The Cubs got off to a slow start in 1977... same old, same old, it seemed.
And then in early May they started winning... and winning... and winning some more. That leads us to this game, on a windy (23 miles per hour), warm (86 degrees) Tuesday afternoon. You know, the kind we never seem to have any more at Wrigley Field.
Cubs hitters rose to the task, wrote Bill Jauss in the Tribune:
Bobby Murcer. Steve Ontiveros. Larry Biittner. Among them, they slugged four home runs and batted in 10 runs Tuesday in Wrigley Field.
Then, after the Cubs' 23-6 thrashing of San Diego, each tried to answer the question being asked around baseball: "What's with the Cubs?"
Murcer, relaxing in his clubhouse rocking chair, offered his explanation for the team that has won six in a row and 14 of 16 this month.
"I've never been on a team that's hit like this before. Never a team like this."
Murcer played among some pretty good hitters with the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants, but he wouldn't back down from his statement.
"I've never been on a team that assembled so many good players. There's no easy outs in this lineup. Not a one anywhere."
There certainly weren't on that windy day at Wrigley; overall the Cubs hit seven home runs (in addition to the ones mentioned by Jauss, Gene Clines, Jerry Morales and Davey Rosello homered. For Rosello, it was one of just 10 home runs he hit in his 1,034-plate-appearance big-league career.
The Cubs have scored 23 or more runs in a game just three times in the history of Wrigley Field -- this game, a 26-23 win over the Phillies in 1922, and a 23-13 win over the Cardinals in 1954.
Seven homers in a game by the Cubs at Wrigley? Again, just three times. The other two: the second game of a DH against the Mets in 1967 and this game against the Padres in 1970. The Padres were a particular punching bag for the Cubs in their early years; in addition to those two games, there was a 19-0 win over San Diego in the Padres' inaugural year, 1969.
This game was the only one that had both: seven Cub homers, 23 Cub runs. It's one of only four games in major-league history where a team did both of those things. The others were in 1939, 1950 and 1955. From 1970 through 1980, the Cubs played 16 games in which both teams scored 10 or more runs (they went 4-12 in those games). In the 33 years since then: just 19 such games.
Even better, this game was part of a 21-5 run that put the Cubs in first place in late May, 1977. All told, the Cubs went 40-15 in May and June 1977, the best two months I have ever seen a Cubs team play. We don't have to go over what happened after the end of July that year; the first half of 1977 was some of the most fun I've ever had watching the Cubs.
One final, quirky note on this game: Ramon Hernandez, a 37-year-old reliever who had been acquired late in the 1976 season, began 1977 as the last guy in the bullpen. He'd made a few unremarkable appearances, and then was put into this game by manager Herman Franks to start the seventh inning with the Cubs leading 22-2.
He allowed four runs, and finished the game -- thus registering a save. He is one of only 14 pitchers in major-league history to throw that many innings in a game, allow that many runs, and still get a save.
That was the last game Hernandez pitched for the Cubs. 11 days later they traded him to the Red Sox for Bobby Darwin.