A Day In Wrigley Field History: May 24, 2001

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If you look at the length of this game in the boxscore, you might think it ended early in the afternoon. It didn't.

Looking at the boxscore from the Cubs' 3-0 win over the Reds on this date, one thing stands out:

Time of Game: 1:48

Wow. I'd love to see that happen frequently. That's the shortest nine-inning game by time at Wrigley Field since the 1970s.

The reason that happened was that Jon Lieber was nearly perfect that day. He retired the first 16 hitters he faced, allowed just one single (to Juan Castro) and a walk, and both runners were erased on double plays. Thus Lieber faced the minimum 27 hitters. He became just the fifth pitcher in Cubs history -- and the only one since 1951 -- to do this, face just 27 hitters in a nine-inning complete game.

The game was scheduled for a 1:20 start. But it didn't end shortly after 3 p.m., as you might think from the time of game, and Fred Mitchell's recap in the Tribune tells us why:

Cubs manager Don Baylor departed from the philosophy of replacing the starting pitcher after a lengthy rain delay because Lieber had a perfect game through four innings.

"Not when he had 29 pitches in four innings," Baylor said. "I didn't remotely think about taking him out. [That's] just the way his arm responds all the time."

Teammate Kevin Tapani spoke with Lieber during the rain stoppages (there was a 55-minute delay before the game even started) and suggested he place his right arm in the whirlpool and apply warm packs to his shoulder to keep his arm loose.

29 pitches through four innings. Some Cubs starters throw that many in the first inning these days.

I remember this game, and the rain delays, well. Lieber handled them as well as any pitcher I've ever seen, eventually throwing a 78-pitch (56 strikes) complete-game shutout. He ran a three-ball count on just four hitters, and two of them were the last two of the game. The first, Castro, walked. The second, Ruben Rivera, ran the count full before hitting into a game-ending double play.

The 55-minute pregame delay had the game starting around 2:15. The next delay was quite a bit longer, one an hour and 37 minutes; that game-ending double play happened at 5:40. It was worth the wait for Lieber's gem, the only shutout he threw that year on his way to a 20-win season, his only career All-Star appearance, and fourth place in N.L. Cy Young voting.

The win was the sixth straight in what eventually became a 12-game winning streak for the Cubs, which helped them hold first place for much of the summer. The next day, Kerry Wood duplicated the feat, throwing a one-hitter against the Brewers in an hour and 57 minutes -- this time, with no rain delays.

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