Two years after the Cubs won the NL East in 1989, they were struggling. Rookie of the Year Jerome Walton's performance had tailed off and he was benched many days (although he did start in this game, though no longer leading off).
Rick Sutcliffe had more injuries -- his Cubs career was derailed by them -- and 1991 was no exception, he spent more than two months on the DL that year. But by August, he had returned, and pitched quite well from his return to the end of the season (2.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and just two HR allowed in 58 innings), prompting many to hope then-GM Larry Himes would retain him as he went to free agency at the end of the 1991 season.
But he didn't. In the meantime, though, Sutcliffe did pitch well in this game. (And yes, I know this recap is of a road game, and the photo shows him in a home uniform. It was the best one available through Getty Images, the photo service SB Nation subscribes to.)
Could it be?
Could the Cubs really get themselves back in the NL East race?
Yes, I know. 10 games behind with 42 left is still a long shot. But after tonight's 3-1 win over the Expos in Montreal, the Cubs improved their record to 23-14 since July 11, and have picked up 4½ games on the first-place Pirates.
There's more than a month left in the season? Why not go on a hot streak right now and keep cutting into that deficit? They'll need some help because they only have four games left with the Pirates (two at home, two at Three Rivers Stadium), but can't we hope for a miracle?
OK, enough wishing and hoping from me. At the very least, we can celebrate Rick Sutcliffe's return to health. Sut has looked great since coming back from the DL at the beginning of this month, and after throwing six innings and giving up just three singles, three walks and a run, his ERA since returning is 1.57 with 19 strikeouts in 23 innings. He's getting a little old at 35, but I think Larry Himes should bring him back for one or two more years to help anchor this fairly young pitching staff.
George Bell, Doug Dascenzo and Ryne Sandberg all had a pair of hits in this victory, which was for all intents and purposes sealed with a two-run second after Sutcliffe gave up the only run he'd allow in the first. Shawon Dunston doubled in a run, stole third and then scored on a Jerome Walton groundout. I still have some hope that Walton will return to his Rookie of the Year form; maybe Jim Essian should just put him out there every day. He's only 26, still young enough to come back.
Les Lancaster finished up the game, throwing three innings in relief of Sutcliffe. He gave up no runs and posted his third save of the season over an admittedly awful Montreal team that has the worst record in the National League. I do like this kid Larry Walker, though -- even though he went 0-for-3 tonight, I think he could be a good one, and maybe even lead the Expos back to prominence.
In the meantime, Essian is turning into a good young manager. He could be around for a long time.