After splitting six games on the previous road trip, the Cubs returned home tied for first place in the National League East. Looking ahead to nine games at home over a 10 day span. Surely, they were hoping they could push the lead out with one of their longest home stands of the year. They played two nine game home stands and two were 10 games.
Game 36, May 18 - Cubs rally late to walk off against Astros 7-6 (21-15)
- Superhero - Leon Durham (.591). The Bull had a monster game. He had a sacrifice fly with no outs and the bases loaded in the first (-.004), a two run homer in the third (.135), a lead off single in the fifth (.033), a line out leading off the seventh (-.040) and an RBI double in the ninth (.467). He ended up scoring the winning run two outs later. This was the Cubs fourth biggest WPA day of the season.
- Hero - Gary Woods (.337). Woods pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs against Frank DiPino who relieved Dave Smith after he blew the save. Woods literally walked it off for the Cubs, drawing a bases loaded walk to end the game.
- Sidekick - Dickie Noles (.186). Dickie came in after starter Chuck Rainey allowed a lead off single in the sixth. He allowed a double and a sacrifice fly to Phil Garner that surrendered the Cubs’ 5-4 lead. He then got a double play grounder. He would go on to allow a single in the seventh that was erased in a caught stealing. He also allowed a single in the eighth. In three innings of work, he allowed just three hits and no runs other than the inherited runner.
- Billy Goat - Larry Bowa (-.340). A very tough day at the plate for the veteran. He was hitless in five at bats. The largest negative at bat was his ninth inning at bat with the bases loaded and one out. He popped up to third (-.174).
- Goat - Tim Stoddard (-.285). Tim threw the top of the ninth inning and allowed a solo home run to Enos Cabell. This gave the Astros a 6-5 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth.
- Kid - Chuck Rainey (-.143). Rainey pitched five plus innings allowing six hits, two walks and five runs, all earned. Still, he left the game with the Cubs leading.
During the previous homestand, I noted that Leon was the National League Player of the Month for May 1984. It was a very deserving award. Bull, as he was often called, appeared in 27 games in May and had 117 plate appearances. His line for the month was .351/.453/.680. Surely, this was at least in part because the Cubs played a home heavy schedule in May. For the season, Durham’s lines looked like this (home: .327/.417/.645, road: .228/.315/.355). Pretty remarkable. He was basically an MVP caliber player at Wrigley Field and sub replacement on the road. It leads me to think that Harry Caray should have been dubbing Leon as King of Wrigley Field rather than Jody Davis.
Game 37, May 19 - Cubs rally again to defeat Astros 5-4 (22-15)
- Superhero - Lee Smith (.298). After the Cubs scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead, big Lee threw the final two innings allowing just a ninth inning one out double.
- Hero - Larry Bowa (.272). Bowa bounced back from a terrible day at the plate with arguably his best offensive day of the season. Larry had a double with a runner on first in the second (.091), singled and stole a base with one out in the fourth (.033 and .020), and doubled leading off the seventh (.128).
- Sidekick - Richie Hebner (.193). Richie got the call after Bowa lead off the seventh with a double and he followed up with a double of his own (.193). Bowa scored to tie the game at 4-4. He would end up scoring the go ahead and eventual winning run one batter later when Bill Dawley made a wild throw on Bob Dernier’s sacrifice bunt.
- Billy Goat - Ron Cey (-.127). Penguin was hitless in four tries on the day.
- Goat - Jody Davis (-.104). Jody did have a hit and scored a run. He lands here largely due to his double play ground out in the seventh to end the inning (-.094)
- Kid - Leon Durham (-.090). Durham also added a third inning RBI double (.106) to his hot streak, but grounded into an inning ending double play in the seventh with runners on first and third (-.105). He was also caught trying to steal third after his double (-.053).
This was a bright spot in what wasn’t a great month for big Lee Smith. He appeared in 10 games, finishing eight of them and recording four saves to go along with two wins and a loss. He allowed 16 hits in 14.2 innings as well as five walks and two home runs. For Lee, it was largely a tale of two halves. In the first half, he was 4-4 with a 4.05 ERA with a 1.388 WHIP. In the second half, he was 5-3 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.238 WHIP. He did record 18 saves in the first half compared with 15 in the second half.
