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Random Cubs Recap: May 28, 1966

A number of you asked me if I'd expand the original 1985-2002 range of the Random Recap series to include games from the 1960s and 1970s.

Specifically, in the comments yesterday it was mentioned that maybe I should do a game from the era before 1967, when the Cubs were awful on a routine basis and hardly anyone came to the games.

The photo above will give you a clue as to the hero of the game on May 28, 1966, and I swear I did choose that date randomly. This game was interesting for a number of different reasons.

It hasn't been easy to be a fan of the Cubs for a long time. We thought we might be on to something after the '63 season, when the team finished over .500 (barely, at 82-80) for the first time in 17 years, with good young players like Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Dick Ellsworth coming along.

The last two years have been a retrenchment and even after the hiring of Leo Durocher as manager and the canning of P.K. Wrigley's bizarre "College of Coaches" scheme, this year's team hasn't been much better. It's not even June yet and the Cubs have already had two six-game losing streaks and been shut out five times in 37 games before this afternoon.

But can you forgive me if I get a little bit excited about today's 8-5, 12-inning, walkoff win over the Atlanta Braves? (That still sounds funny, saying "Atlanta" Braves. Wonder if they'll ever put a team back in Milwaukee?)

Santo was the hero, slamming a three-run walkoff homer to win it, and even better -- thank you, John Holland! -- it was off ex-Cubs reliever Ted Abernathy.

Yes, I said "EX" Cubs reliever Ted Abernathy -- if you have not yet heard, the Cubs GM sent Abby to the Braves after yesterday's game in exchange for lefthanded-hitting OF/1B Lee Thomas. Thomas had a very good year for the Red Sox last year, hitting .271/.361/.464 with 22 HR, 75 RBI and an OPS+ of 128. He's just 30 years old; Abernathy, after having an outstanding season for the Cubs last year and setting the save record (just when are they going to turn Jerome Holtzman's creation into an official stat, anyway? It's really useful!) with 31, got off to a miserable start this year with the Cubs, although he did throw two shutout innings against the Braves yesterday, for all the good it did in another loss.

But today was a different story. Braves manager Bobby Bragan probably used Abernathy too long; he was in his fifth inning of relief when Santo hit the walkoff. Even with Abernathy's odd submarine motion, that was probably too long.

Kudos to Williams, too; his two-run homer in the eighth off Braves starter Denny Lemaster cut Atlanta's lead to 5-4 and got Lemaster out of the game. Abernathy walked Santo and three batters later, Thomas, making his Cubs debut, singled in the tying run. Could this mean that Ernie Banks is on John Holland's trading block? Even after driving in a run today, Ernie is hitting just .183/.223/.298 with only two home runs in 104 at-bats. Ernie's 35. Could he be done? Could Thomas be an answer to the Cubs' power outage?

Maybe that's karma finally coming back to the Cubs' side. After 19 years of bad baseball, we deserve it.

We deserve shorter games, too; this one went on forever, four hours and 25 minutes, largely because none of the pitchers could throw strikes. There were 15 walks in all, 21 strikeouts, and 25 hits. Not very many saw this one, just 8,882, and very few remained just before 5:45 when Santo won it.

Tomorrow, the Cubs will send another one of Holland's new acquisitions, 23-year-old Fergie Jenkins, to make his second major league start. He did all right in his first one, last week in Atlanta, although the Cubs needed help to win that one.

I heard some rumors of more possible roster changes today; righthander Chuck Estrada, who Holland picked up last month from the Orioles, and who has been pitching at Triple-A Tacoma, could be in line for a recall. Estrada had a couple of good years for Baltimore but is trying to come back from arm trouble.

For now, enjoy one of the rare wins of this season. Maybe that'll help you forget that the Cubs are 11-27 and already mired in 10th place, 13.5 games behind the Giants. Remember what Leo said in the press conference last fall when he was hired? "This isn't an eighth-place team." Looks like he was right. He's probably wishing he'd never left those Giants 12 years ago.