San Francisco Giants Diary: Brian Johnson Homers, We Missed It


September 18th 1997:

The Dodgers. Whoa, those LA Dodgers! They are always there at the end, buzzing around your ear when they are out of contention. Pulling a Mike Tyson-on-Evander Holyfield when they are in contention. On one bright September day, the San Francisco Giants bit back. We were there, and then we weren’t.

At 21 years old, I was just welcoming the smells of independence. Baseball games were becoming more serious to me. When I went as a kid, I didn’t pay for anything. No cost for the ticket or parking, no paying for gas. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I pay for something myself, I try hard to make the most of it. One of my best friends, who is an Oakland A’s fan, said he wanted to go to the game as well, but he had to work at 5 pm.

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At the time, the Giants at home were usually a 3 hour affair. Just the night before, I attended the game and it lasted less than 2 and a half hours. I figured there was plenty of time for him to get to work. Then Mike Piazza singled in two in the 7th. My friend was getting antsy, and I was caught in the middle.

J.T. Snow hit his 26th home run that day and Barry Bonds was on absolute fire, hitting his 35th. But baseball lore is sometimes reserved for the unknown player. The one that owns a .248 career batting average. But before Brian Johnson even approached the plate in the bottom of the 12th, there was “Shooter”.

I was still in the park in the top of the 10th. Most of the 52,188 were also there. The Dodgers sent up their 3-4-5 hitters and were going to face Rod Beck. Three straight singles by Piazza, Eric Karros, and Raul Mondesi set up a perfect scenario with the game still tied at 5. Todd Zeile, who hit 31 home runs that year, struck out on four pitches. That brought to the plate future hall-of-famer Eddie Murray. Beck induced an inning-ending double-play, then set down the next six batters in a row. But we had to leave.

See, we weren’t long-standing employees at our respective jobs. We were kids trying to show that we were responsible. There were no thoughts of calling in sick or being late. So I understood why we had to leave. But it still stings. We were in the car listening as we drove away from the park. The traffic was pretty intense at the time and we were getting near the Bay Bridge when Johnson stepped up in the 12th.

I remember saying “C’mon Brian!” And when Ted Robinson’s voice got louder, and the roar increased from the crowd, I knew it was their year. They tied the Dodgers that day in the West, and then won 8 of the last 11 games, never looking back. Their last playoff appearance had been 1989, and now they were back. After the game ended, many fans stopped their cars and were congratulating each other. We were stuck in traffic for an hour, and obviously, he didn’t make it in time.

There are many great memories of the 1997 season. The trades before the season bringing in Snow and Jeff Kent. The huge trade that brought in reinforcements from the Chicago White Sox. Bonds standing on the dugout after clinching the division, thanking the crowd. But the moment that Johnson broke through the tough winds in left field, was the moment when I felt like the team was beginning to achieve sustained success.

Brian Johnson would end up hitting a grand total of 49 home runs in his eight years in the big leagues. None of the other 48 can compare to the one that tied the rival Dodgers. I wish I could say that I saw the ball go over the fence, but I am content that I got to see most of one of the historic games in Giants’ lore.