Game 38, May 20 - Cubs pound Astros to sweep series 10-3 (23-15)
- Superhero - Leon Durham (.199). Once again, Leon was the hitting star. The big blow was a two run homer in the first (.176).
- Hero - Rich Bordi (.168). Bordi got the start, his first of the season. He gave the Cubs five innings of four hit, no walk, one run pitching. He notched his first win of the season and also his career for his efforts.
- Sidekick - Ron Cey (.079). The Penguin was a key offensive contributor. He walked leading off the second (.025), had a one out RBI double in the third (.052) and scored, and he doubled in the fifth (.002). He also walked in the seventh with a runner on third and one out (.001) and lined out in the eighth to end the inning with runners on first and second (.000)
- Billy Goat - Bob Dernier (-.073). Bob had one hit in five at bats, but it wasn’t enough to keep him out of the cellar.
- Goat - Gary Woods (-.001). In a lopsided game, there wasn’t a lot of negative to go around. Gary pinch hit in the eighth and grounded out.
- Kid - Keith Moreland (-.001). Moreland got two at bats in this one after the game was already well in hand and grounded out and flew out. (Both at bats actually recorded at .000 in the play log, while Woods’ at bat is listed at -.001, hence the ordering)
Rich Bordi was one of the younger Cubs in 1984 at just 25 years of age. He was another very tall Cub pitcher at 6-7. Rich was first drafted in 1977 by the Twins in the fifth round, but didn’t sign. Three years later the Oakland A’s drafted him in the third round. He got into three games over the 1980 and 81 seasons with the A’s before they dealt him to the Mariners. He pitched in seven games including two stars for the Mariners the following year before being dealt for Steve Henderson to the Cubs. Bordi had a very successful 1984 season for the Cubs, going 5-2 in 31 appearances including seven starts and 10 games finished. He recorded four saves. He had a 3.46 ERA in 83.1 innings of work. He recorded a 1.176 WHIP. I remember being very disappointed that Rich was left off of the post season roster. He was traded in the offseason. Rich was traded four times in nine big league seasons and appeared in games for five different teams including playing for two teams twice. He retired with a record of exactly 20-20.
Game 39, May 23 - Cubs defeat Braves for fourth straight win 3-1 (24-15)
- Superhero - Steve Trout (.467). Steve was a little wild on the day, but otherwise fantastic. He threw seven shutout innings allowing five walks and just three hits.
- Hero - Gary Matthews (.189). Trout’s WPA was as high as it was because this was a scoreless game until the bottom of the sixth when Gary Matthews connected off of Craig McMurtry to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. He also drew a first inning walk.
- Sidekick - Lee Smith (.087). Big Lee picked up the save with two innings of work. He allowed two hits and one run on a homer by Bob Horner.
- Billy Goat - Ron Cey (-.137). Penguin was hitless in four at bats on the day. The one that accounted for most of his negative WPA was a sixth inning at bat when he grounded into a double play with runners on first and second and one out (-.084).
- Goat - Henry Cotto (-.080). Henry pinch hit in the seventh inning with the score still 1-0 and runners on first and second with no outs. He grounded into a double play (-.080). Fortunately, Bob Dernier followed with an RBI single to extend the Cubs lead.
- Kid - Ryne Sandberg (-.049). Ryno had just one walk to show for his four plate appearances on the day.
This game produced the tenth largest WPA on the year for the Cubs. The biggest WPA scores usually go to guys who produce large momentum shifts late in the game and so you don’t see a ton of starting pitchers at the top of the WPA charts, particularly in the modern game where we see many less complete games. This wasn’t even the largest WPA created by Steve Trout and this was actually the fourth highest WPA for a Cub starter in 1984. I know I have at least one reader out there who rolls his eyes at the usage of Game Score, but by that measure, this was actually only the fourth best Game Score of the year. He sure did like facing the Braves. Three of his top four game scores of the year were against them. In all, he was 3-0 in four starts against the Braves with a 0.59 ERA.
Game 40, May 24 - Cubs outslug the Braves 10-7 for fifth straight win (25-15)
- Superhero - Chuck Rainey (.231). It’s unusual to see a starting pitcher at the top of the charts. Chuck got there because he gave the Cubs six shutout innings while they were building a 9-0 lead. In those six innings, he allowed just three hits and one walk. Then he went back out to start the seventh. He allowed three more hits and one more walk while only recording one out. All four runs scored.
- Hero - Leon Durham (.201). It was another big day at the plate for Durham. He added three more hits and two more home runs while driving in six runs. The big blow was in his first at bat when he hit a three run homer (.175). He added a second three run homer in the fifth (.035). He added a single in the seventh for good measure (.003).
- Sidekick - Bob Dernier (.096). You know it is a tough crowd when you have a five hit game and barely make the podium. Such is the problem when the team combines to hit four home runs and score 10 runs in all. He also stole two bases (got caught stealing once) and scored two runs. All five hits were singles.
- Billy Goat - Tim Stoddard (-.174). Tim caught most of the negative WPA from Chuck’s tough seventh inning. He finished out the inning allowing two hits and a walk while allowing three inherited runners and one of his own to score. Because the Cubs were still up 9-5, he went back out for the eighth inning and allowed another walk and two singles before being lifted for Lee Smith. In all Stoddard allowed three runs on four hits and two walks (plus the three inherited runs).
- Goat - Dave Owen (-.027). Dave got the start at short and was hitless in three at bats. Anemic might be a complimentary description of the Cubs offense out of shortstop in 1984.
- Kid - Mel Hall (-.018). A bit of tough WPA luck here for Mel. He had one hit on the day in four at bats, but the hit was a home run. The problem for Mel is that the home run made it 8-0.
Bob Dernier’s five-hit game would seem like a crazy oddity. Five hits, all singles. How often is a guy going to have a game like that? Well, the crazy thing is that on July 21, 1983, less than a year earlier Dernier had a five hit game. And all five hits were singles. And that game was against the Braves. But wait! In a bit of a spoiler alert, I will tell you that on May 30, 1984 just six days after this one, Bob had another five hit game. And they were all singles. And they were all against the Braves. So, I had to look. Bob Dernier had a career batting line of .255/.318/.333 in 904 career games and 2757 plate appearances. Against the Braves however, that line was .305/.349/.350. It is hard to say a singles hitter guy was a killer against your team, but the Braves were certainly one of the teams that brought out the best in Bob. Though interestingly enough, they did one thing very well against him. He was just 15 of 25 stealing bases. 60% is well below his efficiency overall (77.5%).
Game 41, May 24 - Cubs sweep doubleheader with 7-5 win over Braves for sixth straight win (26-15)
- Superhero - Rich Bordi (.240). In the days of much smaller bullpens, relief was at a premium in doubleheaders. Rich came in after Rick Reuschel ran out of gas in the seventh. Reuschel had just allowed an RBI single to (not that) Randy Johnson to cut their lead to 7-5. Bordi retired the final two Braves and then threw two more scoreless innings allowing three singles in 2.2 innings of work and picking up a save for his efforts.
- Hero - Ron Cey (.161). 1984 was not a glorious year for Ron at the plate, and he had only one hit in four at bats on this day, but what a hit it was. Ron had a two out three run homer in the fifth to give the Cubs a 6-2 lead (.212).
- Sidekick - Jody Davis (.087). Jody had a hit and a walk on the day. The hit was a second inning solo home run to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead (.106).
- Billy Goat - Rick Reuschel (-.112). Rick gave the Cubs precious innings, but had to battle through them. On the day, he allowed nine hits, a walk and five runs (only four earned). He picked a win.
- Goat - Keith Moreland (-.021). This was an almost all positive game for the Cubs. Keith had an RBI ground out and also drew a walk in the game out of his four plate appearances.
- Kid - Richie Hebner (-.005). Tough break for Richie landing here after his pinch hit ground out with a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the eighth.
Ron Cey hit just 25 home runs in 1984, but among them were a grand slam, five three-run homers and eight two-run homers. As we talked about in a previous column, Ron was a much different hitter in 1984 when runners were on base. Cey had just one game with four RBI, but had 10 games with three and 11 more with two. That’s how a guy who hit just .240/.324/.442 amassed 97 RBI.
For the Cubs, this six game winning streak ended up tying for their longest of the year. During the winning streak, they moved out to a two game lead in the National League East.
