Sept. 21: A nation's tabloid press is divided. Matt Williams garners most of the traditional media outlets as well as Hard Copy. Ken Griffey Jr., the longer shot to break Maris's record, lands on Inside Edition. Hard Copy produces footage from Williams's American Legion days; Inside Edition claims to have actual tape of Griffey's birth but holds off on broadcasting it. Griffey is nonplussed, but Williams appears agitated at pregame and post-game press conferences. Of course, the three major networks also follow each player's record chase, and CBS's Dan Rather appears to hold Connie Chung's hand after a replay of Williams's 57th homer, off the Cubs' Mitch Williams. "Persevere," Rather whispers as he signs off, "persevere." At Fox, meanwhile, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails screams scarily into the camera, "Are you ready for some football?"
Sept. 24: America is transfixed by its pastime. This is partly due to the PBS airing of Ken Burns's Baseball, which is a tremendous success; the sound track, 12 different tinkling versions of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, makes the Billboard Top 10. But mostly it is because the game has never before offered so much drama going into the final week. There is the home run watch, there is the .400 watch, and there are four legitimate pennant races (Texas loses at Chicago, clinches AL West; Montreal closes out Atlanta in the NL East). Plus there is off-the-field news: George Steinbrenner, whose team is now being pressed by Boston as well as Baltimore, gets into a shouting match with Yankee idol Don Mattingly in the clubhouse. Mattingly, who has never played in the postseason, wants Jim Abbott recalled from Columbus for the final week. The Boss won't do it—even though Columbus completed its season 10 days earlier. The team is shaken. Americans agree: Thank goodness the strike was settled.
Sept. 25: Tony Gwynn's average slips to .401. Mariner Randy Johnson no-hits the California Angels, fanning 18 for a season total of 306. Chuck Knoblauch, who stops at second after hitting an apparent grand slam, is ordered to meet with the commissioner, and all of baseball is mystified. There's a commissioner? Matt Williams is homerless in four games and increasingly besieged by the media. A Current Affair reports that Williams's scant head of hair is actually "filling in," quoting a leading endocrinologist as saying that intense pressure can trigger such growth. Cincinnati seems to be putting away Houston in the NL Central (Astros are five games back, in a tie with the strangely resurgent Cubs), but the Reds' attendance dwindles; fans blame Marge Schott's new concessionaire, Nature's Bounty.
Sept. 28: Ken Griffey Jr. hits homer number 58 and catches the slumping Matt Williams. Reggie Jackson tells Bryant Gumbel on Today that Williams can't take the pressure. "I mean, look at the head of hair that guy's getting," Reggie says. "He looks like Howard Stern." Gumbel and Jackson compare loafers. Tony Gwynn's average dips below .400 for the first time since Aug. 18. The Cubs, in last place at the strike deadline, have won 16 of their last 18.
Sept. 30: The Yanks' Jimmy Key, pitching on three days' rest, is tagged in the ninth for Mo Vaughn's 40th homer as the Red Sox win 1-0. With two games left in the season, Boston, which was 17 out at the strike date, holds a one-game lead over New York in the AL East. Paul O'Neill, who is leading the league with a .349 batting average, bitterly tells the New York Post, "It would have been nice to have had Jimmy [Abbott] around to take a start." The Boss goes nuts and says he will not only relocate Yankee Stadium but will also relocate O'Neill, perhaps to Columbus. Meanwhile, Ken Griffey Jr. wallops number 59, and Inside Edition finally rolls out the birth tape. It is not pleasant.
Oct. 1: Matt Williams finally gets his 59th homer, in Los Angeles, and then, in the eighth, Darryl Strawberry singles in the winning run for the Giants. Los Angeles now trails San Francisco by a game. Afterward a reporter asks Tom Lasorda his opinion of Strawberry's performance. The tape is an instant classic. Also, the Cubs win their eighth straight and move ahead of the Reds, who lose in Houston. Tony Gwynn singles three times in Denver, and his average zooms to .40034. Columnists calculate that anything less than a 2-for-4 day in the final game would drop him below the magic mark. They doubt he will play the last game.
Oct. 2: Almost certainly the greatest day in baseball history, this final day of the season. The three networks cut away from the O.J. Simpson trial, which features the fourth day of cross-examination of the Nick at Nite man, to check in on four divisional races as well as Tony Gwynn's shot at hitting .400 and Matt Williams's ever-diminishing chances of hitting 62 home runs.
In the American League, Boston blows out New York 16-3 for the Eastern Division title. Roger Clemens (18-7) gets the win; the Yankees are listless and dispirited. The Boss is furious at his team's conspicuous lack of effort, as well as at the idea that he has to share TV revenue with "rinky-dink clubs like Seattle." Cleveland completes a historic season with a sweep of Baltimore. Chicago settles behind the Tribe but gets the wild-card spot. Texas loses in Minnesota, but nobody cares. Chuck Knoblauch, however, is stymied in his bid for the doubles record; he is ejected when he tries to take two bases after being hit by a pitch. Ken Griffey Jr. hits his 60th homer.
In the National League, Tony Gwynn refuses to sit and preserve his .400 average. Through the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies he is 1 for 3, his average dipping into the .390's. However, he rips a single off the glove of diving shortstop Walt Weiss in the 10th, and his average goes to .401. Matt Williams, whose teammates are now calling him Sasquatch, struggles in the Giants' final game, in Los Angeles. In his last at bat he homers, but that gives him only 60. The Dodgers rally to win 4-2, tying the Giants for first in the West; a playoff game is required. With a win in Pittsburgh, the Cubs, behind Ryne Sandberg's clutch hitting, climax a wild seven-week comeback from worst to first in the Central. Atlanta gets the wild-card spot.
Oct. 3: Matt Williams homers twice—his 61st and record-setting 62nd—in his 163rd game of the season. Columnists debate use of an asterisk; it will almost certainly be required, perhaps even a double asterisk. Darryl Strawberry makes an amazing catch, robbing Mike Piazza of what would have been the winning home run, and the Giants beat the Dodgers in the playoff for the Western Division title. Dodger general manager Fred Claire, the man who released a drug-rehabbing Strawberry earlier in the season, announces his resignation. Tom Lasorda's contract will probably not be renewed, on account of terminal sputtering.