A Day In Wrigley Field History: July 7, 1979

Ken Holtzman in 1970 - Courtesy Leo Bauby

This day provided a blast from the past.

Ken Holtzman was a member of the late-1960s, early 1970s Cubs teams that never won anything. During his first stint with the Cubs, he threw two no-hitters and eight other shutouts where he allowed three or fewer hits. After being traded to the Athletics for Rick Monday after the 1971 season, he went on to win three World Series rings with his new team.

Shipped around to the Orioles and Yankees, he was exiled to the New York bullpen when the Cubs reacquired him June 10, 1978 for Ron Davis. Yes, that was another bad Cubs trade; Davis (father of current New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis) wound up a pretty good reliever for the Yankees and Twins, while Holtzman was playing out the string. (The Cubs eventually got Davis back in 1987, where he, too, was at the end of the line.)

But before Holtzman ended his career, he gave Cubs fans one final reminder of what he had been, both in Chicago and Oakland. He threw a three-hit shutout over a pretty good Astros team in the first game of a doubleheader on this date. The Cubs won 6-0. From Robert Markus' recap in the Tribune:

Holtzman himself got the key hit in the three-run seventh that iced the game, a double off the left-field wall that represented the lone extra-base hit among the 15 the Cubs collected.

There was a time when the hit would have thrilled Kenny more than the shutout, but not the way things have gone for him lately. He has been plagued with control trouble ever since spending more than two years in Billy Martin's doghouse, and Saturday almost was no exception.

He loaded the bases in the third inning after giving up a pair of walks and needed a double play to extricate himself from the jam. After that it was easy and the Astros had only one more baserunner.

"That's been my history," shrugged Kenny. "I always have control trouble the first couple of innings. But today I knew I was getting the ball down good and so I wasn't discouraged when I was missing low in the early innings. I've been having trouble at the start of games. I find myself getting disoriented.

The shutout was the second of the year for Holtzman, both over Houston, but was his first at Wrigley Field since June 8, 1971.

I remember this game well. Apart from the two walks mentioned by Markus, the Astros had just three singles and drew one other walk. Holtzman was dominant, nearly as much so as during either of his no-hitters. It was one of the best pitching performances I'd ever seen at Wrigley up to that time, and few have matched or exceeded it since.

I thought at the time -- since the Cubs completed the doubleheader sweep and were six games out of first place, second to the Expos -- that perhaps Holtzman was "back", and could help lead the Cubs to a division title. Obviously, neither happened -- the '79 Cubs needed to go just 4-5 in their final nine games to have a winning season, but they went 2-7. As for Holtzman, that really was a last hurrah. He made just five more starts and two more relief appearances and pitched just once after August 10, posting a 5.00 ERA, and was released at the end of the season, done at age 34. This great pitching performance was his final big-league win.

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