Sometimes, it’s just not your day. Other times, it’s totally yours. The Cubs and Pirates probably experienced both of those feelings on April 21, 1991. That was the day the Cubs blew two big leads in Pittsburgh as the Pirates staged the biggest extra-inning comeback in MLB history.
While the game is now considered a classic in Pittsburgh — one of few for the club post-1979 — it started out very ordinary. Some might even say boring. The Buccos and Cubs were scoreless heading into the bottom of the fifth on a cold, dreary Sunday afternoon at Three Rivers Stadium with a combined three hits between them. That’s when Pittsburgh scratched across two runs. The Cubs answered right back with three runs in the top of the sixth. Still a fairly ordinary game.
But things got really interesting.
The Cubs scored four in the top of the eighth to take a 7-2 lead. In those days, before everyone was homer-happy, this was pretty much a guaranteed win. But the Pirates scored four in the bottom of the eighth to trim Chicago’s lead to 7-6, which held into the bottom of the ninth. With the Pirates down to their last out and the tying run a second, pinch-hitter Gary Varsho smacked a double off reliever Dave Smith to knot the game 7-7.
Not much happened for either team in the 10th, but the 11th is what took the game into overdrive.
The Cubs, perhaps determined — and mad after blowing that five-run lead — exploded for five runs in their half of the inning, punctuated by Andre Dawson’s grand slam off Pittsburgh reliever Bob Patterson. It was Dawson’s second of the series.
“The Cubs have put this game away,” bellowed Harry Caray, confident in the 12-7 lead.
Not so fast, Harry.
In the bottom of the 11th, the Pirates put their first three batters on base against Cubs righty Heathcliff Slocumb. Not wanting things to get out of hand again, manager Don Zimmer, who was on his way to being fired after just 37 games, went to righty Mike Bielecki to put out the fire. The fire only got hotter.
Bielecki faced six batters and allowed five of them to reach. The painful breakdown:
“The game is over, and the Pirates, in unbelievable fashion, have won another ballgame,” Caray said, before eventually landing on a sad version of his signature “Holy cow!”
The six runs Pittsburgh scored in the 11th was the largest extra-inning comeback in MLB history, later equaled by the Diamondbacks against the Dodgers on Sept. 27, 2011.
A devastating loss for the Cubs. A huge win for the Pirates.
“It was weird,” Bonds, who scored the winning run, told reporters after the game. “Here’s a series when the Hawk (Dawson) hits two grand slams. You do that and you’re supposed to win. That just doesn’t seem right.”
The Cubs were just as perplexed.
“I can’t say enough about today,” Dawson told reporters. “It’s a tough loss. It was a strange game on a strange day. It was cold and miserable and we had been out there for about four hours. You score five runs and they only have one chance to beat you, you figure you’re going to get out of it.”
(Side note: The Cubs always seem to be on the losing end of classic weird games. See also April 17, 1976, and May 17, 1979).
If you’re tired of reading about this game and would rather watch it, here’s a CliffsNotes version that MLB put together a few years ago.
But if you need to kill some time (and let’s be honest, you do) you can watch all three hours on YouTube.
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