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As they had five years earlier, the Cubs tried to defend their National League East title. And just as happened five years earlier, they failed.
Once again, the Cubs entered a season coming off a division title and a disappointing postseason, and hopes were high for a repeat playoff appearance. One ominous note: Rick Sutcliffe had suffered a shoulder injury late in 1989 and wasn't on the Opening Day 1990 roster. Little did Cubs fans know at the time that he'd pitch only sparingly (five starts) for the team that year.
The whole year was somewhat un-memorable; often, while writing this series, a game from a specific year would come immediately to mind. Not so with 1990; I had to look through the entire season to find something of real interest, and I eventually wound up at the rather strange beginning to the year.
There was a lockout during spring training, and the season's opening was delayed a week. Thus the Cubs wound up scheduled for Opening Day Monday, April 9 -- a night game, which would have been the first in team history. It also happened to be the first night of Passover, upsetting Jewish fans.
Mother Nature intervened. It rained all evening April 9, forcing a postponement, and thus the Cubs opened the 1990 season on a cold, wet Tuesday afternoon, April 10, in front of just 7,791 fans. That sort of "Opening Day" crowd would never happen today -- this is one of the reasons that the Cubs now schedule an off day if they have a Monday home opener. The Cubs also promised that in the future, they'd try to avoid scheduling home night games on Passover, though that happened as recently as 2011. (As it turned out, a scheduled Wednesday game in that series also got rained out, and the Cubs and visiting Phillies finished their series with a doubleheader April 12.)
With Sutcliffe on the shelf, Mike Bielecki got the start for the Cubs, coming off his fine 1989 season. The Phillies and Cubs each scored one run in the first inning, then Bielecki and Phillies starter Bruce Ruffin held their opponents scoreless. Andrew Bagnato summed up the Cubs' victory in the Tribune:
With leading man Andre Dawson sidelined by the 36-degree temperature, manager Don Zimmer summoned role players Marvell Wynne and Doug Dascenzo. Wynne smacked the game-winning single in the eighth inning and Dascenzo made a running catch for the final out to strand the tying run at second. Though millions one day may claim they were there, the record shows only 7,791 souls turned out, apparently for want of a television. It was the smallest home opener crowd since 1983. Perfect weather for Bears and Cubs alike. Perfect weather for a reprise of the Cubs' smash hit of 1989: - Mike Bielecki, winner of 18 games a year ago, gave up hits to two of the first three Phillies and a first-inning run and then shut them down through the sixth inning. - Les Lancaster, who pitched 3O-plus consecutive scoreless innings last summer, picked up the victory with two more. - Williams put runners on first and second before nailing down the save; in last year's opener, he loaded the bags with Phillies before striking out the side. - The wind blew across the outfield. The Cubs were 7-3 when it did that last year.
Millions haven't claimed, and likely never will, that they were there, because the 1990 Cubs flopped early. That 2-1 win looked like a good beginning, as they won four of their first five, with Williams picking up a save in all four victories. That was the high point of the season; Williams spent a month on the DL and posted just 12 more saves all year. Bielecki was awful; even Greg Maddux had somewhat of an off-year.
Dawson did come back after an injury-plagued 1989 to have a 100-RBI season and Ryne Sandberg also drove in 100, having the only 40-homer, 100-RBI season of his career. Despite that, the Cubs scored just 690 runs, finishing in the middle of the pack, and the pitching staff was horrific, allowing 774 runs to rank 11th in the then 12-team National League. After mid-June the Cubs never got closer to first place than 10 games behind.
Such is the long and not-very-glorious history of our favorite team.