Fads come and go, but there a few times in life that you can say you witnessed something will become a legend. Especially in baseball. Major League Baseball originated in 1869. So the occurrence of something happening that has never happened before in the game is very unlikely.
In 1981, there was a year-long phenomenon that occurred. It was ‘Fernando Mania’. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela stormed into baseball and became an All-Star, Cy Young winner and National League Rookie of the Year. In addition, he helped the Dodgers win their 4th World Series Championship. To say that was a great year would be an understatement.
But alas, my story is not about THAT Fernando. My story is the first Dodger Stadium game I ever attended 17 years ago on April 23, 1999. And the man I speak of was the third baseman of the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, Fernando Tatis. What he did on this night defies all baseball logic. And the three things that happened became baseball history. And even more incredible, it may never happen again.
It was special too because it was the first time seeing my all-time favorite team, the Cardinals, live in my new hometown. And the main attraction was the man who had hit 70 home runs the previous season, first baseman Mark McGwire. Even though it was early in the season, this was a highly anticipated game.
The Dodgers scored a run in the bottom of the first and second innings to take a 2-0 lead into the top of the third inning. And what a third it was. The top of the Cardinals order came to face pitcher Chan Ho Park. Darren Bragg singled, Edgar Renteria was hit-by-pitch and McGwire singled to right to load the bases. Then, Fernando Tatis came to bat.
Tatis would start his historic night by crushing the third pitch from Park over the left field wall for a Grand Slam. The Cardinals now led 4-2. But it only got worse for Park.
After getting J.D. Drew to ground out, he gave up another home run to catcher Eli Marrero. Cardinals now up 5-2. Surely Dodgers manager Davey Johnson had to be concerned at this point. But he continued to let Park try to ‘stop the bleeding’ get 2 more outs. This is where the baseball gods crucify those who hesitate.
Weirdly the Cardinals sent pinch hitter Placido Polanco to hit for the presumably injured David Howard. Polanco walks on 4 pitches. And ‘Go Go’ Joe McEwing works a 7 pitch walk as well. Pitcher Jose Jimenez reaches on a bunt that is scored as a fielder’s choice to load the bases. The top of the Cardinals order returns as Darren Bragg reaches on an Adrian Beltre error. Polanco scores. Cardinals lead 6-2 with the bases still loaded.
Now the drama really is high, and the armchair managing is in high gear. Edgar Renteria singles to right and McEwing scores to make it 7-2. The bases are STILL loaded with Mark McGwire, the same guy who hit 70 home runs last season, coming to bat with 1 out. The wisdom here on Davey Johnson’s part was that McGwire gets low pitches from Park to get a double play and get out of this brutal inning. McGwire flies out to the right fielder for the second out, and because there is a pitcher running on third base he doesn’t tag up and score.
So Chan Ho Park, incredibly still pitching, has one precious out to get with the bases still loaded. And up comes the man who homered off him earlier in the inning, amazingly in the same situation. For the record, Park has 42 pitches in this inning alone.
Tatis actually works a 3-2 count on Park. And on the sixth (and glorious) Chan Ho Park pitch of the at-bat, crushed ANOTHER Grand Slam over the right-field fence. The Cardinals now lead 11-2, but even more incredibly I had just witnessed something that had never, and I repeat, never happened in baseball…ever! And I can without hesitation say that I will never see it again in my lifetime.
The historic accomplishments were as follows: a) No player in the MLB had ever hit 2 Grand Slams in one inning. b) No player in the MLB had ever hit 2 Grand Slams in one inning off the same pitcher. c) Tatis set the record for most RBI’s in one inning with eight.
Park was mercifully pulled from the game for Carlos Perez who got J.D. Drew to end the inning by popping out to Beltre. But obviously, the damage had been done. A total of 11 runs, six hits, and one error in the inning.
The Cardinals went on to win 12-5 and my first game in Los Angeles came to an end. But I will always remember being there for one man’s greatest game of all time. And it reminded me how great baseball is. In the fact that in one inning you could witness something incredible. But if you blink, you could miss it.
Thanks for reading and please comment below if you have any baseball memories you would like to share.
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