Oral history of David Bote’s epic walk-off grand slam

David Bote’s airplane celebration while rounding the bases conjured memories of Sammy Sosa. 

PITTSBURGH — It’ll be a night they’ll tell their grandkids about, especially Chicago Cubs rookie David Bote. Last Sunday, on national television, Bote hit the only walk-off grand slam in baseball history in which a team was trailing 3-0 and down to its last out — let alone the last strike. It had never happened before.

Five days later, it’s a story worth retelling in this instant oral history of a moment that reverberated throughout the baseball world. Bote is still at a loss for words, so those closest to him will have to tell the story, beginning with his teammates.


The Cubs, playing at home against the Washington Nationals, had loaded the bases on an infield hit and two hit-by-pitches from reliever Ryan Madson. Up stepped Bote.

Albert Almora Jr. was on second base: “I remember there was a low strike called on him and I thought that was a tough one, so I was thinking with two strikes, ‘Keep battling. Keep this game alive.'”

Tommy La Stella: “Me and a few other guys were talking. We just kind of had a feeling about it. We were saying he was definitely going to hit a homer. I’m not kidding.”

Mike Montgomery: “I was on the bench. It seemed to be one of those games we were going to lose. Then [the Nationals] add two in the ninth and I figured the only chance we had is if they made errors or walked guys. Instead, they hit a couple guys.”

Pedro Strop was warming in the bullpen: “Nobody was thinking about a base hit. Everyone was pushing for a homer. Just finish it. When you’re thinking about something and it actually happens, that’s unbelievable.”

La Stella: “[Anthony] Rizzo and I were talking about it and he had his hand in front of my face, so I moved his hand out of the way and he took it to mean I wanted him to do something with his hands. So he was like, ‘You want to give him spirit fingers?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And then the next pitch he hit the homer. We were laughing about that after the game. We watched the replay. Him and I kind of looked at each other after he hit it. A group of four to five of us were talking about it on the bench.”

Kris Bryant: “I was sitting in the same area as Rizzo and La Stella, and Rizz was kind of calling it saying, ‘He’s going to hit a grand slam. He has the mojo going for him right now.’ Tommy was saying the same thing. Down to the last strike he goes and does it. And you’re thinking, ‘Unbelievable, he did that; unbelievable, Rizzo is calling it.’ I was like, ‘You guys should do that every at-bat.'”

Anthony Rizzo: “He had an at-bat the week before with the bases loaded and he struck out. I was telling Tommy, ‘That at-bat set him up for this one. He’s going deep.'”

Montgomery: “I told Brian Duensing, ‘This is a big moment in his career. How is he going to respond?'”

About 1,000 miles away, near Denver, Bote’s father, Bob, and the rest of his family were watching the game too.

Bob Bote: “In the ninth inning, I was downstairs folding clothes. I watched every pitch until [Ryan] Zimmerman got his base hit, then I got up and I said, ‘The game is over.’ I started folding some laundry.”

Cubs play-by-play announcer Len Kasper was working radio for the game: “After the Nationals get the two in the ninth, I figure I don’t have to go downstairs for a postgame interview. I stayed in the booth. When two got on base, I headed down to the field. I had this feeling, if the game doesn’t end with [Willson] Contreras, the Cubs are going to win this game.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon: “What I’ll remember is that I thought it was possible. I really did, before the at-bat began. Willy had been struggling, but once we got by him, I thought it was possible. [Contreras] kept calling timeout and I remember thinking to myself that seems to be screwing up Madson. Then he steps out, gets back in and he hits him.

“The other part of that at-bat, for Bote, there was a called strike which looked like a ball and it stood out to me he didn’t blanch, he did not turn around, he did not get upset. He went on to the next pitch. All those things are good indicators.”

On a 2-2 count, Bote hit a low Madson fastball into the center-field bleachers.

