BY CHRIS REWERS
(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on March 13, 2011.)
The Cubs’ season was at a crossroads when the St. Louis Cardinals visited Wrigley Field for a three-game series, June 22-24, 1984.
The North Siders were in third place in the NL East, 2½ games behind the first-place New York Mets. They had lost 10 of their previous 15 games. The most disheartening portion of that stretch came when they were swept at home in a four-game series at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, June 14-17, while getting outscored 33-13. Their 5-2 loss in the second game of that series knocked them out of first place for the first time in the month of June and ended a stretch in which they held the top spot after 29 of the previous 31 days.
General manager Dallas Green had already made a move to upgrade the Cubs’ starting pitching in late May when he acquired Dennis Eckersley from the Boston Red Sox, but it was apparent that more reinforcements were needed. A starting rotation that featured Steve Trout, an injury-prone Scott Sanderson, Dick Ruthven, Chuck Rainey, and a thought-to-be washed up Rick Reuschel just wasn’t cutting it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but Green had proven earlier in the year that he wasn’t reluctant at making a bold move. With Opening Day fast approaching and the Cubs struggling through their spring training slate, Green remade his lineup on March 26 when he acquired outfielders Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier from the Phillies.
On June 13, Green had another surprise up his sleeve. He completed a seven-player trade with the Cleveland Indians that netted him the established starting pitcher he desired – Rick Sutcliffe. But it was a costly deal.
Among the four players Green sent to Cleveland were promising young outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter. Hall, at the time, was among my favorite Cubs and had been the left-handed portion of a right-field platoon with Keith Moreland.
The track record of Sutcliffe, who arrived to the Cubs along with reliever George Frazier and left-handed hitting backup catcher Ron Hassey, wasn’t that impressive. He had won 18 games for the Indians in 1983, but was just 4-5 with a 5.15 ERA in ’84, at the time of the trade.
Sutcliffe later blamed his poor early-season performance on the after effects of a root canal.
Plus, Sutcliffe was eligible to elect free agency following the season.
Because of a procedural snafu – Green had initially failed to put Hall, Carter, and pitcher Don Schulze through waivers – Sutcliffe did not make his debut until June 19 at Pittsburgh. He pitched eight strong innings as the Cubs snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory. But the Cubs dropped their next two in Pittsburgh.
The turnaround game came when they returned home on June 22 and trounced the Cardinals 9-3. Moreland hit a three-run homer, Jody Davis and Ron Cey added two-run shots, and Ryne Sandberg smashed a pair of doubles to lead the Cubs’ 13-hit attack.
The next day, the Cubs and Cardinals were featured on the NBC “Game of the Week.” It turned out to be one of the greatest games in major league history.
Trout was not sharp and the Cardinals scored six times in the second inning to race out to a 7-1 advantage. Dernier hit a two-run-double and Sandberg knocked in a pair with a single during a five-run Cubs sixth, but the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-8 and the daunting task of rallying against St. Louis closer Bruce Sutter.
The former Cub and future Hall of Famer entered the game in the seventh. He had allowed just six earned runs and 40 hits (3 home runs) in 45⅓ innings (1.19 ERA).
Sandberg led off the bottom of the ninth and launched a Sutter fastball into the left-field bleachers, sending Wrigley Field into a frenzy.
But the Cardinals regained the lead in the 10th when Willie McGee (4-for-6, 6 RBI) completed the cycle with an RBI double off Cubs closer Lee Smith. McGee scored an insurance run after advancing a base on groundouts by George Hendrick and Steve Braun.
Sutter retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the 10th and had Dernier down in the count 0-and-2. Dernier fouled off several pitches and battled back to draw a walk. Up stepped Sandberg. He couldn’t do it again, could he?
Sutter hung a 1-and-1 split-fingered fastball and Sandberg was ready.
“Look out!” Bob Costas exclaimed on the NBC broadcast. “Do you believe it?”
“There’s a drive, way back, it might be out of here, it is!” Harry Caray exclaimed on the WGN Radio broadcast. “He did it again! He did it again! Oh, the game is tied! Unbelievable! How about that! Listen to this crowd! Everybody has gone bananas! Holy cow! What would the odds be if I told you that twice Sandberg would hit home runs off Bruce Sutter? Come on, you guys! He can’t do it all himself!”
It was only the second time Sutter had given up two home runs in a game in his nine major league seasons. He surrendered a pair of long balls, to Atlanta’s Dale Murphy and Claudell Washington, on May 13, 1982.
Sandberg, who finished the day with five hits and seven RBI on a national stage, had shot to stardom. He went on to win the 1984 NL MVP Award and was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame after an outstanding 15-year Cubs career.
“It was nothing to (Sutter’s) career,” Sandberg said years later. “It was everything to mine.”