Game 42, May 25 - Cubs shut out by Reds 3-0 to snap winning streak (26-16)
- Superhero - Gary Woods (.053). A seventh-inning single with a runner on first and one out gave the Cubs a flicker of hope trailing 3-0.
- Hero - Gary Matthews (.036). The Cubs mustered just six hits and six walks. Matthews had one of each. He did bat both of his first two plate appearances with a runner on second and struck out both times.
- Sidekick - Warren Brusstar (.027). Warren threw two shutout innings allowing just one hit.
- Billy Goat - Ron Cey (-.200). Going from top to bottom, yesterday’s hero was hitless in four at bats today with two strike outs. The biggest negative was a strike out with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth (-.094).
- Goat - Jody Davis (-.122). Jody did have a hit but he followed Cey’s eighth inning strike out with a strike out of his own as Ted Power came in with runners on first and second and no outs and got a ground out and two strike outs. He then pitched a scoreless ninth to complete the save.
- Kid - Ryne Sandberg (-.118). Sandberg was hitless in five plate appearances though he did draw a walk.
Jody Davis had a fantastic first half for the Cubs in 1984. He hit .288/.359/.505 in the first half. He played in 79 games, starting 76 of them. He played another 71 in the second half and started 65 of those. One wonders if he simply wore down from the heavy duty. But he did have a strong post season posting a line of .389/.368/.833 in the five games against the Padres.
Game 43, May 26 - Reds rally late to beat Cubs again 7-6 (26-17)
- Superhero - Ron Cey (.340). In an eventful three game stretch, that’s Billy Goat/Superhero/Billy Goat for Cey. On this day, he had two hits and a walk. The big contribution was a seventh inning two out RBI double that gave the Cubs a 6-5 lead.
- Hero - Tim Stoddard (.217). Stoddard bounced back from his last outing with two innings of scoreless work. He allowed one hit and three walks after coming into a 5-5 game in the seventh. He left with the lead.
- Sidekick - Larry Bowa (.170). Larry had a two hit game, drew a walk and drove in two runs. The big hit was a one out bases loaded single in the sixth that scored two runs (.246) to tie the game at 5-5.
- Billy Goat - Steve Trout (-.612). In a move that is just hard to look at, the Cubs sent their most consistent starter out to throw the ninth inning. Just three days earlier, he threw seven innings. Here he came into a save situation. The killer is that it could have worked. He retired the first batter he faced. Then Eric Davis reached on an error. Cesar Cedeno followed by reaching on an error (the first was by Sandberg and the second by Bowa). Dave Parker then grounded out, but Tony Perez delivered a two run single to give the Cubs the lead.
- Goat - Don Schulze (-.222). Don got the start and lasted three innings allowing eight hits, a walk and four runs.
- Kid - Ryne Sandberg (-.199). Ryno had just one hit in five plate appearances.
Steve Trout did throw in relief 65 times in his career. 27 of those came before he was a Cub. This is one of those “different times” situations. Surely having played a double header two days earlier, the Cubs bullpen was off its normal sequencing. I also wonder if something was wrong with Lee Smith at the time. He pitched on May 23 and 24 for a total of 2⅔ innings, then didn’t pitch again until May 30. Regardless, this game produced a strange WPA line. One inning, one hit, no earned runs, no walk (-.612 WPA). This would be the fifth highest negative WPA of the season for the Cubs.
Game 44, May 27 - Cubs lose 4-3 as Reds finish sweep (26-18)
- Superhero - Mel Hall (.066). Mel had a single with no outs and a runner on first in the second inning. In one of those you hate to let one get away moments, Mario Soto left the game after the Hall single. The next three Cubs were retired in order, squandering the opportunity.
- Hero - Ryne Sandberg (.047). Ryne had one hit in four tries, the hit being a sixth inning RBI double to cut the Cubs’ deficit to 2-1.
- Sidekick - Bob Dernier (.036). Dernier was hitless on the day but did have a walk and a stolen base and scored the aforementioned sixth inning run.
- Billy Goat - Dennis Eckersley (-.235). On May 25, the Cubs completed a trade that would help shore up a starting rotation. That trade brought Dennis Eckersley, who was surely asked to take one for the team in his first appearance. I doubt his start would be viewed as exceptional even in context, allowing nine hits a walk and four runs. But he threw nine innings and gave the bullpen a breather.
