Despite the Cubs' loss in the NLCS to the Giants, you probably (if you're old enough) remember the 1989 season fondly. Greg Maddux exploded on the scene with a huge year at age 23; Mark Grace established himself as one of the better first basemen in the league; the Cubs had two other solid starting pitchers in Rick Sutcliffe and Mike Bielecki, and Ryne Sandberg hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career.
Combine that with the "pitching like his hair is on fire" closer Mitch Williams, and the Cubs surprised everyone by playing consistently early, then taking over first place on August 5 with a win at Pittsburgh.
The context of the game in this recap is important. Though the Cubs were still in first place entering this day, it was by a thread; a lead that had been 2½ games just a week earlier had slipped to just half a game over the Cardinals after the Cubs blew a 7-1 lead entering the fifth inning the day before, September 8, and it wasn't even clear they'd play on the 9th, as it had been raining most of the morning.
What followed was one of the most memorable games of that season.
Like a runaway train, I thought.
He scored the winning run and fell into the embrace of his teammate Shawon Dunston in a memorable scene, one we hope gets repeated this October. The Cubs beat the Cardinals 3-2 in 10 innings on a dark and gloomy late afternoon at Wrigley Field. Despite daylight at the 3:05 start time, the lights were on for the entire game and umbrellas were up for most of it, too, as that rain fell, never hard enough to stop play, but enough to add to the atmosphere surrounding this tense game.
The Cubs knew they had to have it, too; leading St. Louis by just half a game going in, a loss would have put them in second place. And starting pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Jose DeLeon pitched like it, too; both of them threw seven solid innings. The Cubs took a 1-0 lead into the seventh on the "strength" of a nicely executed squeeze bunt by Dwight Smith that scored Jerome Walton, who could be headed to a Rookie of the Year award (and don't count Smith out of that vote, either). In the sixth, a pair of singles gave the Cardinals the lead and after Sutcliffe was lifted for pinch-hitter Gary Varsho an inning later, it took three Cub relievers (Les Lancaster, Steve Wilson and Jeff Pico) to put St. Louis down scoreless in the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, Smith's daring baserunning helped tie the game. Smith lined a clean single to right field and then took a wide turn around first base. When he saw right fielder Tom Brunansky hesitate getting to the ball, Smith took off for second. Brunansky, seemingly shocked that Smith would do this, threw wide of the base and Smith was safe. Two batters later, Salazar singled him in with the tying run, the crowd of 37,633 (mostly Cub fans, surprisingly) roaring its approval.
Through the ninth the game continued scoreless. The Cubs got the potential winning run to scoring position with two out in the ninth, but Smith flew to left to send the game to extras, the rain continuing to fall.
Paul Assenmacher set down the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the 10th. With one out in the 10th, Dawson took a close 3-2 pitch for ball four. Andre's had a tough season with his knee injuries; his power is way down, but that could have been one of the biggest at-bats of his Cubs career. Four pitches later, Salazar -- playing in just his ninth game as a Cub -- smacked Ken Dayley's fourth pitch of the at-bat for the game-winning double.
Nice work on that acquisition, Jim Frey. Maybe you'll be a decent GM yet.
The Cubs now lead the NL East by 1½ over the Cardinals, three games over the Expos and 3½ over the Mets. Tomorrow, Scott Sanderson faces St. Louis' Ken Hill.