Smith pitched around a walk to Andy Van Slyke to set St. Louis down in the top of the 11th and the Cubs won it in the bottom half. Leadoff hitter Leon Durham was walked by Dave Rucker. Durham stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter. Jeff Lahti relieved Rucker and intentionally walked Moreland and Davis.
Up stepped rookie Dave Owen, the last available player on the Cubs bench, pinch hitting for Smith.
“The pitch to Dave Owen,” Caray said. “Base hit! The Cubs win! The Cubs win! Holy Cow! The Cubs win! Listen to the crowd! I never saw a game like this in my life, and I’ve been around a long time! Holy cow! Down 7-1! How ’bout the kid, hit a line drive like a bullet!
“Everybody up, high-fiving each other! Whoa, what a victory! What a victory! Listen to that crowd!”
St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, following the game, was among the first to jump on the Sandberg bandwagon.
“Ryne Sandberg is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen,” Herzog said.
Sandberg, always a man of few words, said, “This day here has me in shock.”
“It was my wife’s first game at Wrigley Field, as a member of the Cubs, and after the game she looked at me and said, ‘Are all the games like this?’ ” Sutcliffe told Peter Golenbock in Wrigleyville (St.Martin’s Press, 1996). “We had come from Cleveland with 800 people in the stands. This was incredible, and my thought was, I got to pitch the next day. Gee, how do I follow this act?”
Sutcliffe, making his first Wrigley Field start, pitched a complete-game five-hit shutout while striking out 14 as the Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Cards with a 5-0 triumph.
“I don’t know who was responsible for making the trade for the Cubs,” Sutcliffe said after the game. “Whoever was watching me must have seen something no else did.”
The ’84 Cubs were on their way.
Around the majors
Game ball: Seattle’s Nelson Cruz launched a pair of three-run homers while going 4-for-5 and driving in seven. Cruz’s blast in the first inning, off knuckleballer Steven Wright, traveled an estimated 465 feet and bounced off a light tower above the Green Monster. Only two visiting players have driven in more runs in a game at Fenway Park – Oakland’s Reggie Jackson knocked in 10 on June 14, 1969 and Lou Gehrig of the Yankees had eight RBI on July 31, 1930..
Defining moment: J.D. Martinez broke a 10-10 tie in the bottom of the seventh with a bases loaded, groundball single through the middle off Seattle reliever Juan Nicasio plated two runs. Martinez, who was 4-for-5, also smashed a two-run homer, doubled, and drove in five. Martinez, with 23, is tied with the Angels’ Mike Trout for the AL home runs lead.
Bottom line: The Red Sox (51-26), who moved within one game of the first-place Yankees in the AL East, opened a six-game homestand.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Mariners (46-29) who have lost all four games on their current road trip against baseball’s best two teams and now trail first-place Houston by four games in the AL West.
Game ball: Daniel Robertson laced a one-out double in the bottom of the fourth and scored Tampa Bay’s first run when Willy Adames singled. Robertson was initially ruled out when he was tagged out by New York catcher Gary Sanchez after a laser beam throw to the plate by right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, but the call was overturned after a replay review.
Defining moment: With the Yankees trailing 2-1 with two outs in the top of the seventh and runners on second and third, Didi Gregorius, facing Tampa Bay reliever Jose Alvarado, grounded out to second baseman Robertson on a 2-and-1 pitch to end the threat.
Bottom line: The Yankees (50-23), who had a four-game winning streak snapped, saw their lead over second-place Boston in the AL East trimmed to one game. New York, which managed just five hits, left 20 on base and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Game ball: Jesus Aguilar broke up a no-hit bid by St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty with a game-tying home run in the seventh inning and followed with his team-leading 16th home run, off reliever Bud Norris (3-2) in the ninth, to give Milwaukee a dramatic victory.
Defining moment: With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Aguilar smashed an 0-and-2 Norris pitch over the right-field fence to snap a 1-1 tie.
Bottom line: The Brewers (45-30) won their third in a row and extended their NL Central lead to two games over second-place Chicago.
The Cardinals (38-36), who managed just three hits, lost for the ninth time in their last 12 games and trail the Brewers by 6 1/2 games.
Game ball: Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo (5-8) – who had lost each of his previous four starts and won for the first time since May 24 – allowed three earned runs and four hits over 5 2/3 innings while striking out five and walking one.
Defining moment: Eugenio Suarez’s two-run homer over the center-field fence on a 1-and-0 changeup from Jose Quintana (6-6) in the fifth inning – his team leading 16th this season – gave the Reds a 4-3 lead. Suarfez leads the majors with 57 RBI despite missing 16 games earlier this season because of a broken thumb.
