Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Shout-Out to Luis Salazar

     Former White Sox and Cubs third baseman Luis Salazar, currently a minor-league manager in the Atlanta Braves organization, suffered a horrific injury last week when a line drive struck him flush in the face as he watched a spring-training game from the dugout. Salazar was said to have been unconscious for 20 minutes, and some of the Braves feared that he had died.
     Salazar was airlifted from the ballpark in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to a hospital in Orlando, and he seems to be out of danger. It's not entirely clear as yet how much damage was done or how arduous his recovery will be. Naturally, our best wishes go to Luis and his family.
     Below is a tip of the cap to Salazar's role in the Cubs' 1989 division championship, reprinted from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     On September 8, 1989, one month to the day after the Cubs took over first place in the National League East, they opened a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals to determine whether they would stay there. Like any weekend series between the Cubs and the Cardinals, it was sold out well in advance, long before anyone knew that these would be the most important games of the year for either club.
     The Cardinals, who came into town only a game and a half behind the Cubs, rallied from a 7-1 deficit Friday afternoon to win 11-8 and reduce the margin to half a game. It was a horrendous defeat for the Cubs, who gave up four runs in the seventh inning and another five in the eighth as victory slipped away. Their collars were a little tighter when they took the field on Saturday, September 9, knowing that a loss would drop them into second place.
     It was a dark, drizzly afternoon, and Wrigley Field’s one-year-old lights were on from the first pitch at 3:05. Both starting pitchers, Rick Sutcliffe for the Cubs and Jose DeLeon for St. Louis, performed admirably. The Cubs pushed across a run in the first, and the Cardinals scored two in the sixth. That was all the scoring for the first seven innings.
     DeLeon maintained the precarious 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth. Dwight Smith led off with a single to right—a good start for the Cubs that almost turned disastrous when Smith took a wide turn around first base, then inexplicably stopped halfway to second. Cardinals right fielder Tom Brunansky hesitated to throw the ball back in, not sure whether Smith was headed to second or back to first. Finally, Smith bolted for second—and made it when Brunansky’s throw was off the mark. “I waited too long,” Brunansky admitted after the game. For his part, Smith justified the seemingly ridiculous risk he had taken. “If I screw up, I’m going to get a lot of questions for it,” he said. “But if you’re afraid to make a mistake, then you can’t win.”
     So Smith, representing the tying run, was on second with nobody out. But Mark Grace fanned and Andre Dawson grounded out, and suddenly Smith was on third with two outs. Enter Luis Salazar, a veteran third baseman who had been acquired ten days earlier to bolster the Cubs’ bench. Salazar’s line-drive single to left tied the score at two apiece.
     The game remained tied through the ninth inning and into the tenth. Grace led off the bottom of the tenth by popping out. Dawson coaxed a walk. And then Salazar stepped up to the plate again. With a count of 2-and-1, Cardinal lefty Ken Dayley threw a fastball well away from Salazar, who reached out and stroked it down the right-field line and up against the ivy. While Brunansky dug the ball out of the corner, Dawson ran for all he was worth. Dawson turned for home and kept on chugging as second baseman Jose Oquendo took the relay from Brunansky and fired it toward the plate—too late. Dawson’s aching knees had carried home the winning run.
     Shawon Dunston, the on-deck batter, leaped into Dawson’s arms behind the plate while the rest of the Cubs piled on top of Salazar. The unlikely hero had batted but twice, delivering clutch hits that tied the game in the eighth and won it in the tenth.
     “We were better than yesterday,” said manager Don Zimmer. “There were a lot of little things that happened in this ballgame.” It was a year in which a lot of little things added up to make the Cubs division champions. All season long, rookies and no-names like Smith, Jerome Walton, Joe Girardi, Mike Bielecki, Les Lancaster, Lloyd McClendon, Steve Wilson, and Salazar came through when it counted. The Cubs never looked back after the dramatic win on September 9. They won the division title going away, lengthening their margin to six games by the end of the season.

No comments:

Post a Comment