With the bases loaded in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning and a 4th of July crowd of 38,596 on its feet, Cubs pinch-hitter Todd Walker fell behind White Sox reliever Damaso Marte with two quick strikes.
What was going through Walker's mind?
"That I was in trouble," he said. "It's like being thrown into the lion's den with no way out. It's not the way you draw it up. Those are the types of at-bats that give people heart attacks."
But Walker found an escape hatch, coaxing a walk out of Marte to force home the winning run for a 2-1 Cubs victory and giving them a three-game sweep of their cross-town rivals.
Walker's walk-off walk was a wild way to end a game that featured stellar starting pitching by Glendon Rusch and Mark Buehrle, along with some ninth-inning heroics by Carlos Lee, who homered off LaTroy Hawkins with one out to tie the game and give the Sox new life.
It was the first sweep by the Cubs over the Sox since 1998 at Wrigley Field and gave them the season series edge over the Sox 4-2. The win also left the Cubs a season-high 11 games over .500 (46-45) at the midway point of the season.
"We haven't hit our stride yet," manager Dusty Baker said. "We haven't played our best baseball. I think that's still to come. But I'll take where we are at the midway part of the season. We've battled and battled and battled the whole way."
The Sox remained tied for first with Minnesota in the American League Central, while the Cubs remained three games back of first-place St. Louis in the National League Central.
Rusch shut out the Sox on five hits through eight innings, striking out six and walking no one.
Given a 1-0 lead on Derrek Lee's solo homer in the second, Rusch held the Sox to three hits through six innings before Carlos Lee opened the seventh with a single to left. With Sox fans chanting "Paulie, Paulie" and Cubs fans trying to down them out, Paul Konerko followed with another single to put two on with no outs.
But after a sacrifice, Rusch went into a zone of his own. He induced Joe Crede to pop to third, leaving Crede 0-for-9 in the series, and then got Timo Perez to hit a weak pop foul behind the plate. Catcher Michael Barrett overran the ball and let it drop. But Rusch refused to cave in, retiring Perez on a fly to center to end the threat.
After Hawkins' blown save in the ninth, Moises Alou led off the bottom of the inning with a single off Shingo Takatsu and advanced to second on Lee's bunt. Barrett was intentionally walked before Takatsu walked Ramon Martinez to load the bases. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen opted to bring in the left-handed Marte to face Walker, pinch-hitting for Rey Ordonez.
"Kind of tough when you come in with the bases loaded," Guillen said. "I think we made the right move, bringing him in to face Walker."
Walker fouled off three two-strike pitches and stepped out of the box after Marte fell behind 3-2. Walker said he was trying to "freeze" the reliever.
It worked. Marte's pitch was low, and Alou waltzed home with the winning run.
"I tried to take a little extra time and make him think about it, kind of like a timeout before a field goal," Walker said. "He usually doesn't throw a pitch in the dirt like that."
But this time he did, and the Cubs celebrated like pigs in mud. It's been that kind of a seasonand it's only half over.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times