Ben Zobrist: “I felt confident that he was going to do something good. I didn’t know it was going to be a grand slam … I was sitting on the top of the bench. Most of the guys were standing. When the ball was hit, I just stood up with my arms in the air while everyone else is jumping over the fence. I was one of the last to get over.”

Montgomery: “It was kind of quiet throughout that game, but it just turned on a dime. The place went nuts. My adrenaline level spiked immediately. It was an awesome experience.”

Brandon Kintzler: “I had just pitched and I was in the gym, but there is a delay on the TV. About 20 seconds. I heard everyone screaming in the cafeteria but I didn’t know what they’re screaming about. Obviously, I knew something happened. Then I saw and took off running.

“For 20 seconds I had no idea, for sure.”

Strop: “I told [bullpen catcher] Chad Noble, ‘[Madson is] going to give it up because he’s afraid to throw his curveball because of the HBP. Justin Wilson said, ‘He’s going to throw a fastball and Bote is going to crush it.’ And then ‘boom.’

“We were jumping like kids. We don’t have time to run out there to home plate, so we do our own celebration.”

Almora: “When he hit it, I threw my hands up in the air. I knew it was gone.”

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco was watching in Minnesota: “Oh my gosh. You love those moments. That’s why we play baseball. It’s why we love it. That moment was unbelievable. They are about to lose, then, boom, he wins it. I couldn’t believe it.”

Bob Bote: “I thought they would send a lefty up, but when they panned to the on-deck circle, I saw David. That surprised me a lot. My son Mark said, ‘Dad, he’s going to hit a home run.’ All I said was, ‘OK, Mark, sure.’ I was thinking it, dreaming it, but I wasn’t expecting it.”

Willson Contreras, who had just been pinch-run for: “I was putting my helmet down in the dugout and walking into the crowd of teammates on the bench to sneak myself in there. Next thing I hear is the bat, then I saw the ball in the air and knew it was gone.”

Brandon Morrow: “I was along the railing in the dugout. I was next to Duensing. I remember he was calling every possibility in the inning that could end with a walk-off. Like, ‘Willson is going to hit a homer, then we’re going to get a double, then something else.’ And he would correct himself after each thing. Then, finally, when [Bote] homered and Duensing corrected himself for like the seventh time, we were like, ‘You called it, you called the whole thing.'”

Javier Baez: “I had changeup, homer. Fastball, double. Right before the pitch. Instead, it was a fastball, homer. Then I jumped out of the dugout.”

Zobrist: “After it happened, my memories are thinking he has the ‘it’ factor. My second thought was the Sammy Sosa running around first base. That’s what it looked like to me.”

Cubs first-base coach Will Venable: “I was watching the ball as he went by me at first, but then I see him rounding third base looking like he was flying around third. That’s what I’ll remember.”

Almora: “So I hit third base and Javy was right in my face and I remember jumping up and down. I didn’t know if there was a rule I couldn’t touch other players, so I was like avoiding him. When I got to home plate, there was a lot going on.”

Montgomery: “It was one of the best baseball moments across the board. And one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

Rizzo: “I think the picture of him coming around third will be pretty cool to look at later.”

Bryant: “Those never get old. Just the way the game is going. When they add the two runs. We had no business winning that game. And then we did … [Max] Scherzer is punching everyone out and grunting. It was nice to punch them in the chin and steal one from them.”

Bote rounded third base with his arms out like he was a plane. A mob was waiting for him at home plate.

Zobrist: “I remember thinking, ‘Why did he go to the ground?’ I was in the back of the pack. I didn’t know what happened. It was incredible.”

Baez: “We were trying to rip his jersey off. The first pull it didn’t break, so he went down. It was fun.”

Bob Bote: “We were screaming, ‘He did it, he did it, he did it.’ We were jumping up and down and hugging each other. We were screaming like little kids.

“Then our phones started up.”

David Bote: “My wife watched it at our place near Wrigley, then went outside and heard everyone singing, ‘Go Cubs Go.’

“I still need some more time to let it sink in. Maybe the offseason. Ask me next year.”

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