That margin grew to 4-2 in the next inning, when Maddux almost personally escorted Uribe to home plate after Uribe had doubled down the rightfield line. Maddux threw wildly on a pickoff attempt, and Uribe went to third. He scored when Maddux bounced a wild pitch past catcher Joe Girardi. After Maddux walked Giants pitcher Scott Garrelts, Zimmer pulled him and called in lefthander Steve Wilson. The Cubs made the game Wilson's to win or lose in their half of the fifth on a Jerome Walton single, a Grace (who else?) triple and a double from the previously dormant Andre Dawson.
Then, in the San Francisco half of the inning, Clark (of course) led off with a double to left that Smith, hobbled by a hamstring strain, couldn't quite reach. Clark was still on second an out later when the righthanded-hitting Williams came to the plate. Zimmer had the option of walking Williams so Wilson might face the next two batters, left-handed-hitting Terry Kennedy and Pat Sheridan, but he rejected the notion, knowing that Craig would probably pinch-hit for Kennedy and Sheridan, anyway. His decision set up perhaps the most dramatic confrontation of the series. Wilson threw 11 pitches to Williams, seven of which he fouled off, four after the count had reached 3 and 2. Then Wilson, by his own admission, made his only mistake of this apparently interminable at bat. He intended to jam Williams with an inside fastball, Zimmer having ordered him to throw inside to this hitter, but, said Wilson afterward, "I left it out a little." And Williams belted the pitch on a line into the leftfield seats, winning the game and giving the Giants an insurmountable advantage in the series. As Williams jubilantly crossed the plate, Clark waited to congratulate him for what he called "the best at bat I've seen in a long time." In the Chicago clubhouse after the game, Wilson wept in front of his locker. He had battled Williams gamely, but one pitch had cost his team dearly. "It was my fault all the way," he said. But that's hardly true, since star-of-tomorrow Williams definitely had something to do with it.
The previous evening, Thompson had done his part to frustrate the Cubs' hope of making the World Series for the first time since 1944. Game 3, the first of this series played at Candlestick, was a ding-dong affair. The Cubs scored twice in their half of the first inning, and the Giants scored three times in theirs, the first run coming on a bases-loaded groundout by Williams following yet another intentional pass to Mitchell. Then Chicago tied it in the fourth when reliever Jeff Brantley wild-pitched Shawon Dunston home after nearly getting out of the inning on a Clark-engineered 3-2-3 double play. Both starting pitchers, Rick Sutcliffe of the Cubs and Mike LaCoss of the Giants, had departed with leg injuries by the bottom of the seventh inning. Chicago was leading 4-3, and lefty Paul Assenmacher, acquired in an August trade with the Atlanta Braves, was pitching for the Cubs in Sutcliffe's stead.
Assenmacher was already famous in this series, not for what he had done so much as for what he hadn't. In the opening game, he was warming up in the fourth inning at Wrigley when Clark strode to the plate with the bases loaded. Hindsight experts insist he should have been brought in then to pitch to the left-handed Clark, but Zimmer, expressing unshakable faith in the righthanded Maddux, refused to go to his bullpen. Assenmacher was an interested spectator as Clark hit Maddux's first pitch out onto Sheffield Avenue for his grand slam. The next night Zimmer apparently saw the error of his ways, calling on Assenmacher to replace Bielecki and confront Clark with two men on in the fifth. This time, Clark grounded out feebly to his counterpart, Grace. It was a day late in coming, but Assenmacher had made his mark.
Alas, he was no help in Game 3, lasting a mere seven pitches and leaving with the count 1 and 0 to Thompson. Butler, who had singled, was on base. This time, Zimmer called on Les Lancaster, winner of Game 2, to finish off Thompson. It was a curious choice, though, because Thompson had homered off Lancaster the last time he had faced him, in the ninth inning of Game 2, to score the Giants' final run in a 9-5 Cub win. But Zimmer had, he said later, a "gut feeling" that Lancaster would do the job this time. Lancaster's first pitch to Thompson was a ball. His second was a fastball down the heart of the plate, as fat a pitch as a hitter could savor. Thompson lined it over the left-field fence to win the game and send the Giants out front two games to one.
Lancaster was asked after the game why he threw such a hittable pitch at that critical moment. His answer had reporters' mouths agape. "I've gone in before in the middle of a count, and I've done the job, but this time I didn't do it," he said. "After I missed with the slider and it was 3 and oh, I didn't think he'd be swinging. I just threw the ball for a strike. Craig must have given him the hit sign. That sure fooled me."
That wasn't all that fooled him. When informed that the count had been 2 and 0, not 3 and 0, Lancaster looked a bit like the guest who sat on the hostess's cat. "Maybe I misread the scoreboard," he said. "If I did, this is the first I've heard about it." Lancaster did not feel the full impact of his blunder until the next day, when he said, "A hundred years down the line some people might not remember it, but I know I will." Well, at least he's contemplating a long life. And who knows, by 2089 or so maybe the Cubs will have won a pennant.