Have you ever wondered what it would be like to witness a no-hitter in person? Well, have ya?
If you answered yes, then do we ever have a solution for you: a guest entry from Cousin Charlie, long-time friend of the program who was in attendance at Miller Park on Sunday night to see Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter against the Astros.
Are we beating a dead horse? Maybe. But when the Cubs go 36 years between no-no’s, you’ll have that. Take it away, Charlie:
I’ve never written for Rumors and Rants before, but I’m no stranger to it. As the cousin of Hickey, I was one of the Three Amigos that made that boneheaded trip to Tampa to see the Rays annihilate the Cubs. Although I’m a Chicago sports nut, I reside behind enemy lines in Wisconsin. Any time the Cubs make a visit to Miller Park, I try to attend at least one game. As soon as I heard that “Wrigley North” was being considered as a site for the Cubs-Astros series, I was checking almost hourly for a decision to be made. I was ready to pounce on the incredibly unexpected gift Hurricane Ike might give me.
Ah yes, Hurricane Ike. I will forever be grateful to you. My sincere sympathies go out to anyone that has suffered because of his wrath and devastation (and hopefully your federal aid arrives within the standard two weeks). But were it not for that storm, I would not have been able to experience one of the Top 5 moments of my almost 23-year existence.
I will say that the Astros got royally screwed by him though. Playing a “home” series in Milwaukee is the furthest thing from hospitable. Even when the hometown Brewers are playing against the Cubs there, it is at least 50% Cubs fans (known as “FIBs”, the locals’ clever acronym for Fucking Illinois Bastards). But as Hickey pointed out, Drayton McLane really drug his balls across the concrete before making a decision where to play.
Ironically, I started my day off in Illinois, visiting my mom for the weekend. Her, her boyfriend and I watched the Bears blow an excellent opportunity to start 2-0 on the road thanks to costly penalties, shoddy play calling, and Greg Olsen deciding to run the fumble drill in a live game. These events had me depressed and frustrated. Knowing that I was going to the Cubs game later, I was just hoping they wouldn’t lose. I didn’t think I could handle another bad loss in the same day without ending up at the top of a bell tower. Little did I know that I would be witnessing a part of Cubs and baseball history.
Thanks to a ludicrous amount of rain in Illinois (7+ inches, even before the remnants of Ike hit), my train back to Milwaukee was delayed. This meant I wouldn’t be at the stadium for the start of the game, so things were already going awry. I got to Milwaukee just after the start of the game, then bolted for the stadium. I arrived in my seat just in time to see the Cubs break the game open in the 3rd inning, taking a 5-0 lead. This would prove to be more than enough for the man himself, Carlos Zambrano.
With the Cubs up that much, my attention drifted away from the game at times. I was soaking up the atmosphere, most of which involved contemplating how incredibly bizarre this game was. I was sitting in Miller Park drinking a High Life while watching the Cubs play the Astros. Bernie Brewer’s clubhouse sat eerily empty. The Metavante Club (which I refer to as the Savant-e Club) was dark. There were no Racing Sausages. No programs or scorecards. And all around me on the bottom two levels of the stadium was a sea of Cubbie blue. Truly odd.
I was also watching the scoreboard, keeping tabs on the Brewers’ continued September freefall, which drew cheers from the crowd (Irony!). In the 6th inning as Astros hitters kept feebly getting out, I thought to myself that Big Z was performing very well tonight. I glanced at the scoreboard to see how many hits he had given up and it struck me – there was a big fat goose egg where the hits should be. Suddenly my attention snapped back to the game. This was no longer about the Cubs trying to win. Carlos Zambrano had a no-hitter going after 6 innings.
At that realization, I texted Hickey mentioning it, but I said it casually, and was more excited to tell him Matt Cassel’s brother Jack had come into the game to pitch for the Astros. At that point, I knew the no-no was possible but didn’t give it a realistic shot. I may have enough luck to see Cliff Floyd making out with a white chick at a bar, but not to see the Cubs’ first no-hitter in 36 years.
