Ten years ago today, on September 18, 1997, I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing, and the exact feelings that swept through me. It's ingrained on my memory forever. Frankly, if you're a Giants fan, you should remember that day vividly also.
That's because ten years ago, on this very damn day, this game
took place, the famous Brian Johnson game, the 6-5 Giants win in 12 innings that pulled them into a tie with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West. The scintillating win, capped off by Johnson's leadoff home run in the twelfth, propelled the Giants to the division title and their first playoff appearance in eight years. It was perhaps the
greatest experience I've ever had as a baseball fan. It seems like just yesterday.
I remember that I was a freshman in high school (high school ten years ago? Now that's scary!), and I was sitting in class, chomping at the bit to get home and turn on the radio to listen to the game. I couldn't focus on school at all. My stomach was in knots all day in anticipation of the big Giant-Dodger showdown that would transpire that afternoon. Hell, if I were old enough to drive I definitely would have just ditched class. Some things just take precedent over education.
Anyway, like as soon as I got home and tuned into KNBR, the Dodgers had tied the game at 5-5 on a Mike Piazza single. While I was sitting helplessly in class, the Giants had jumped out early to a 5-1 lead behind homers from J.T. Snow and Barry Bonds, but an awful relief performance by Julian Tavarez demolished all hopes of an easy victory. The game stayed tied, as Doug Henry pitched two scoreless innings and the game went into extras. That's when Dusty Baker brought Rod Beck in for the tenth. Ah, that legendary tenth inning.
The fact forgotten by many (mostly due to the ensuing heroics) is that Beck was much-maligned by Giants fans at this point due to some recent struggles, and he had even temporarily lost the closer job (Roberto Hernandez got the two-inning save in the previous night's nail-biting win
). Sure enough, Beck gave up singles to the first three batters to load the bases with nobody out.
Now, if the Dodgers had won that game, they'd have been two games up on the Giants with nine to play. It would have been extremely difficult to pull it out, since the two teams would not face each other again that year. Now, with the bases full of Dodgers and no outs, and relying on a beer-swilling, mustachioed pitcher who hadn't been able to get anybody out for the past two weeks, it looked like the Giants' goose was cooked.
Baker came out to have a little pep talk with Beck, saying something like, "You're the man", I think, and something just suddenly clicked. With every fan in the ballpark sweating bullets, Beck rebounded to strike Todd Zeile out on three pitches. He then threw a first-pitch splitter to the next batter, Eddie Murray, who grounded it right to Jeff Kent at second base, who threw home to start a 4-2-3 double play, sending the Candlestick Park faithful into a frenzy. Listening on the radio, when that double play was turned, I heard a roar go up from that stadium that was just earth-shattering. Goosebump city, baby.
Nobody really knew it at the time, but at that moment the Dodgers were done. Not just for the game, but for the whole season (or, according to Bill Plaschke, the next ten years
). Beck retired the next six batters in a row to cap off a gritty performance that turned him into a Giants legend. The Giants, meanwhile, couldn't get anything done against the Dodger bullpen, and the game moved on into the bottom of the twelfth.
First up in the inning was catcher Brian Johnson, who was acquired in midseason by the Giants when the team found Rick Wilkins's bat wanting. Johnson turned into a total surprise with the bat, as he'd end up slugging .525 in 179 at-bats for the Giants that season. Facing him was Mark Guthrie, a LOOGY who seemingly had no business coming into a crucial game with the season in doubt.
Sure enough, Guthrie's first pitch was a fastball right out over the plate, and Johnson crushed it into the left field bleachers. Pandemonium...and not just at Candlestick, but in my room as well. I remember jumping up and down, yelling in joy as Ted Robinson's breathless call emanated from my radio. It was one of those moments that I'll just never forget for the rest of my life, one that made me so glad to be a baseball fan. I still have a tape recording of the KNBR broadcast of the Johnson home run stashed away somewhere.
What made it so awesome, aside from the fact that it came against the Dodgers, was that it came in a year where everybody expected the Giants to finish in last and just crap out completely. Even going into September, pundits were just assuming the Dodgers would pull away and the Giants would fall back to the pack. Nope. The Giants rode the momentum of this win right into the playoffs in a year that solidified my status as a certified baseball nut. In an amazing season that is impossible to forget, it was this one game that stood out among the rest.
And, as hard as it is to believe, it happened ten years ago today.
Labels: blast from the past, brian johnson home run