If you're not old enough to remember the 1985 season, it's roughly comparable to what we saw in 2009. Hopes were high after the near-miss in 1984, and the whole team returned; the addition of hot rookie prospect Shawon Dunston was expected to give the team more speed. Rick Sutcliffe was re-signed to what was then considered a huge contract: five years, $9 million.
And the team got off to a great start; after defeating the Expos in Montreal 5-3 June 11, they were 35-19, four games in first place. What could go wrong?
Just remember, these are the Cubs. Everything could go wrong, and did. That June 11 game was immediately followed by a 13-game losing streak -- there's been just one longer in team history, the 14-game streak that started the 1997 season -- and every single one of the starters in the five-man rotation wound up on the disabled list. Instead of a rotation of Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley, Steve Trout, Scott Sanderson and Dick Ruthven, the 1985 Cubs had a total of 36 games started by Lary Sorensen, Jay Baller, Steve Engel, Derek Botelho, Reggie Patterson, Johnny Abrego, and 78-year-old Larry Gura.
OK, you're right, I made that up. Gura wasn't 78; he was 37, but pitched like he was 78 after being signed following his release by the Royals. He posted an 8.41 ERA and 1.967 WHIP in five games before the Cubs, too, released him.
The Cubs never recovered from that 13-game losing streak. A further seven-game losing streak in August dropped them to .500, far out of contention.
By September, Wrigley crowds were back in the sub-five-digit range. Which is too bad, because that meant just 6,947 saw a wild affair with the Expos at Wrigley on a late-September afternoon with the wind howling out at 17 miles per hour.
The Expos, led by future Cub Andre Dawson, had a 15-2 lead going into the bottom of the fifth inning. They'd scored 12 runs in that fifth inning; Dawson hit two three-run homers in the inning and had three dingers overall, with eight RBI. I mentioned Fontenot, Botelho and Engel earlier; all three pitched in this game, along with Dave Beard, who gave up eight of the runs, and Ron Meridith, who finished up. Fred Mitchell wrote more on Dawson in the Tribune:
Dawson said Tuesday's one-man show was no big deal. Easy for him to say. "This was the second time I've done it, so it was no big deal," said "The Hawk", who now has 6 homers in his last 4 games and 21 for the season. In this ballpark the game isn't over until the very last out. We needed each one of those home runs."
The Expos hit five home runs in all, and the Cubs three; what Dawson was referring to was a mighty attempt at a Cubs comeback. They pushed across a run in the sixth, three in the seventh and four in the eighth. Sal Butera's homer for the visitors had given them a 17-10 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The Cubs sandwiched two outs around a pair of singles, and then, with runners on second and third, the fun started.
Ron Cey singled in both runs; after a walk, another single scored Cey. Expos manager Buck Rodgers called on lefthander Jack O'Connor to face Leon Durham, who doubled in both runners. That brought the tying run to the plate, and Expos closer Jeff Reardon into the game:
"I wasn't even planning on pitching," said Reardon, who earned a most unusual save, his 36th. "They had to come into the locker room to get me."
Reardon faced Cubs backup catcher Steve Lake, who had replaced Jody Davis after the sixth inning with the Cubs down 13 runs. Who knew that the Cubs would need Davis' bat -- he had homered earlier -- in the ninth?
Lake hit just .151 in 1985. It showed. Reardon induced him to hit a weak ground ball to first base, game over; the Expos had avoided blowing a 13-run lead and won 17-15.
Less than two years later, Dawson would be a Cub, and produce many moments like these in blue pinstripes. But those of us who go back a bit farther still remember the way he used to pound Cubs pitching in the Friendly Confines wearing the red-white-and-blue beanie of the Expos.