Coming off of a 5-2 homestand and in first place by half a game, the Cubs headed out on the road, hoping to at least hold their lead or optimistically to add to it. The first stop on the trip was Houston. The Astrodome was not a friendly place for the Cubs. In all those years, even some not so great ones for the Astros, I always felt like if the Cubs could take one out of three in a series that was fine.
Game 30, May 11 - Cubs drop the opener 3-1 (17-13)
- Superhero - Ron Cey (.039). Penguin had just one hit in four at bats, but it was an RBI double in the fourth (.161) to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
- Hero - Ryne Sandberg (.022). Ryne had two of the Cubs five hits on the day. Neither one contributed to the scoring and Ryne ends up here largely because no one else did much of anything positive.
- Sidekick - Gary Matthews (-.013). Ah the negative Hero podium visit. A sign of how bad the day was. Gary lands here by way of drawing one of two walks by Astros pitching on the day. He also did not figure in the scoring.
- Billy Goat - Larry Bowa (-.076). Bowa actually had one of the Cubs hits. He lands here for two reasons, one the hit wasn’t until there were two outs in the ninth and the bases empty, and two because he made the last out of the fourth inning with runners on first and third and the Cubs up 1-0 (-.047).
- Goat - Tim Stoddard (-.075). His line looks innocent enough. He pitched two innings allowing a hit and a walk but no runs. He lands here because he inherited runners on first and second with no outs in the seventh and then allowed both of them to score on a single and a passed ball.
- Kid - Mel Hall (-.073). Mel had three rather mundane at bats and didn’t reach base in any of them. His fourth inning at bat would have been even deemed relatively productive, though it resulted in the most negative WPA. In that at bat, he grounded out to second with no outs and a runner on second, advancing the runner to third (-.029).
Larry Bowa had very little left in the tank by 1984. May actually ended up being one of his better months at the plate and it only featured a .250/.294/.325 line. Despite his offensive struggles, he was penciled into the lineup most of the time. Nominally, it looks like he was still providing a little positive value in the field. However, with a season long OPS+ of 49 (where an average hitter would be 100), it’s pretty clear Bowa was a liability to the team. For perspective, when the Cubs community lambasted Jason Heyward in 2016 he was still about 19% more productive at the plate than Bowa was. But then, Bowa wasn’t one of the higher paid players on the team (or in all of baseball for that matter).
Game 31, May 12 - Cubs bounce back with 5-4 win (18-13)
- Superhero - Jody Davis (.780). There is putting on the cape and there is saving the day for your team. On this day, Jody started the day out getting a breather. He’d started 27 of the team’s first 30 games and so he surely was ready for a day off. With the Cubs down 3-2 but runners on first and third and two outs manager Jim Frey sent Davis up to pinch hit against Frank DiPino who was looking for his third save in three games for the Astros. The result was a three-run home run that gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead. This one at bat accounting for the second biggest positive WPA game of the 1984 season.
- Hero - Larry Bowa (.131). One day after being the Billy Goat, Larry sees himself on the positive side of the ledger. The key at bat was a second inning at bat with runners on first and second and two outs. Larry managed just 17 RBI on the season in 423 at bats. So it would be natural to expect him not to come through. But he dd just that as he singled. The Astros made an error allowing a run to score, giving the Cubs an early 1-0 lead.
- Sidekick - Bill Buckner (.110). Bill was the first pinch hitter in the ninth inning, and he came up with a single to put runners on first and second and only one out to set the stage for Davis’ heroics.
- Billy Goat - Chuck Rainey (-.224). It was a rough day for Rainey. He pitched into the seventh inning, but he allowed seven hits and six walks before leaving with two outs in the seventh and the Cubs trailing 3-2.
- Goat - Keith Moreland (-.112). The second pinch hitter of the ninth inning, Moreland flew out with runners on first and second and one out.
- Kid - Gary Matthews (-.095). Sarge had just one walk to show for four plate appearances on the day.
Jody Davis had 127 home runs in his career. He had just one walkoff among them. Of course, this one was on the road, so it was no walkoff. However, this was the only home run hit by Davis in his career in the ninth inning, with his team trailing, to give them the lead. He did have four occasions where he hit a ninth inning homer to tie the game and two others where he hit a go ahead homer in a tie game in the ninth. But certainly this was one of the biggest home runs of his entire career, and it was the biggest WPA event of Davis’ career by a wide margin.