As the game moved to the 7th inning, a paradigm shift happened. I arranged my last beer run/bathroom break during the Cubs half of the inning. I wanted them to get 3 outs quickly so Carlos could come back out and continue his no-hit bid. When the Astros came up in the bottom of the 7th, I still didn’t think it could really happen. With every swing I was anticipating a cheap hit to spoil it. But then – groundout. Groundout. Strikeout. 6 outs to go.
The Cubs obliged with a 1-2-3 top of the 8th, and Big Z came back out to a huge ovation. My mindset at this point was “maybe this could happen” but I was still waiting for a broken-bat bloop single or something lame like that. Then Geoff Blum led off with a line shot down the right field line that everyone in the suddenly silent building expected to fall for a hit. But Mark DeRosa raced over and made a running catch over his head to save it (a similar play he completely overran for an error in one of the Tampa games). Then – Foul out to Z. Strikeout. End of the 8th.
My thoughts: “Holy shit, this might really happen!”
I raced to the bathroom holding 3 fingers up to signify how many outs to go. I gave my dad a call to make sure he was watching the game and he was. As the bottom of the 9th rolled around and Carlos lumbered out to the mound, the place was ready to explode. It didn’t take long either. After 2 groundouts to The Riot, Darin Erstad came up as the last hope for the Astros. Flashbulbs were going off everywhere (with me painfully unprepared for this moment without my camera). With a 3-2 count, Zambrano threw a splitter in the dirt that Erstad weakly waved at. Strikeout. 3 outs. No-hitter. PANDEMONIUM AT MILLER PARK!!!!!
The next few moments are a blur. I did a lot of jumping around, yelling, high-fiving/hugging random people around me. At some point I bashed my knee on something but didn’t even notice the pain and large bruise until Monday morning. But the thing that will forever be burned into my mind’s eye is the sight of Carlos Zambrano falling to a knee, hands pointed toward the sky, the sea of blue jerseys rushing out of the dugout and bullpen, and the subsequent mob on the mound. What a sight.
I hung around for a while immediately after, cheering Carlos with many other fans until he left the field. I was still in absolute shock at what I just saw. I’ve never cried tears of joy before, but I came very close to it. Then as I slowly made my way out of the stadium, it was obvious the party was just beginning.
I walked past the Brewers Team Store and made a snap decision to buy something, no matter how expensive, to commemorate my incredible night. Many other fans were doing the same, ransacking the only table with Cubs gear on it like coke fiends on a Kilo. I ended up buying a Cubs authentic home hat (which ironically I had on backorder from MLB.com for almost 5 goddamn weeks). I also ordered a blue Zambrano authentic jersey when I got home.
I was forced to leave via the store exit, and as soon as I was outside I let out a primal scream. The scene outside was wild. Nothing but Cubs fans everywhere hooting and hollering and singing “Go Cubs Go!” There was no way I was leaving right away. I wandered around the stadium high-fiving and yelling to random people “Did you see that???”
I headed out to the parking lot, completely away from where I parked just to find a party (and some celebratory beverages). I asked several groups if they had a beer to spare, but apparently had the same idea since many of them were fresh out. I managed to score a couple of them as I chatted with other fans about our once-in-a-lifetime night. It was steadily raining but I didn’t care – I just saw a no-hitter! Everyone else was just as amazed as I was.
As the parking lot steadily emptied I knew it was time to go. I headed back to my Jeep and listened to replays of Pat Hughes’ radio call of the Zambrano-no. It was a night I will never forget, and it returned the magic to a Cubs season that seemed to be faltering. The next logical step is for the team to win the World Series. Only then will this dream season come full circle.
I’d like to thank the fine writers of R & R for allowing me to do a guest post. You guys rule! Let’s go Cubs!!! (And, uh… better luck to the Padres next year.)
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune