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The Cubs Have Played Winner-Take-All Playoffs Twice Before

While officially this is the first time the Cubs have ever played a one-game playoff in the postseason, twice before the Cubs have played one game winner-take-all showdowns.

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Cubs and Giants players in discussion with umpires at the Polo Grounds in New York, October 8, 1908
Cubs and Giants players in discussion with umpires at the Polo Grounds in New York, October 8, 1908
Interim Archives/Getty Images

Tonight the Cubs will play the one-game winner-take-all "Wild Card" game for the first time. But it's actually the third time that the Cubs have had to play one more game after the end of the regular season in a win-or-go-home clash. Both games were necessary because Cubs were tied with the Giants at the end of the season. Both were officially considered regular-season games, but everyone at the time considered them one-game playoffs. Both of them are arguably more famous for the reason they were played than for the game themselves. One of them most of you remember. The other one was the final chapter of the most legendary season in Cubs history.

The Cubs won both games. They have never lost a one-game playoff.


Most of you are old enough to remember this game, although I bet you also remember the circumstances that forced the game. The Cubs entered the the day of Game 162 tied with the Giants for the National League Wild Card. If the Cubs won, they were guaranteed at least one more game. If they lost, they had to hope the Giants lost as well or their season would end.

The Cubs lost. The game in Houston was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th inning. Cubs closer Rod Beck was pitching his third inning in this game, which was questionable because Beck had thrown more than two innings that season only once before. Beck had loaded the bases in the tenth with one out, but got out of the jam with a pop up and a liner to center field. But Beck's luck ran out when he gave up a one-out triple to Carl Everett who later scored on a Richard Hidalgo walk-off sac fly.

When the Cubs lost, the Giants were tied in Colorado 8-8. Within a minute of the Cubs loss, Rockies shortstop Neifi Perez, of all people, connected for a walk-off solo home run to force a game 163. That home run by Perez is, in my mind, the most famous home run in Cubs history hit in a game the Cubs were not playing in.

So game 163 took place at Wrigley Field the next night, the Cubs hosting because they'd won a coin flip. Steve Trachsel started for the Cubs and he didn't allow a hit until one out in the seventh inning. Despite not allowing a hit, Trachsel was far from dominating. You could argue that he didn't allow a hit because he didn't throw the ball over the plate often enough. In the 6⅓ innings, Trachsel walked six and hit one batter. He threw 121 pitches and only 66 of them were strikes.

The first big threat came in the fourth inning with the score still tied. After retiring Barry Bonds, Trachsel hit Jeff Kent and then walked Joe Carter. A grounder to Mark Grace by J.T. Snow put Kent and Carter on second and third with two outs. A semi-intentional walk to Charlie Hayes loaded the bases. Trachsel then struck out catcher Brian Johnson to end the threat.

The game remained scoreless until the fifth inning when Giants starter Mark Gardner left a fastball on an 0-2 count way up in the zone. Gary Gaetti punished the mistake and deposited the ball into the left-field bleachers to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

The Cubs would get to Gardner again in the sixth inning when Lance Johnson led off the inning with a single and then Sammy Sosa singled with one out. At that point Giants manager Dusty Baker had seen enough of Gardner and called for Rich Rodriguez out of the bullpen. Grace would walk to load the bases and Cubs manager Jim Riggleman called on right-handed hitter Matt Mieske to pinch-hit for the left-handed Henry Rodriguez. The move paid off as Mieske singled to right to make it 4-0 and the party at Wrigley was on.

The Cubs would add another insurance run in the eighth inning when Sosa singled, went to third  on a double by Grace and then scored on a wild pitch. It's 5-0 Cubs heading to the ninth inning. Game over, right?

You know it was never that simple. With Beck having thrown 2⅔ innings the day before, Riggleman turned to his 19-game-winning starter, Kevin Tapani, to pitch the eighth inning. It was his only relief appearance in a Cub uniform. After escaping a two-out triple in the eighth, Riggleman sent Tapani out for the ninth. He was greeted with two singles to lead off the inning.

Then Riggleman showed how much he trusted his bullpen when he called Terry Mulholland. Mulholland had pitched eight innings as the starter the day before. Mulholland gave up an RBI single to make it 5-1 and then walked Ellis Burks to load the bases and bring up the tying run to the plate in (gulp) Barry Bonds.

Bonds connected, but he didn't get enough lift on the ball. Sosa caught the ball on a line in right field for a sacrifice fly. Then, with no where else to turn, Riggleman called on Beck from the bullpen for the third straight day. With one out and the tying run at the plate, Beck got Jeff Kent to hit into an RBI fielder's choice that made it 5-3, but more importantly, got the second out. Beck then claimed his 51st save of the season when Joe Carter, in his final major league at-bat, hit the ball harmlessly into Grace's glove in foul territory.

