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On This Date in Sports September 28, 1938 Homer in the Gloamin'

With darkness descending upon Wrigley Field, Gabby Hartnett hits a walk-off home run to give the Chicago Cubs a 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates to take first place in the National League. The local press dubs the game-winning shot the Homer in the Gloamin’. Had Harnett not hit a home run, the game would have been called and replayed the following day.

Managed by Pie Traynor, the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to be on the way to a pennant after posting a 40-14 record in June and July. The Chicago Cubs meanwhile sputtered in June, leading to the dismissal of manager Charlie Grimm, with the team’s All-Star Catcher Gabby Harnett taking over on July 20th. At the time of the change, the Cubs were in third place at 45-36, six games behind Pittsburgh. A month into Harnett’s managerial tenure, the Cubs appeared to be fading out of the race as they stayed in fourth place with a record of 59-51, nine games behind the Pirates.

The turning point came on August 21st when the Cubs swept a doubleheader against the Pirates at Wrigley Field and began to claw their way back in the race. Coming into a three-game series with the Buccos at Wrigley Field, the Cubs had been rolling, winning 18 of 23 games to get within a game and half of first place. The Cubs would win the series' first game on September 27th, with Dizzy Dean outdueling Jim Tobin to pull within one-half game.

Looking to take over first place, the Cubs had Clay Bryant on the mound with Bob Klinger on the mound for the Pirates in front of 34,465 fans at Wrigley Field. The Cubs struck first, scoring in the second inning on a throwing error by Lee Handley. Handley made up for the error in the sixth inning, driving home two runs after Johnny Rizzo had tied the game to give the Pirates a 3-1 lead. The Cubs quickly responded with back-to-back doubles by Gabby Hartnett and Ripper Collins, with Collins scoring on a groundout by Stan Hack. Lee Handley drove in another run along with Heinie Manush in the eighth as Pittsburgh again took the lead 5-3. The Cubs again responded in the bottom of the inning with a double by Tony Lazzeri, driving in Billy Jurges. Lazzeri would later score to tie the game on a hit by Billy Herman. 

With darkness settling in, the game remained tied in the ninth. There would not be a tenth inning, as the game would be called for darkness and replayed in its entirety according to the rules at the time. Mace Brown retired the first two Cubs hitters in the ninth and had a 0-2 count on Gabby Harnett. By now, the sun was nearly gone, as night had taken over the day. One last pitch was thrown, and somehow, someway, Harnett made contact and sent the ball into the left field bleachers to win the game 6-5. As he rounded the bases, fans poured out of the stands to guide the Cubs player-manager home as their team was now in first place.

The exploits of the home run in the dark were the biggest stories in sports, with the headline calling the Homer in the Gloamin’ taken from the 1911 song “Roamin in the Gloamin’.” The word Gloaming comes from a regional Scottish word for twilight. The day after Harnett’s home run, the Cubs beat the Pirates again 10-1 to complete a three-game sweep. The disheartened Pirates would lose three of their final four against the Cincinnati Reds. At the same time, the Cubs clinched the pennant two days later and went on to represent the National League in the World Series with a record of 89-63, two games better than the Pirates at 86-64. The Cubs would go on to get swept by the New York Yankees, losing in the Fall Classic for the third time in seven years.