During the 1970s, it seemed that many spring afternoons at Wrigley Field were warm and windy and home runs flew out of the ballpark, making for quite a few double-digit scores. Those days were a lot like Tuesday weather-wise, upper 80s and gusty southwest winds.
The biggest of those double-digit scores was a 23-6 Cubs win over the Padres on May 17, 1977, 40 years ago today.
The Cubs were in the middle of a two-month stretch, May and June 1977, during which they’d go 40-15 and wind up leading the N.L. East by 8½ games. (You all know how that season ended, though.) That 40-15 mark is, to this day, the best 55-game stretch in Cubs history since 1945. (The 2016 team had several 39-16 stretches and in 2015 the Cubs went 38-17 from late July to early September.)
The Cubs have scored 23 runs (or more) in a game just three times at Wrigley Field. The first of those was the famous 26-23 win over the Phillies August 25, 1922, the most combined runs ever scored in a major-league game.
It next happened April 17, 1954, a 23-13 win over the Cardinals. Five home runs left the yard that afternoon, three by the Cardinals and two by the Cubs, though it wasn’t a particularly warm day (66 degrees was the high, with winds blowing out about 15 miles per hour).
May 17, 1977, though, brought very warm conditions. The boxscore above says it was 86 degrees with the wind blowing out at 23 miles per hour. I wasn’t at this game, but Mike Bojanowski was, and he confirms it was a gusty, warm afternoon. Here’s his scorecard from the game (link opens .pdf).
The Cubs actually trailed 2-0 when they came up in the bottom of the third inning. After Gene Clines was hit by a pitch, Bobby Murcer hit a two-run homer. After two singles and a pop fly, Steve Ontiveros homered. George Mitterwald walked and one out later, Ivan De Jesus drove him in with a double, and then Clines, coming to bat for the second time in the inning, completed an eight-run frame with a two-run shot.
The Cubs scored three in the fourth to make it 11-2, and in the fifth, Larry Biittner, Bobby Murcer and Jerry Morales homered back-to-back-to-back leading off the inning to increase the lead to 12 runs at 14-2.
Eight more Cubs runs came across in the sixth inning, this time without the benefit of a home run. The runs scored on RBI singles and doubles, a groundout and a wild pitch.
The Cubs completed their scoring in the eighth, on a home run by Davey Rosello, one of just 10 homers he hit in his big-league career.
The lone Padres homer was a two-run shot by Bobby Valentine (yes, that Bobby Valentine), one of only 12 major-league homers he hit. That was part of a four-run inning off reliever Ramon Hernandez, and therein lies another tale. Hernandez was a 37-year-old reliever who had been acquired late in the 1976 season and 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 after entering with a 20-run lead. It was the last game Hernandez pitched for the Cubs. 11 days later they traded him to the Red Sox for Bobby Darwin.
The seven home runs hit by the Cubs that afternoon tied a team record, originally set June 11, 1967, and tied August 19, 1970, all three games happening at Wrigley Field. The record has not been matched in the 40 years since, nor have the Cubs scored that many runs in a game at Wrigley Field since, and this is the only game where the Cubs did both (score 23 runs and hit seven homers). Most at Wrigley since 1977: 22 on May 17, 1979 (the famous 23-22 loss to the Phillies, today is also the anniversary of that game, 38 years ago) and on June 3, 1987 (a 22-7 win over the Astros).
It’s supposed to continue to be warm and windy for the next couple of days, and the Cubs have one of their favorite opponents in town, the Reds. Who knows?