(Editor's Note: Twenty-first in a series recalling the 30 greatest moments in Cubs history.)
Cubs fans entered the 1969 season with high expectations and those sentiments were echoed by manager Leo Durocher during spring training.
Willie Smith is mobbed by teammates as he crosses the plate after hitting a dramatic, two-run, game-winning homer in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day at Wrigley Field in 1969.
"The Cubs are ready to go for all the marbles," Durocher said. "We have sound hitting, the best defense in the league, and pitching that is constantly improving."
Oddsmaker Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder installed the Cubs as 7-5 co-favorites, with the defending National league champion St. Louis Cardinals, to win the new NL Eastern Division.
Opening Day at Wrigley Field on April 8, 1969 did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm. The Cubs treated their fans to a thriller, a 7-6 victory in 11 innings that is fondly recalled by fans old enough to remember.
Fans began lining up outside the ballpark the night before in the hopes of securing unreserved bleacher and grandstand seats and a standing-room-only throng of 40,796 that included Jimmy Durante, Gov. Richard Ogilvie, and the 73-year-old father of Ernie Banks packed the place.
Banks received a long standing ovation during pregame introductions and then, while facing Philadelphia starter Chris Short, launched a three-run homer in the first inning and a two-run shot in the third to give the Cubs a 5-1 lead.
Cubs starter Fergie Jenkins took a 5-2 lead into the ninth, but then stumbled. The first two hitters, Johnny Callison and Cookie Rojas singled, before Don Money smashed his second home run of the game to tie it.
Phil Regan relieved Jenkins and retired the first six batters he faced, but Callison led off the 11th with a single and scored the go-ahead run when Money doubled to right to equal Banks' RBI total of five.
In the bottom of the 11th Phillies right-hander Barry Lersch got Banks to fly out to right. Then Randy Hundley lined a single to left. Durocher chose to play the percentages and pinch hit for the right-handed hitting Jim Hickman with left-handed hitting Willie Smith.
As Smith walked to the plate, Durocher turned to pitcher Bill Hands who was seated next to him and said, "Just a dying quail over third, that's all I want."
"The hell with that, Skip," Hands replied. "He'll hit it out."
The words were barely out of Hands' mouth when Smith crushed a high drive into the right-field bleachers, causing Wrigley Field to shake in the bedlam.
"Deep to right, back, back, hey, hey!" Brickhouse hollered loud enough to be heard in the background of Vince Lloyd's equally exciting radio call in the WGN radio booth.
Smith was mobbed as he crossed the plate by most of his teammates and several fans.
The Cubs appeared to be on their way.