Friday, April 8, 2022

April 8, 1997: Walk It Off Willie!!!

     On April 8, 1997, 38 year old Willie McGee hit a walk off home run that lifted the Cardinals to
a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Expos in their home opener at Busch. The walk off shot could not have come at a better time, as the Redbirds had lost six in a row to start the season. It was Willie's first walk off home run of his career. Tony LaRussa called it something right out of The Natural. The always humble McGee scoffed at the idea, saying, "That's fantasy. This is hard work for me." Hard work pays off. It certainly paid off for Willie that day. 

    Alan Benes got the nod to start in front of more than 47,000 fans that packed Busch Stadium. He received run support in the second when Gary Gaetti scored on a Roberto Mejia sac fly, only to watch the Expos tie it up 1-1 in the third when Mike Lansing knocked in a run with a single. Benes was able to work his way through the fifth before being lifted for a pinch hitter. 

    Mark Petkovsek took over on the bump in the sixth and got the job done by keeping Montreal off the board as he pitched into the ninth inning. Expos closer Ugueth Urbina had worked his way out of a bases loaded mess late in the eighth after he walked two before striking out Gaetti.  Urbina came out in the bottom of the ninth, sat Tom Lampkin down on a pop fly and struck Mejia out to end the inning. With the pitcher due up in the lineup, it was the end of the day for Petkovsek when Tony called on number 51 to pinch hit.  All it took was one pitch as Willie's bat came around and got a hold of the ball that sailed over the wall in right. His teammates mobbed him at that plate as the cheers rained down upon him. Willie and the Birds were walk off winners.

  Watch the historic blast

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