Bottom line: Kyle Schwarber homered for the third time in four games for the Cubs (42-31), who lost for the fourth time in their last five road games and fell two games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
The Reds (30-45) won their fifth in a row and for the eighth time in their last 10 games.
Game ball: Odubel Herrera went 4-for-5 and became the sixth player in Phillies history to homer in five straight games. Herrera shares the club record with Chase Utley (twice in 2008), Bobby Abreu (2005), Mike Schmidt (1979) and Richie Allen (1969).
Defining moment: Herrera’s two-run homer to right on a first-pitch fastball from Washington starter Tanner Roark (3-8) snapped a 2-2 tie in the third inning.
Bottom line: Carlos Santana and Andrew Knapp also homered for the Phillies (40-33) who had 15 hits and leapfrogged Washington (40-34) to move into second place in the NL East.
Game ball: Manny Machado’s 19th home run of the season broke a 7-7 tie in the 15th inning.
Defining moment: After Craig Gentry was hit by a Peter Moylan (0-1) pitch to open the 15th and advanced to second on an Austin Wynns sacrifice bunt, Machado crushed an 0-and-2 pitch over the left-field fence.
Bottom line: The Braves (43-31) saw their lead trimmed to 2 1/2 games over second-place Philadelphia in the NL Central while the Orioles (22-52) remained a half-game behind Kansas City for the worst record in the majors.
Game ball: Arizona starter Patrick Corbin struck out 12 to match a career high, walked none, and permitted three hits – all singles – over seven innings. The left-hander retired 13 batters in a row between the first and fifth.
Defining moment: Ketel Marte, who was 0-for-5 on the night, delieved a two-out single to center in the top of the 13th to score Jon Jay from second with the go-ahead run,
Bottom line: The first-place Diamondbacks (42-33) won for the fourth time in five games.
Rookie outfielder Austin Meadows had two of the four hits for the Pirates (36-39). Meadows is 8-for-18 over his last five games, raising his average to .347 in 29 games.
Game ball: Cody Bellinger’s 13th home run of the season and second career grand slam, in the sixth inning, broke open a scoreless tie.
Defining moment: Bellinger, who is hitting just .232 and entered Friday’s play with a .167 average with runners in scoring position, sent 0-and-2 Zack Wheeler (2-6) fastball into the right-field upper deck at Citi Field.
Bottom line: The second-place Dodgers (39-35), who have been victorious in their last 10 games against the Mets, have won seven of their last 10 and remained 2 1/2 games behind first-place Arizona in the NL West.
The Mets (31-42) lost their fourth straight.
Game ball: Shane Bieber (2-0) struck out nine to join Luis Tiant as the only Cleveland pitchers with six or more strikeouts in each of their first three major league starts.The 23-year-old right-hander tossed seven shutout innings, allowing a walk and four hits. He struck out five of the first six hitters he faced.
Defining moment: Yonder Alonso hit his 12th home run and second grand slam of the season in the seventh inning – one of three Cleveland homers – to extend the Indians’ lead to 8-0.
Bottom line: The Indians (41-33), who have scored in double digits in back-to-back games, extended their winning streak to five and extended their lead to six games over second-place Detroit (36-40) in the AL Central.
Game ball: Rookie right fielder Rosell Herrera made a sensational catch in the eighth inning to rob Alex Bregman of a home run and smashed a triple off Ken Giles (0-2) in the ninth to drive in the game’s only run.
Defining moment: With a runner on third and one out, Herrera, who was acquired on waivers from Cincinnati earlier this month, smashed a 3-and-1 fastball to deep right-center,
Bottom line: The Royals (23-52) snapped a nine-game losing streak and won for just the third time in 19 games this month.
Game ball: Franklin Barreto, a .158 hitter entering Friday’s action, had the best game of his brief 34-game career with a pair of three-run home runs. Barreto hit his first homer of the season in his previous game, on Wednesday – also a three-run shot. Three of Barreto’s five career homers have come against the White Sox.
Defining moment: Barreto’s three-run homer off White Sox starter James Shields (2-9), into the left-field bullpen, in the second inning, staked Oakland starter Sean Manaea (7-6), a native of nearby Valparaiso, Ind., a comfortable early cushion.
Bottom line: The Athletics (39-36) won their season-high fifth straight and had scored in double figures, with seven home runs, in back-to-back contests. The A’s, in winning the first four games of the season series, had outscored the White Sox 41-16, They had homered in a franchise record 22 consecutive road games.
The White Sox (24-50) lost their season-high eighth in a row. The Sox were averaging just 2.25 runs per game and were hitting just .219 during the skid.
Game balls: Lucas Giolito (5-7) established season bests with seven innings and eight strikeouts while walking two. He allowed four runs – all earned – and seven hits.
