The Cubs lost the first 14 games they played in 1997. That's a franchise record, not just from the beginning of a season, but for all of Cubs history. They were outscored 78-36 during the streak, and it came after losing 14 of their last 16 in 1996 -- that's a 2-28 record over a 30-game span covering two seasons.
Bad enough for you? Well, then, gather round while I tell you the story of the last time a visiting pitcher took a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, perhaps the most pathetic of those 14 losses. I remember very well attending this game. It was beyond just "cold." The boxscore says it was 37 degrees at game time, cloudy, with a 10 mile per hour wind. But I remember not possibly being able to get warm that afternoon, just freezing, and the performances of the players showed it.
, who had left the White Sox and just signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Marlins that was one of the most expensive contracts in history up to that time, mowed down Cubs from the start of the game. If not for a throwing error by Edgar Renteria with one out in the fifth, Fernandez would have taken a perfect game into the ninth. Renteria's error allowed Shawon Dunston to reach base, the Cubs' only baserunner through the first eight innings. Fernandez struck out eight and didn't issue a walk.
Meanwhile, Cubs starter Frank Castillo was very good, too. He allowed two hits and a run in the first inning, then settled down and scattered five singles through the next seven.
So the game, entering the bottom of the ninth, was 1-0 Marlins with a no-hitter on the line. Paul Sullivan summed up what happened in the Tribune:
On a cold, gray, cheerless Thursday, these Cubs etched their names into the team record book, breaking the 1962 club record for most losses to start a season by falling to 0-8 with a 1-0 loss to the Florida Marlins. And they did it by almost being no-hit -- by Alex Fernandez, an ex-White Sox pitcher, no less. The team has gone 89 years without a World Series championship and 52 years without a pennant, practically inventing the June Swoon in the process. It now claims another dubious distinction: The Cubs are the only winless team in baseball. And on Thursday they lost with panache, coming within two outs of being no-hit for the first time since former Dodgers great Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game at them on Sept. 9, 1965. The Cubs had a chance to break the losing streak in the ninth when three runners reached base in succession. But pinch-runner Jose Hernandez was thrown out at third on a base-running blunder and Ryne Sandberg struck out for the fourth time, ending the game with Cubs runners at first and second.
Dave Hansen was the player who broke up the no-hitter, on an infield smash that neither Fernandez nor Renteria could handle. You see above that the Cubs had a real shot to tie or even win the game, but failed. That was the eighth loss of the streak; there would be six more before the Cubs finally broke it in the second game of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium in New York, which is when the photo of Hansen above was taken.
Hansen is a curious case in Cubs history. He'd been a decent backup/pinch-hitter for the Dodgers for several seasons when the Cubs signed him to a modestly-priced $325,000 deal as a free agent before the 1997 season. He had a pretty good year for the Cubs: .311/.429/.450 in 151 at-bats. Yet, neither they nor any other MLB team brought him on board for 1998 -- instead, he played a year for the Hanshin , before returning to MLB to become... a decent backup/pinch-hitter for the Dodgers. in Japan
Fernandez is the last visiting pitcher to take a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, and 17 years later, the Cubs still have not been no-hit since 1965, with the streak entering 2014 at 7,563 consecutive games, a major-league record.