Game 32, May 13 - Cubs blanked 1-0 (18-14)
- Superhero - Rick Reuschel (.173). Rick threw a complete game allowing three hits and no walks and ended up being a tough luck loser.
- Hero - Ron Cey (.070). Cey had one of nine Cubs hits on the day and also drew a walk. Ron did make it as far as third base after reaching on a walk and advancing on two fielder’s choice grounders. He lands here largely for his one out single in the ninth inning. But pinch runner Henry Cotto only made it as far as third base.
- Sidekick - Bob Dernier (.068). Deer had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances and was yet another Cub who made it as far as third but never scored.
- Billy Goat - Gary Matthews (-.199). It was a tough start to the road trip for Matthews as he was hitless in four at bats with two strike outs, landing him on the Goat podiums for the second time in the first three games of the trip (though he was on the Hero side in the other one, with a negative WPA).
- Goat - Larry Bowa (-.178). Like Matthews, Bowa was on a podium for the third straight game to start the trip. And also like Matthews, two of them were on the down side. Larry was hitless in three at bats.
- Kid - Bill Buckner (-.151). Bill batted with two outs and runners on the corners in the ninth inning but grounded out to end the game.
Rick Reuschel was drafted by the Cubs in the third round of the 1970 draft. He made it to the major leagues and started 18 games for the Cubs in 1972. He was traded by the Cubs in 1981 but was picked back up by the Cubs in 1983 after he was released by the Yankees during the 1983 season. He only appeared in four games for the Cubs in 1983 after having missed all of the 1982 season due to injury. Unfortunately, the Cubs let Rick go to free agency following the 1984 season and he went on to have a 6.2 bWAR season the following year for division foe Pittsburgh. He pitched in parts of eight seasons after leaving the Cubs and was selected to two All-Star teams and had two top 10 Cy Young finishes including a third place finish in 1987 in a year he spit between the Pirates and Giants. He also won a pair of Gold Gloves.
Game 33, May 15 - Cubs double up the Reds 6-3 (19-14)
- Superhero - Tim Stoddard (.201). Tim came into the game with one out and a runner on first with the Cubs leading 6-3. He faced just eight batters in recording the final eight outs with one runner reaching base and being erased on a double play. For his efforts, he recorded his second save of the season.
- Hero - Gary Matthews (.143). Happy to be out of Houston, Gary had a four hit game. This was one of just two four hit games on the season for Matthews. Among the four hits was a double and he drove in a run.
- Sidekick - Bob Dernier (.103). The table setter award for the day goes to Dernier who had two singles, a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scores (including one on a balk).
- Billy Goat - Jody Davis (-.048). Davis was hitless in three at bats, though he did have a sacrifice fly in the fourth that gave the Cubs a 4-2 lead.
- Goat - Tom Veryzer (-.044). Getting the start at short stop, Veryzer was hitless in four tries.
- Kid - Dickie Noles (-.031). In his first start of the season, Noles threw six innings allowing five hits, three walks and two runs. All in all, a good outing for a guy who threw an inning and a third just three days earlier in the Cubs win over the Astros.
Gary Matthews came into this game with a line of .253/.398/.347 after going hitless in 10 at-bats in Houston. This game bumped those numbers to .280/.414/.380. For the season, Gary had 34 multi hit games including five three hit games and two four hit games. He was a consistent presence in the heart of the Cubs order throughout the 1984 season. Matthews was at his best with two outs and runners in scoring position, with a line of .278/.350/.519 in 60 plate appearances.
Game 34, May 16 - Cubs clobber Reds 10-4 (20-14)
- Superhero - Gary Matthews (.192). Sarge was the hitting star two days in a row, adding two more hits, two more RBI and a run scored in five at-bats. Gary got the scoring started on the day with an RBI double in the top of the first. He added on with another RBI single in the second when he batted with runners on first and second and two outs.
- Hero - Leon Durham (.179). Leon had a big day at the plate himself with two hits and a walk. Among the two hits was a two-run homer in the first that made it 3-0 at the time. He too had an RBI single in the second with runners on first and second and two outs.
- Sidekick - Jody Davis (.100). Davis had his second home run of the road trip, a solo homer leading off the second. He batted five times on the day.
- Billy Goat - Mel Hall (-.029). Hall had two at bats and was hitless. On a day when the Cubs had 13 hits and 10 runs, Hall was the only position player starter to be held hitless and that is enough to land him here.
