Opening Day at Wrigley Field on April 14, 1978 was filled with anticipation. The Cubs had surprised their National League East rivals with a sustained pennant run the year before until a Bruce Sutter injury sent them in a tailspin.
The Cubs staked starter Woodie (“ie” not “y”) Fryman to a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI double by Bill Buckner who left the game with a leg injury and was replaced by outfielder/first baseman/pinch-hitter Larry Biittner in the second. Biittner tripled and scored in the third t0 make the lead 3-0 but the Pirates battled back to tie the game at 3. Willie Stargell’s homer in the 8th was matched by an RBI double from Ivan DeJesus and the two teams were tied 4-4 going into the last inning.
Willie Hernandez (I’ll take Cub reliever for $400 Alex) set the Pirates down in the 9th, which set the stage for Biittner (two i’s, two t’s) to be the hero. He played the part when he led off the 9th with a home run off Jim Bibby into the left-center field bleachers.
“I didn’t start the game, and Bill Buckner was playing first,” said Biittner. “He hurt his leg, so I came in the game against the Pirates. We got to the bottom on the 9th inning in a tie game and I jokingly turned to Herman Franks and said, ‘I’m just going to hit a home run and get this game over with. I might hit a home run.’ Jim Bibby was the pitcher and I had played with him in Texas. He was a big guy and I knew he was going to throw me a fastball. I just jumped on the first pitch he threw me, which was a fastball, and it went out of the park. That was pretty exciting and a very memorable moment in my career for sure.”
The Cubs made another run that summer, then faltered again to finish 79-83.