The Top 20 Cub HR Of All Time - #4 Ryne Sandberg 6/23/1984

The Sandberg Game, as it was almost instantly tagged, burst Ryno on the national scene -- as this game was an NBC Saturday Game of the Week -- and also legitimized the Cubs as contenders for the first time in several seasons.

Quick -- without clicking on the boxscore link above or scrolling down. Who drove in the winning run in that game? (Answer below, but don't cheat!)

Sandberg actually hit two game-tying HR in this game, both of Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter, and if you've seen the replays, one of the indelible images of them is Sutter getting another ball from the umpire after the second one with a look of pure anger and disbelief on his face. Sutter was having one of the best years of his career -- up to June 23, 1984 he had 16 saves in 18 opportunities and a 1.16 ERA.

If I had to choose one of the two HR to be more significant, more stunning, I'd have to choose the second. The first, hit in the ninth inning, led off the inning. The second was hit with two out and Bob Dernier on base, and brought the Cubs back from two runs down. What a lot of you might not remember is that Dernier walked on a 3-2 pitch that was very, very close to being a called third strike -- and that would have ended the game.

There were all kinds of wild things that happened on June 23, 1984. Cub starter Steve Trout had nothing -- he allowed seven runs and didn't make it out of the second inning. Trailing 7-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs chipped away; Sandberg had an RBI single and Gary Matthews an RBI double, making it 7-3. The Cardinals tacked on two runs off Dickie Noles in the sixth on a Willie McGee HR, but the Cubs scored five in the bottom of the inning to close within one at 9-8. McGee, incidentally, hit for the cycle and drove in six runs that day, and barely got noticed for doing it, due to Sandberg's heroics. That is, to this day, the last time a visiting player has hit for the cycle at Wrigley Field.

That's how it stayed until Sandberg's first HR. At 9-9 in extra innings, Jim Frey called on Lee Smith, who promptly gave up two runs, leading to Sandberg's second round of heroics in the bottom of the 10th.

There's one difference from modern baseball -- in a game like this, would a manager wait till the 10th to call on his closer, as Frey did? Or leave his closer in to throw three-plus innings, as Whitey Herzog did? The game has really changed in the last 24 years. Also, Smith was left in to pitch a second inning in relief, the 11th, and handled the Cardinals easily, despite a walk to Andy Van Slyke, setting up the winning rally in the last of the 11th.

Leon Durham led off the inning with a single off Dave Rucker, who had replaced Sutter. Durham stole second and advanced to third on Cardinal catcher Darrell Porter's throwing error. Herzog then ordered Keith Moreland and Jody Davis intentionally walked to load the bases, bringing up the pitcher's spot.

The last guy on the bench was little-used backup infielder Dave Owen. Facing Jeff Lahti, who had replaced Rucker, Owen lifted a soft little flare over second base, a clean single into RF, scoring Durham and winning the game -- one of only 16 career RBI Owen had.

Herzog called Sandberg "Baby Ruth" and said he was "the greatest player he'd ever seen" and he was being sincere, not overhyping him. Sandberg was having a good year -- .321/.371/.531 up to June 22 -- but this game, and the rest of his season, sent him to a MVP award and helped the Cubs win the NL East. They'd been in first place briefly into early June, but by June 23 had fallen out. Still 1.5 games out after winning that day, they went 9-4 and back into first place by the beginning of July; falling back later, a 12-2 run starting July 28 put them in first place to stay.

This game is one of the greatest regular-season games in the last quarter-century, not just Cub games, but from any major league team. Twenty-four years later, it still feels like just yesterday.

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