So many have had that same fantasy while swinging a bat in their childhood backyard. Bottom of the ninth inning. Bases loaded. Down by three. Two outs. Two strikes. Maybe the World Series hangs in the balance. And it usually ends in the same preposterously cliched way: a walk-off grand slam as the crowd loses its mind.
It had to come in the regular season, but Chicago Cubs rookie David Bote lived every other part of that ultimate moment on Sunday night. Down 3-0 against the Washington Nationals, in the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley Field, with the bases loaded, two outs and down to his last strike, Bote hit an ultimate grand slam to deliver the Cubs an astonishing 4-3 win.
Cubs shock Nationals with walk-off grand slam
The way the game had been going, it looked like the Cubs had lost the game in the top of the ninth inning. The Nationals put runners on the corners with a triple from Trea Turner and a walk from Juan Soto, then loaded the bases when Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to intentionally walk Bryce Harper. An RBI single from Ryan Zimmerman caused that decision to blow up in Maddon’s face, but the tide obviously turned in the ninth.
With Nationals closer Sean Doolittle on the disabled list with left toe inflammation, Ryan Madson took over in the ninth inning. A groundout, a single, a hit by pitch, a popout and another hit by pitch loaded the bases for Bote with two outs. Madson worked ahead to a 1-2 count, missed low on a fastball then placed a fastball right on the low corner.
It would probably have been strike 3, had Bote not unleashed a 442-foot homer into the Wrigley stands. According to Fangraphs, the Cubs had a 9.9 win probability when Bote reached the plate and that figure should have been even lower than when he fell behind to Madson. It all changed with one fantastical swing of the bat.
Behold, this is what a 90 percent win probability shift in one plate appearance looks like.
Where David Bote’s grand slam places in history
So many baseball games are played, yet grand slams like Bote’s are extraordinarily rare in MLB history. To find a walk-off grand slam with two outs, two strikes and a three-run deficit, you have to go as far back as 1988, when Baltimore Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles did the same thing.
If you want to specify the score to being down 3-0 (Hoiles’ slam came when the O’s were down 13-10, Trammell’s Tigers were down 6-3), you have to go back as far as 1936, though that’s not counting the number of outs.
So, basically, if you narrow the situation with both the score and number of outs and strikes, Bote hit a home run unprecedented in modern baseball history. It was the 25-year-old rookie’s 34th career MLB game.
Devastating loss for the Nationals
A loss like Sunday would be brutal for any team, but it’s a particularly bitter pill to swallow for the Nationals. The loss moved the Nats to 5.5 games behind the Phillies and Braves, another disappointing chapter in a disappointing season that the team decided to double down on by standing almost perfectly still at the trade deadline.
The team’s sole deadline move was to trade reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs. Funnily enough, that move has actually seemed to work out, as it was Kintzler who yielded the Nationals’ rally in the top of the ninth. But that’s where the good news ends for the Nats, who managed to lose a game in which they received a seven-inning, 11-strikeout performance from Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer.
Right now, the Nationals are a team facing a significant, though not insurmountable, gap behind both the Phillies and Braves. Reinforcements from outside the organization aren’t coming and multiple multiple key contributors are on the DL. They are a team with well-documented clubhouse problems and a loss like Sunday, as about a crushing loss as you can imagine, is probably not going to help.
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