Major League Baseball was supposed to have an extra team added to the postseason in 1994, with three division winners and a wild card. The labor dispute and cancelled playoffs scotched that idea, so 1995 was the first real season under the new postseason format.
The Cubs, with a new manager and coming off a decent end to their '94 season, got off to a good start in '95, holding first place until early June, then fading to a near-.500 mark for most of the season.
Suddenly, with just a little over a week to go in the season, they started winning during a season-ending 11-game homestand against the Pirates, Cardinals and Astros, now all in the same division with the Cubs. They swept the Pirates and, with St. Louis coming in for a three-game series, stood just one game under .500.
For the first time in this series, theTribune game recap is written by current beat writer Paul Sullivan. Let him tell you what happened:
One pitch away from becoming the first Cub in 23 years to throw a no-hitter, Frank Castillo was denied in heartbreaking fashion Monday night at Wrigley Field. Castillo had two strikes on St. Louis outfielder Bernard Gilkey with two outs in the ninth inning of the Cubs' 7-O victory when Gilkey lined a high fastball to right in front of a diving Sammy Sosa to spoil the no-hit bid. Gilkey wound up with a triple when the ball rolled past Sosa to the wall, leaving Castillo with a magnificent one-hit effort that earned several standing ovations from the crowd of about 1O,OOO. "It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I wanted it back," Castillo said of his 2-2 pitch to Gilkey. "Sammy made a great effort. He almost made it."
Attendance that night was announced at 18,298, and it would increase as the week went on. The Cubs' fourth straight win put them at .500, 69-69, with six games to go in that dispute-shortened 144-game season, the last time MLB had a season of less than 162 scheduled games.
The Cubs won four more games in a row, finishing a sweep of the Cardinals and taking the first two of a four-game set from the Astros, who along with the Rockies were fighting for the wild card. Those two games against Houston -- September 28 and September 29 -- were among the wildest in recent Cubs history. In the first, the teams were tied 5-5 after five innings, and then matched scoring in the sixth, seventh, eighth and 10th innings before the Cubs had to come from an 11-10 deficit in the 11th to win 12-11; in the second of those affairs, the Cubs tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the ninth and won in the 10th, their eighth straight win.
And after all that, with two games remaining, the wild-card standings looked like this:
W L GB Rockies 75 67 -- Astros 74 68 1 Cubs 73 69 2
If the Cubs could have completed a four-game sweep of the Astros (which would have also resulted in a 10-game winning streak), and the Giants also take a pair from the Rockies, the Cubs and Rockies would have played a tiebreaker game for the wild-card spot.
Of course, it didn't happen; the Rockies won both of their games to clinch the wild card and the Cubs dropped two to Houston, leaving the Cubs with a 73-71 final record, their second winning year in the last four. Had the National League still been divided as it had been after the 1993 expansion into two seven-team divisions, the Cubs would have won the old N.L. East -- they were the only one of the former East division teams to finish over .500 that season. Don't believe me? Check the final 1995 N.L. standings.
The Cubs had permission to print postseason tickets that year, though they never actually put them on sale. Over the winter, they sent them to season-ticket holders as a gift. I still have mine.