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Santo Clause

Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo is the patron saint of all walk-off broadcasters because he has the ability to express the feelings of all those who have suffered the agony of a walk-off defeat in just one cry of anguish...

"OHHHH NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While there is no need to get into the horrors that befell the Mets in the final days of the 1998 baseball season, we must at least acknowledge them to provide the context for this story.

The chase for the NL's wild card spot bore down to the last week of September, as the Cubs and Mets dueled, and the Giants made a quick, last-ditch uphill chase. The Cubs and Mets entered September 23rd tied, with the not-so-relevant Giants 2 1/2 back, with 4 games left to play.

The Cubs and Brewers were wrapping up a series in Milwaukee that afternoon, prior to the Mets game with the Expos. The Cubs were sputtering a bit, but they had won the previous day and took a comfortable early lead with Steve Trachsel on the mound. By the time Sammy Sosa hit his second home run in the sixth inning, it was 7-0 Cubs.

But these were the Cubs and it was Trachsel pitching, so WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog were broadcasting from Shea Stadium, keeping close tabs on this game, updating Mets fans like me, who happened to be in the car for part of the day. At mid-afternoon, I had to head to work, and an easy Cubs triumph seemed to be just wrapping up.

In the 7th inning, Trachsel tired and started to gag a bit. By the time he finished (with the help of Jose Valentin's 2-run double), he allowed 4 runs and it was a game again at 7-4. By the 8th, Mike and the Mad Dog were in full play-by-play mode and built up the suspense a bit as the Brewers rallied for another run, but left two stranded, making the score 7-5 with one inning remaining.

By the time the last of the 9th commenced, I was in the parking lot for the office at the Trenton Times. I was right on time, but decided that in this circumstance that I was going to be a few minutes late. YES was not around to simulcast WFAN at that point and I wanted to hear this contest's conclusion.

Cubs closer Rod Beck got Fernando Vina to ground out, but Mark Loretta singled and Geoff Jenkins doubled, and suddenly things got REALLY interesting. A Cubs loss would be gigantic in the scheme of things. With Jeromy Burnitz due up, the Cubs gambled, issuing him a free pass to load the bases and put the winning run on first base. I don't recall mentally debating the merits of that maneuver because of my recollection of what happened shortly thereafter.

Marquis Grissom struck out, so now the Cubs were an out away from winning, but also a blunder away from losing. These are the Cubs, so what occurred wasn't really shocking, in reviewing it years later, but then it was monumentally amazing.

Geoff Jenkins, on a 2-2 count, lifted a fly ball towards the left field line, one that was playable for Cubs left fielder Brant Brown. The ball hung up in the air long enough for Mike Francesa to tell listeners: "Easy play...game over..."

I can't remember whether there was a pause, one long enough for NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick to tell you about Francesa's wrongness 100 times over, in Russo's play-by-play, but he did continue along. Then, all of a sudden, he started screaming in his silly, uncomprehensable manner..."HE DROPPED THE BALL!!!! Did they tie it or win it??? They won it!!!! Omigod, Mikey...HE DROPPED THE BALL!!!"

At this point, I got out of my car, did a full sprint for the steps and started screaming over and over again "HE DROPPED THE BALL!!" (explaining the meaning to my boss was tough, because I was so out of breath.)

I didn't know it, but Ron Santo was screaming too. For those who don't know Santo, he's a former Cubs 3rd baseman, borderline Hall of Famer, best known among Mets fans for annoyingly clicking his heels after Cubs victories. Santo has also battled diabetes throughout his life and while it has hindered him physically, his mental status is most dependent on whether the Cubs win or lose.

As good as listening to Francesa and Russo was, having the chance to hear the Cubs radio version of events was that much better. Santo, long tortured by the idea that the Cubs would never win a championship, let fly a cry of anguish that rivaled my vocal display in the Grand Central men's room not long after Carlos Beltran took strike three. I can't quite do it justice in print, even if I were to use 1,908 exclamation points, so you'll just have to trust my assessment.

Pat Hughes (play-by-play): "How much more can the nervous system take? Seven to five Cubs, bottom of the 9th...2 down...the Brewers have the bases loaded and a 2-2 count on the hitter...here's the pitch...swung on, fly ball left field...Brant Brown going back...Brant Brown mmmdrops the ball!

Ron Santo: "OHHHHHH NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Hughes: "He drops the ball..."

Santo: (best described as 'wounded-puppy') "NOOOOOO!!!!!"

Hughes: "Three runs will score...and the Brewers...have beaten the Cubs. The Brewers beat the Cubs by a score of eight to seven. Brant Brown dropped the fly ball in left....Three runs score and the Brewers have beaten the Cubs by a score of eight to seven. Brown went back...he then came in and he dropped the ball. An error on the left fielder Brant Brown...and in shocking fashion, the Cubs lose a game to the Brewers...eight to seven the final...we'll be back with the totals, after this...on the Cubs...radio network."

I did some reading about this game and the most popular story, told by Hughes, was of how Santo, down in the Cubs clubhouse later that afternoon, had to be consoled, by, of all people, Cubs manager Jim Riggelman. I didn't need such consoling. It made for an early holiday season for Mets fans, who were able to chant "Ho, Ho, Ho" for a few hours in celebration.

Those who Met it Snow know...Ron Santo played for the Cubs from 1960 to 1973. During that time, the Mets had 15 walk-off wins against the Cubs. The Cubs had 12 walk-off wins against the Mets in that span, including one on July 29, 1965 in which Santo hit the game-ending home run.

Last year's Christmas-themed entry can be found at
http://metswalkoffs.blogspot.com/2005/12/santa-klaus-is-coming-to-town.html

Comments

Anonymous said…
Gosh, what a bittersweet recollection. I'll never forget stepping off the Long Island Rail Road at Shea that night and everybody buzzing about Brant Brown. Every single Mets fan must have been listening to that M&MD call.

The Wild Card was so there for the taking. I had my tickets for Game Two of the NLDS.

Grrr...

Hope you got to see the HBO documentary on the Cubs a few months ago. As good a man as Ron Santo may be, as much as he's deserved better in his postcareer life, oh my gosh it is so wonderful to relive their 1969 collapse/our 1969 miracle. It's a perfect bookend to the "Reverse the Curse" segment on Buckner.

So it's Christmas. Doesn't mean beneficial schadenfreude is ever out of season.

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