I haven't written about too many losses in this history series, even though the Cubs have had many spectacular ones. This one, though, is just too spectacular to pass up.
Once again, the Cubs started a season hot; they won six of their first nine, all at home. On the ensuing road trip, they won the first game in Pittsburgh -- their sixth in a row -- then lost the next two, and were to finish up the series on a gloomy Sunday afternoon.
The Cubs had leads of 3-2 and 7-2 before the Pirates came back and eventually tied the game 7-7 with an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth. This was helped by a throwing error by Gary Scott, who had made the team out of A ball with a great spring training. (Big mistake -- Scott needed more minor-league time and if he had gotten it, might have become a decent player. Instead, rushed and not anywhere near ready for the big leagues, he was out of baseball five years later.)
In the top of the 11th inning, the Cubs loaded the bases and scored the lead run on a single by Doug Dascenzo. The next hitter was Andre Dawson; he yanked Bob Patterson's 1-2 pitch over the right-field wall for an opposite-field grand slam. Five-run lead in an extra inning! Just three outs to go! Easy win!
This is the Cubs, of course, so everything that could go wrong did in fact go wrong. Here's how it was described by Andrew Bagnato in the Tribune:
Heathcliff Slocumb opened with a walk to Jose Lind, hitting .216, then yielded back-to-back singles to Curtis Wilkerson and Orlando Merced, who had three hits between them this year. The hits loaded the bases and brought [manager Don] Zimmer to the mound on a dead run. He called on [Mike] Bielecki, Wednesday night's starter. It didn't work. He gave up a double, a single, a sacrifice fly and two walks before Don Slaught lifted a game-winning double to center. A shell-shocked Bielecki groped for words. "I don't know how to explain it," said Bielecki, charged with three runs on three hits and two walks in a third of an inning. Maybe there is no explanation. The Cubs can only hope they won't be looking back at this one in five months.
The Cubs' 13-12 loss to the Pirates, after leading by those five runs with just three outs to go, still stands as the biggest blown lead in any extra inning by anyone. And the looking back didn't take anywhere near five months. The Cubs were 7-3 on April 18, but this almost-unbelievable loss was part of an 8-14 skid that deposited the team into fifth place. Just after that stretch, Zimmer decided it was the right time to ask for a contract extension. He didn't get it and was fired:
At odds with Don Zimmer over a contract extension and claiming publicly that there had been insufficient returns on the field from their high-priced and highly regarded talent, the Chicago Cubs yesterday dismissed Zimmer as manager. Joe Altobelli, former manager of the Giants and Orioles, was named as the interim manager, although the organization said it expected to name a permanent replacement "in the near future."
The "permanent" replacement, Jim Essian, had been managing at Triple-A Iowa. He was highly regarded as a managerial prospect at the time, but lasted just 120 games, finishing 59-61; he, too, was dismissed, and never again managed or coached in the major leagues. Managing the Cubs over the last 40 years has been a black hole; of former Cubs managers, only Dusty Baker has had any success in the job after leaving Chicago.