“Tell us again, dad.”
“Ohhh…not now, kids, it’s getting late.”
“Awww, c’mon dad, just once more.”
“No, I’ve told you guys that story a hundred times.”
“Please dad…we won’t ask again.”
“I’m pretty sure you will, but…oh…alright.”
“It was the bottom of the 9th in the 7th game of the series. We were down by one run with 2 outs and the bases loaded. The coach looked my way and said, ‘Frank, grab a bat!’ It only made sense, since I was the only hitter left. I took my warmup swings, then stepped up to the plate after Hunter popped out. Belinda, he was a good closer, but he had walked Berryhill to load ‘em up. First pitch to me…”
“Hehehe…that’s right. Second pitch…”
“I just missed that one. Pulled it down the left field line. If it had been fair, it might have been a…”
“But ‘just about’ doesn’t count for anything in baseball. With a 2-1 count, the tension was unbelievable. The stadium was packed…50,000 people, and every one of them was standing. Everyone in the dugouts was standing. I bet there were people at home standing.”
“We were standing.”
“No you weren’t…you say that every time I tell it and every time you do, I say…”
“We weren’t born yet.”
“That’s right, you weren’t born yet. The next pitch was on the outer half of the plate. I swung and…”
“A base hit. First guy to score…”
“And then came…”
“Sid Bream. He wasn’t the fastest guy on the team, but his arms were pumping as fast as everybody’s hearts were racing. He slid into home plate as the ball arrived, and the umpire yelled…”
“Yep, we were the National League Champions and were headed to the World Series. And on that night, I was a big hero. And on this night, it’s time for bed. Now run along and g’night, kids.”
I have no idea if Francisco Cabrera tells it like that. And I don’t even know if he tells the story. Heck, I don’t even know if he has kids. But I’ll never forget that magical night of October 14, 1992, when an obscure catcher, called up at year’s end and on the roster as an emergency backup, got to live every kid’s boyhood dream…the game-winning hit. I was watching the game with my good friend Brad over at our boss’ house, and was already standing with my coat on, just waiting for the final out.
But there was no final out that evening, as one swing of Cabrera’s bat created about 18 seconds of blessed bedlam and 18 years of good memories. It normally doesn’t happen like that.
Earlier this week, I watched as the Braves were eliminated from the postseason by the Giants and their tremendous pitching. The Braves’ pitching was pretty darned good, but the Giants were better. Isn’t that the way it usually ends? You see a miracle ending in your mind, but the reality plays out much differently.
With Cabrera, it was exactly the opposite. I really expected to lose. When Francisco pulled that 2-0 pitch foul down the line, just missing a home run, I believed that was the best shot we were going to get. How was I to know that one pitch later, the normal would be turned on its head? Who could have guessed that disappointing loss would turn to incredible and totally improbable victory?
The whole bottom of the 9th kind of played out like that, so maybe I should have seen it coming. Jose Lind, a terrific defensive second baseman, committed a rare error early in the inning. Damon Berryhill somehow coaxed a walk from Pirates closer Stan Belinda, laying off several pitches too close to take (including ball 4, which looked like a strike right down the middle). Ron Gant drove a ball to the wall in left, just missing a home run himself. But still, I refused to think it was possible.
Being wrong was never, ever so sweet…