Every team that has any postseason aspirations has a moment. A play they can look back on and say, “that one was a big one.” A defensive play, a clutch home run, an epic pitching performance. Everyone remembers what that moment was for the Cubs last year. It was June 29th, 2007.
On this day, with the first place Brewers in town, the Cubs were fighting their way back to .500 after the Zambrano/Barrett meltdown still fresh in the minds of many. The Cubs were down 5-0 in the blink of an eye, giving up five runs in the first. The Cubs pitchers settled down and kept the game from becoming a blowout. The game was 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth with Brewer closer Francisco Cordero on the mound. He had been lights out all year for a young and hungry Brewer squad. The Cubs started off on a bad foot with a pop out into foul territory. One out. The next batter was Alfonso Soriano who singled. The next batter was Mike Fontenot who singled to right, leaving runners at first and third. Up came Derek Lee who drove a ball deep enough to sacrifice in Soriano from third making the score 5-4 with two outs and a runner on first. As fate would have it, the Cubs best clutch hitter Aramis Rameriz strode up to the plate with the fate of the season riding on his shoulders. Cordero slung a first pitch slider to the plate, which didn’t slide, and hung up for Aramis to drive. The ball carried out over the left field wall, and was a no doubter off the bat. Cubs Win! This win got the Cubs back to .500 and left the Cubs 6 1/2 games out instead of 8 1/2, and left the Brewers demoralized and really not the same team the remainder of the season. This was the moment of 2007.
Now it’s 2008 and trying to figure out what is “the moment that changed the season” is a difficult one. This is the result after some careful consideration and several “moments” that could be claimed as being “the moment”.
Setting up the moment is essential to the context of this claim. It’s still fresh in our memories, the All Star game, where Dempster and Marmol did the Cubs proud. Coming back to play, the Cubs wanted to establish a good start to the second half of the season. The first series was three games in Houston on July 18th. This series established that the Cubs pitching was still solid, but the entire offense can go to sleep all at the same time. Cubs lose two of three. Next on the schedule was the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cubs caught a break, because Webb and Haren had pitched the series before and were not scheduled to pitch. Once again, the Cubs pitching was there for the most part, but the offense had fallen asleep for most of the series. Cubs lose two of three, and looked bad doing it. Now back home for a four game series with the always tough Florida Marlins. Surely the bats will heat up when the Cubs get back home? Game one went the Cubs way, but the next two were back to back 3-2 losses in heartbreaking fashion. Adding salt to wound was the fact that the Cubs lead in the Central evaporated after Saturday’s 12 inning 3-2 loss, as the Brewers tied up things in the standings with a red hot start to the second half.
On Sunday, July 27th, 2008, with the Cubs and Brewers tied for 1st in the NL Central, and a four game series looming in Milwaukee the next week, the Cubs were in a tailspin. The offense that had been so consistent all year at Wrigley Field, suddenly looked lost and dysfunctional. The pitching assignment of year to this point, and to keep the Brewers at bay, fell to the inconsistent Jason Marquis. He didn’t disappoint, as he gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings putting the Cubs in an early 5-0 hole.
As the game progressed, the excitement in Wrigley dwindled into a feeling of despair. The Cubs were in danger of losing the lead in the NL Central to the Brewers, one day before a four game series at Miller Park. The Cubs showed some life soon after, scoring two runs in the 3rd inning, and a dramatic game tying three run home run in the 4th by Alfonso Soriano. The tie game was short lived, as the Marlins first batter in the top of 5th hit a go ahead home run, making it 6-5 Marlins.
The score remained the same, and once again the Cubs bats fell silent. That is until the 7th inning. Derek Lee hit a game tying home run to lead off the inning. The Cubs then managed to get runners at first and second with two outs and Daryl Ward coming up. During Ward’s at bat, the Marlins pitcher uncorked a wild pitch which allowed the runners to move up 90 feet. The Marlins choose to intentionally walk Ward at this point, loading the bases, with two outs.
“THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED THE SEASON”…Lou called upon one of his bench players, Mike Fontenot, to pinch hit for the pitcher. After taking the first pitch for a ball, Fontenot ripped a pitch to deep left field, the ball was hit with Fontenot’s patented opposite field punch which sailed over the head of the Marlin’s left fielder. The ball rolled to the ivy covered wall, as the Cubs rounded the bases. Mike Fontenot delivered a two out, bases loaded double to give the Cubs a three run lead 9-6.
Later in the game, Jeff Samardjiza, in his 3rd big league appearance, recorded the final six outs in order to preserve the win and record his first career save. In the meantime, the Brewers had lost their early lead against the Houston Astros, and the Cubs reclaimed sole possession of 1st place before the critical four game series at Miller Park.
Lou said it best in the post game press conference, which managed to be quite prophetic…
“The good thing is that our bats came alive,” manager Lou Piniella said. “Let’s hope they travel well to Milwaukee.”
We all know the rest of the story…