Walton had had a magnificent day, with two singles, two stolen bases and a dazzling catch in centerfield. But now it was his rookie compadre, Smith, who moved into the spotlight in the eighth, pulling a single into right off DeLeon. As Brunansky raced in and toward the line to retrieve the ball in the high, wet grass, Smith took a wide turn around first. "We had a play on," said Brunansky, "in which Tony [Pena] was coming in behind Smith, so I held the ball and was going to pick him off."
But Smith deked Brunansky, to the surprise of Herzog, who says Brunansky is the smartest player on his team. Smith stopped, leaned back toward first, and then took off for second. "I figured he'd have to get hold of the wet ball and make a perfect throw," Smith said later. The throw was high. Smith was safe. "I figure we're the underdog kids with nothing to lose," said Smith. "Why not do something?" His bold effort brought the inning down to this: two outs and Quisenberry against Luis Salazar, whom Chicago G.M. Jim Frey had acquired with Wynne from San Diego on Aug. 31 "because we needed some veterans for late innings of tight games."
This game was late and tight enough for Salazar. Zimmer considered a lefthanded hitter, but Salazar, who was a Detroit Tiger before he was a Padre, told him, "I hit him real good in the American League." Said Zimmer afterward, "I didn't know if he'd even faced him. But what the heck?" Salazar hopped on a Quiz slider, drilled it into left, and the game was tied at 2-2.
With St. Louis stopper Todd Worrell out with an elbow injury, Herzog went to hard-throwing lefty Ken Dayley. But with one out in the 10th, Dayley walked Dawson, and the vagabond Salazar—thrice-released himself—was once again the hero. He reached out over the plate and drove a fastball to the rightfield corner, and Dawson—gimpy knees and all—charged across the plate and into the waiting arms of teammate Shawon Dunston. Cubs 3, Cards 2.
Zimmer arrived at his office at 7:30 Sunday morning and began to consider his pitching for Chicago's next series, against Montreal. "It hit me," he said. "I'd rather use a lefty against the Cardinals and righties against the Expos. I wanted to give Maddux and Bielecki the extra day, so I said to myself, 'Why not pitch Wilson today?' " When Steve Wilson, a rookie lefthander stolen from Texas in the Williams deal, walked into the clubhouse 2½ hours later, he was told the news. "I was prepared to pitch long relief, so what's the difference?" said Wilson, a native of Vancouver who is called Slapper, short for Slapshot, because of his love for hockey and his hometown Canucks. Slapper was pitching on 20 hours rest, having worked the previous afternoon. Risky? "I do what I want," said Zimmer.
So did Wilson, who struck out 10 in five innings. Cardinals starter Ken Hill had a no-hitter going with two outs in the fifth, but Smith lashed a two-run homer in the sixth, and Walton and Dunston later had RBI singles. All afternoon Zimmer pulled the right strings as his bullpen parade mowed down St. Louis. After Wilson came Scott Sanderson, then Paul Assenmacher and, finally, with two on and one out in the ninth, Williams.
"I'd looked at tapes and found what I was doing wrong in my delivery," said Williams afterward. "God, did I want to pitch today." He got the last two outs for his 32nd save, and when he whiffed Milt Thompson to end the game, the Cubs' pitchers had a total of 18 strikeouts. "Hard to believe," said catcher Joe Girardi. "But then a lot of this is hard to believe." Cubs 4, Cardinals 1.
For only the second time since 1945 (1984 was the other year), the Cubs were in first place on Sept. 11. Since the Mets and the Expos both lost on Sunday, the Cardinals were still Chicago's closest pursuers, 2½ games back. The red-shirted roadies knew as they headed south that the race between the Cards and the Cubbies was still very much on.
In the Chicago clubhouse Wilson was savoring his big day at Wrigley. "A little more than a year ago I was in Tulsa, wondering what this sort of thing would be like," said Slapper. "Well, it wasn't scary or nerve-racking or anything like that. With the fans, the excitement, the noise, it was what I'd always hoped it would be. The time of my life."