Here are the highlights from this game.

If you want to watch the whole thing, click here.

Technically it was just a regular-season game, but in reality, it remains the only time the Cubs have ever won a winner-take-all game at Wrigley Field.


This was also technically a regular-season game, but it was a makeup game of the perhaps the most famous (and certainly the most controversial) baseball game of all time: the "Merkle's Boner" game of two weeks earlier that had been declared a tie.

The game was different back then. The Cubs received numerous death threats before the game. The physician for the Giants twice tried to bribe the umpires, who were, fortunately, honest. Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity, who wasn't scheduled to pitch, tried to pick a fight before the game with Cubs first baseman and manager Frank "The Peerless Leader" Chance, hoping to get both tossed out. Chance didn't bite.

A record crowd of 40,000 people showed up for what everyone was considered to be the first-ever playoff for the National League pennant. Over two hours before the game started, they closed the doors at the Polo Grounds. People snuck in anyway. The brother of Republican presidential candidate William Howard Taft sneaked in through the sewers. They crowded into the grandstands and stood deep in the outfield. There were no outfield bleachers or even a fence in those days. The fans just stood and watched from behind the outfield line. Fights broke out as fans jockeyed for position to actually see the game.Two fans even died in falls while attempting to climb things to see the game from outside the stadium.

The Cubs called on left-hander Jack "The Giant Killer" Pfiester to start the game. Pfiester wasn't the Cubs' best pitcher, but he was famous for beating the Giants and Cubs ace Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown had pitched in 11 of the previous 14 games. Chance did tell Brown to be ready just in case. But Giants starter Christy Mathewson was in even worse shape. Mathewson had pitched almost 400 innings in 1908 and told his wife the morning of the game that his arm was dead. He told Giants manager John McGraw he'd go as far as he could, but made no promises.

Chance's decision to start the rested Pfiester over his ace Brown turned out to be a poor one. Pfiester hit the first batter and then walked the next one. With two on and nobody out, Pfiester struck out catcher Roger Bresnahan and Cubs catcher Johnny Kling pulled an old trick. Kling pretended the ball had gotten by him and the runner on first, Buck Herzog, broke for second. But Larry Doyle on second hadn't moved and Herzog was forced to scramble back to first. Kling's throw beat Herzog for a double play.

But the next batter, "Turkey" Mike Donlin, doubled home Doyle to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. After Pfiester walked the next batter, Chance made his move. He called on Brown.

There were no bullpens in 1908 baseball fields. If a relief pitcher wanted to warm up, he had to find a spot to do so, usually beyond the outfield. That's where Brown was warming up. Chance had to relay the call out to Brown (no phones, obviously) and Brown had to fight his way through the New York crowd to get into the game. The polite fans just suggested something Brown could do with his mother. The rest of them threw whatever they could Brown's way.

Brown struck out Art Devlin to end the first inning. In the third inning, Mathewson's arm gave out. The Cubs struck when Joe Tinker led off the inning with a triple and Kling tied the game with an RBI single. Brown bunted Kling to second. After Jimmy Sheckard flied out, Mathewson pitched around Johnny Evers, walking him and bringing Frank "Wildfire" Schulte to the plate with runners on first and second, two outs and the score tied at 1-1.

Schulte doubled home Kling to make it 2-1. Next up, Chance singled home Evers and Schulte to make it 4-1. And with Brown on the mound and in fine form despite the massive workload, that's all the Cubs would need.

Brown gave the Giants one chance to get back into the game. In the seventh inning, Brown loaded the bases with no outs after two singles and a walk. But pinch-hitter Larry Doyle hit a pop up that Kling caught in foul territory through a shower of debris thrown from the stands for the first out. (As I said, it was a different time.) A sacrifice fly made it 4-2 and a ground out ended the threat.

The game would end 4-2 and the Cubs had won their third straight NL pennant. But they might not live to enjoy it. The Giants fans, upset at what they considered a "stolen" pennant, rioted. The Cubs had to sprint to the clubhouse for their lives. Three Cubs were hit with bottles. Someone slashed Pfiester across the shoulder. The Cubs had to barricade the doors until the cops could restore order and they could sneak out the back.

Credit to the book "Crazy '08" by Cait Murphy for most of the information on this game.

As you know, the Cubs would go on to win the World Series over the Tigers in five games. And that was their last World Series title until . . . .?