- Goat - Richie Hebner (-.150). Richie got the dreaded ninth inning pinch hitting opportunity with two outs and a runner on second. He struck out to end the game.
- Kid - Ron Cey (-.132). Ron was quite a podium magnet on this homestand. This was his fourth straight podium appearance and seventh in eight games. He had one hit in four at bats.
This game was interesting for another reason. Why was Mario Soto pulled so early? Well, Al helped me find some information after I said I wanted to look a little further into this game since Baseball Reference noted that the Cubs protested a ruling and lost. Al’s written on the subject in the past and he used this quote from Retrosheet’s boxscore of the game:
Ron Cey hit a ball that was ruled fair by 3B umpire Steve Rippley; Mario Soto ran to Rippley and argued the call; Soto bumped Rippley and was ejected; the call was reversed and Cubs manager Jim Frey ejected by HP umpire Paul Runge; Soto ran onto the field after the reversal but was restrained by Brad Gulden and Cubs coach Don Zimmer; as Soto was led back to the bench, a Wrigley Field vendor hit Soto with a cup of ice; Soto was suspended for 5 days
Immediately, I think about how the ways in which this game would play out different in modern times. We have replay challenge now. Might they have found a definitive angle that showed the ball fair? The Cubs only lost this game by a run and there were runners on first and third at the time. But also, Soto never gets ejected as it is just a simple challenge now. Soto was one of the better pitchers in the league at that time. So of course, the game is entirely different. Here is a link to video of the incident that ensued.
The Cubs traded Bill Buckner for Mike Brumley and Dennis Eckersley. Brumley did briefly play for the Cubs in 1987 at the major league level, but this trade was about Dennis Eckersley. To that point in the season, the Cubs starting rotation would have to be described as spotty at best. Eckersley had been a two time All-Star and had received Cy Young votes in both 1978 and 1979 and even MVP votes in ‘78. Eckersley had originally been drafted in the third round of the 1972 draft by the Indians. in 1975, Eckersley debuted for the Indians. In 1978 he was traded to the Red Sox where he had his greatest success as a starter. If for some reason you aren’t versed at all in baseball history, Dennis pitched for the Cubs until the end of the 1986 season. He was traded to the A’s for three minor leaguers who never played in the big leagues, while Eck became a Hall of Fame closer. Despite not regularly being used as a closer before the 1987 season, he amassed 390 saves. Along the way, he pitched in four more All-Star games, received Cy Young votes in four more seasons, winning the award in 1992 (as well as being named American League MVP that year). He also pitched in six postseasons after leaving the Cubs and appeared in three World Series, winning once.
- Gary Matthews 18
- Leon Durham 13
- Richie Hebner 12
- Scott Sanderson 8
- Ryne Sandberg 6
- Rich Bordi 4
- Bob Dernier 4
- Steve Trout 2
- Tim Stoddard 2
- Warren Brusstar 1
- Gary Woods 1
- Henry Cotto 1
- Dickie Noles 0
- Rick Reuschel -1
- Don Schulze -2
- Chuck Rainey -2
- Dan Owen -2
- Lee Smith -3
- Dennis Eckersley -3
- Porfi Altamarino -3
- Tom Veryzer -4
- Jody Davis -4
- Mel Hall -6
- Larry Bowa -6
- Keith Moreland -7
- Bill Buckner -9
- Dick Ruthven -9
- Ron Cey -11
Gary Matthews solidified his hold on the lead. Leon Durham streaks into second. Ron Cey falls into the basement.
You can never know for sure how and where things came to be. But it isn’t a crazy narrative to suggest that this was a huge hometand for the Cubs. Winning the first six games put the Cubs into first place as the season crossed the one quarter mark. It was clear that this team had some talent and some cohesiveness. But the team lacked quality starting pitching. Dennis Eckersley was the first upgrade and helped out immediately by giving them a complete game at a time when it appears the bullpen was overused and unavailable for whatever reasons.
The Cubs leave home at the end of this trip with a one game lead in the division. They head out to start a 12-game road trip. The upcoming trip figures to be a gauntlet, running through four cities and seeing the rival Cardinals to end it. This kind of trip can make or break a season, so the Cubs are hoping they can carry this momentum forward.