When the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing Cincinnati by two runs Monday night and with Milwaukee's win already posted on the center-field scoreboard, it was time to see just exactly what this team was made of.
They hadn't won a game when trailing in the ninth since Aug. 21 in San Francisco.
But Aramis Ramirez tied it up with a two-run triple to right, and Mark DeRosa's carom shot off pitcher David Weathers' glove brought home the winning run from third in an improbable 7-6 victory.
"There was never a doubt," DeRosa said.
The Cubs retained their one-game lead over Milwaukee, while temporarily turning Wrigley Field into the world's biggest mosh pit.
"Well, that was exciting, huh?" manager Lou Piniella said.
A crowd of 39,075, including prospective owner Mark Cuban, who was watching from the right-field bleachers, would wholeheartedly agree.
DeRosa went 5-for-5 with a solo homer, giving him 10 hits in his last 10 at-bats against Cincinnati, Cliff Floyd added a two-run blast, and the Cubs overcame an underwhelming performance in the field and on the basepaths to stun the Reds.
The wild ninth started with Cincinnati leading 6-4 and Weathers walking Ryan Theriot to lead things off. Derrek Lee followed with an opposite-field single, before Ramirez hit a shot into the gap in right-center.
Reds center fielder Norris Hopper, who had robbed Ramirez of a run-scoring double in the fifth with a running catch in the vines, made a diving attempt to try and foil Ramirez again. But this time it eluded Hopper and rolled to the wall, as Theriot and Lee rounded the bases and the ballpark shook to its foundation.
"When I hit it, I knew the ball was in the gap," Ramirez said.
Ramirez has been the team's best clutch hitter all year, and his game-winning walk-off home against Milwaukee on June 29 was the high point of the season, until Monday.
After rookie Sam Fuld pinch-ran for Ramirez at third and Daryle Ward was intentionally walked, it was time for DeRosa to step up from character actor to leading man.
With a five-man infield, DeRosa hit a shot up the middle that glanced off the end of Weathers' glove, and Fuld waltzed home as Wrigleyville went up for grabs.
"Coming off the road trip I had, I did not see five hits coming," DeRosa said. "I'd been struggling at the plate lately. [Just] trying to alleviate some of the pressure from the big guys."
For much of the night, it looked as though nothing was going the Cubs' way. Alfonso Soriano looked like he was sleepwalking in left field and on the bases, the Cubs stranded 11 runners and starter Rich Hill flamed out in the fifth after striking out seven in the first four innings.
But after the Reds scored two off Michael Wuertz in the sixth to take a 6-4 lead, rookie Kevin Hart threw two shutout innings, and Will Ohman pitched a perfect ninth to give the Cubs a fighting chance.
"There's just no quit in this team," DeRosa said. "I'm sure Lou said it. We did not play fundamentally sound baseball tonight. We didn't turn a couple of double plays that probably could've ended some innings, and they ended up scoring. A couple of base-running mistakes … but all in all, we never stopped fighting."
The key to the ninth was the leadoff walk by Theriot, who set the table for the big boys to do their dirty work.
"Theriot really set the tone by drawing that walk," Lee said.
In the final weeks of a zany season, the Cubs are intent on writing an ending that no one could believe. Truth, once again, is stranger than fiction.
"It was a great script," Theriot said.
It was indeed.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times