- Goat - Keith Moreland (-.013). Keith pinch hit for Hall in the fourth inning and stayed in the game. He actually had a hit and a walk in three plate appearances, but it was already 7-2 when he came into the game and he was also caught stealing to end the inning after his seventh inning single.
- Kid - Steve Trout (-.009). Trout threw six innings allowing eight hits, three walks and three runs. He did notch a win thanks to the strong offensive output.
Jay Johnstone also appeared in this game for the Cubs and drew an intentional walk after which he scored. This was just the third appearance of the year for the veteran. Jay was originally signed by the Angels in 1963, in pre-draft days and made his major league debut for them in 1966. By the time he got to the Cubs in 1982 he was already playing for his eighth different team. The Cubs signed him during the 1982 season after he was released by the Dodgers. I’ll always remember Jay for a baseball card where he was wearing an oversized pair of sunglasses. He was known as a practical joker both during and after his playing days as an announcer.
Game 35, May 17 - Cubs drop series and road trip finale 5-3 (20-15)
- Superhero - Gary Matthews (.029). In this six-game road trip, Gary Matthews was held hitless twice. Due to some sequencing luck, this is the second of four in which he ended up on a hero podium. Matthews drew a walk leading off the ninth inning with the Cubs down 5-3 that was worth (.075). He was hitless in his other three plate appearances.
- Hero - Tim Stoddard (.014). Stoddard threw a scoreless eighth, allowing a single and a stolen base by Dave Parker.
- Sidekick - Rich Bordi (.006). Rich threw two innings allowing four hits and a run but it was enough to keep the Cubs in the game. It was 4-0 when Bordi came into the game and after allowing the run, it was 5-0. But by the time he left, it was 5-3.
- Billy Goat - Dick Ruthven (-.143). In five innings, Dick was touched for 11 hits, three walks and four runs. Actually, given the 14 baserunners in 5 innings, Dick actually was fortunate to only allow four. Eight of the 11 hits were singles, a runner was caught stealing, another was erased in a double play and a third was thrown out at the plate.
- Goat - Leon Durham (-.093). The first baseman did draw two walks in four plate appearances and also scored a run. He lands here in part because of a second inning caught stealing following his first walk (-.061). He did later steal a base. Leon also made the first out of the ninth inning with a runner on first (-.064).
- Kid - Ryne Sandbeg (-.076). On this day, Mario Soto threw a complete game against the Cubs allowing just three hits, three walks and three runs. Ryne was hitless in four plate appearances. The biggest negative was a strike out with a runner on third and two outs in the third (-.042).
Ryne Sandberg was known as a slow starter throughout his career. 1984 was no exception. His .259/.337/.444 is not horrible, but is well below the numbers he put up that season and was better only than the line he put up in September. Still, on the previous homestand, Ryno had a series of three consecutive three hit games as part of a series of six consecutive multi hit games. Even bigger, this game was actually the one that snapped an 18 game hitting streak during which Ryne hit .400/.448/.563. That stretch saw his season line move from .213/.300/.410 to .328/.392/.511. This was one of two 18 game hitting streaks in his career.
- Gary Matthews 14
- Richie Hebner 14
- Scott Sanderson 8
- Ryne Sandberg 7
- Leon Durham 6
- Tim Stoddard 5
- Bob Dernier 5
- Henry Cotto 3
- Steve Trout 2
- Rick Reuschel 2
- Warren Brusstar 0
- Rich Bordi -1
- Dickie Noles -1
- Jody Davis -1
- Gary Woods -2
- Porfi Altamarino -3
- Keith Moreland -4
- Tom Veryzer -4
- Chuck Rainey -4
- Larry Bowa -6
- Lee Smith -7
- Ron Cey -7
- Mel Hall -8
- Bill Buckner -9
- Dick Ruthven -9
Gary Matthews moves into a tie at the top with Richie Hebner while Bill Buckner and Dick Ruthven are tied at the bottom.
On this road trip, the Cubs split six games. They came back home tied for first place. So all in all, not too bad on the trip. Next week, we’ll recap a nine-game homestand with three NL West teams coming to town for three games each. The Cubs were hoping that one of their longest homestands of the year would push them to a comfortable cushion at the top of the division. We’ll see if they are able to do so.
Thanks for continuing to join me on this journey back to 1984. I’ve appreciated the stories some of you have shared and hope that I’m not the only one learning a little about the men who brought the Cubs to the postseason for the first time in almost 40 years.