his teeth and lumbers on.
Zambrano screams, but Soto can’t hear a thing over the roar, so the big pitcher charges in himself, picks up the ball and makes a desperate lunge for the sliding Sox first baseman. The umpire, suddenly alert to the activity, deliberates for a moment before making his decision and, at once, the stadium is dead calm as over 41,000 fans hold their breath, waiting for the biggest call in the history of the Windy City.
Oh, but you know how it turned out…