Defining moments: With the Athletics trailing 6-4 and runners on the corners with no outs in the eighth, reliever Xavier Cedeno was summoned. Matt Olson lined out to shortstop Tim Anderson, Mark Canha struck out swinging, and Chad Pinder grounded out to Anderson for an inning-ending forceout at second.
Bottom line: By salvaging the doubleheader split, the White Sox (25-50) halted a season-high eight-game losing streak while the A’s (39-37) had their season-best five-game winning streak snapped.
Game ball: Mike Minor (5-4) limited Minnesota to one run and three hits over six innings. He allowed just one baserunner through five innings. After Joey Gallo reached on a two-out single in the first, Minor retired 12 straight Twins batters.
Defining moment: Shin-Soo Choo smashed a two-run homer in the fifth inning to stake Minor a 4-0 lead. It was Choo’s 14th home run of the season and extended his on-base streak to 35 games.
Bottom line: The Rangers (33-44) won their season-high sixth straight game.
Game ball: Jon Gray (7-7) allowed one run and struck out 12 over seven innings. Gray scattered eight hits and walked none.
Defining moment: Nolan Arenado homered in his fourth straight game – a two-run shot in the fourth inning.
Bottom line: The Rockies (38-38) won their season-high fourth straight home game to reach the .500 mark for the first time since June 9.
Game ball: Manuel Margot went 2-for-3 – his third straight multi-hit effort – and drove in two runs.
Defining moment: San Diego was clinging to a 3-2 lead when San Francisco threatened with runners on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the seventh. The Padres escaped with the lead intact when Alan Hanson, facing reliever Craig Stammen, flew out to left fielder Wil Myers.
Bottom line:The Padres (35-43) halted a five-game losing streak.
Game ball: Andrew Heaney (4-5) worked seven strong innings, allowing one run and nine hits while walking none and striking out four.
Defining moments: With the Angels leading 2-1 in the seventh, Toronto had runners at first and second with one out when Heaney struck out Justin Smoak looking and Yangervis Solarte lined out to left fielder Justin Upton.
Bottom line: The Angels (41-35) won their third straight and puled to within five game of Seattle for the AL’s second wild card spot.
The 37-year-old designated hitter launched a pair of three-run homers while going 4-for-5 and driving in seven during Seattle’s wild 14-10 loss at Boston. Cruz’s blast in the first inning, off knuckleballer Steven Wright, traveled an estimated 465 feet and bounced off a light tower above the Green Monster. Only two visiting players have driven in more runs in a game at Fenway Park – Oakland’s Reggie Jackson knocked in 10 on June 14, 1969 and Lou Gehrig of the Yankees had eight RBI on July 31, 1930.
Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins
The left-hander was blasted at Colorado for seven runs and nine hits in four innings. His ERA swelled to 6.70. Chen (2-4), who uncorked a wild pitch and served up a towering home run to Nolan Arenado during Colorado’s six-run fourth inning. Chen will receive a scheduled $8 million payout on June 30, a deferred signing bonus that was included in the five-year $80 million deal that he signed before the 2016 season.
Quote of the day
“Ryno. I wonder how he got THAT nickname?”
— clueless Cubs broadcaster Eric Soderholm during a 1983 telecast. Soderholm was filling in on WGN for regular color analyst Steve Stone who was away working for ABC’s “Monday Night Baseball.”
“They call him Ryno because his name is Ryne.” replied partner Harry Caray, matter-of-factly.
Photo of the day
White Sox fans, in a lame attempt to put Ryne Sandberg down, used to say, “He never dives for the ball!,” as if they preferred Julio Cruz or Scott Fletcher at second base. Sandberg rarely had to dive because he was always in the right position.
Stats of the day
Ryne Sandberg in 1984 led the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945 with one of the most balanced MVP seasons of any player over the last 50 years. In only his third full major league season, Sandberg finished among the top five in the NL in six offensive categories. He led the league in runs scored with 114, and triples with 19. He was second in hits with 200, third in doubles with 36, third in slugging percentage with .520 and fourth in batting average with .314. He also hit 19 home runs, drove in 84, and stole 32 bases in 39 attempts.
In 156 games, Sandberg led NL second basemen in total chances (870), assists (550) and fielding percentage (.993). He had a 61-game errorless streak.
It was the first of 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, and the second of nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards for Sandberg.
It seems hard to believe now but, prior to 1984, Sandberg was considered an inferior second baseman to Steve Sax of the Dodgers. Sax beat out Sandberg for the 1982 NL Rookie of the Year Award and was chosen as the NL starting All-Star second baseman over Sandberg in the 1983 All-Star Game at Comiskey Park.
Best of the Web
“They’d Be Dyin’ without Ryne” (Sports Illustrated, May 28, 1984)