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Today in Cubs history: The wildest game Wrigley might have ever seen

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Yes, even wilder than the famous 23-22 game.

Focus On Sport / Contributor

Perhaps the best way for you to understand exactly how bizarre the Cubs’ 16-15 win over the Reds in 13 innings was is to watch this highlights package narrated by WGN-TV’s Rick Talley. It happened 40 years ago today:

That’s nearly 10 minutes of highlights, way more than you’d get almost anywhere on any televised sports show today for a single regular-season game. But that game had pretty much everything you could think of. The video is an excellent record of that era at Wrigley, with beer cups seen in the outfield basket, the grass not in great shape, and the wall behind home plate much farther away from the plate than it is now, with all the extra seats the Cubs added over the last decade or so. We don’t have a lot of good video like this from that era and this is well worth watching.

The Cubs trailed 6-0 before they batted, then hit two homers in the bottom of the first inning to make it 6-4. The five home runs the two teams combined for in the first inning set a National League record.

George Mitterwald homered in the second and the Cubs scored three to take a 7-6 lead, but the Reds came back with four in the third to lead 10-7.

By the end of the fourth inning it was tied 10-10 but the Reds hit more homers to take a 14-10 lead by the top of the eighth. You’ll see the name “Griffey” come up with one of those home runs. That, of course, is Ken Griffey Sr., the father of the Hall of Famer.

Bill Buckner’s two-run homer and a solo shot by Jerry Morales made it 14-13 after eight, and that’s when the Cubs started running out of infielders. From the Retrosheet boxscore link above:

REDS 9TH: SUTTER REPLACED GROSS (PITCHING); ROSELLO REPLACED WALLIS (PLAYING SS); CARDENAL STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING 2B); Rose reached on an error by Cardenal [Rose to first]; Dave Rosello and Jose Cardenal switch 2B and SS based on batter's hand;

Cardenal had played infield before, but not since 1969 and then only briefly. (This gets more fun later.)

Cubs manager Herman Franks got himself tossed later in that inning disputing a close call at first base. If you look at the video above he was probably right; modern replay review would have overturned that call.

On the game went to extras. No one scored in the 10th or 11th. In the 12th the Reds took the lead and Bobby Murcer had to play the infield. Murcer had come up through the Yankees system as a shortstop, but hadn’t played there in 11 years, until this:

REDS 12TH: BROBERG REPLACED MORALES (PITCHING); CLINES REPLACED SUTTER (PLAYING CF); MURCER CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING 2B); ROSELLO CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING SS); Foster doubled to right; Bench walked; MURCER CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING SS); ROSELLO CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING 2B); Geronimo flied out to left; MURCER CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING 2B); ROSELLO CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING SS); Concepcion reached on a fielder's choice [Bench to second (error by Rosello; assist by Broberg), Foster scored (unearned) (no RBI)]; Bench advanced to third; MURCER CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING SS); ROSELLO CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING 2B); Concepcion stole second; Lum was walked intentionally; SUMMERS BATTED FOR NORMAN; Summers struck out; Rose struck out; 1 R (0 ER), 1 H, 1 E, 3 LOB. Reds 15, Cubs 14.

Davey Rosello, the only real infielder among the two, made an error that allowed the lead run to score.

But Mitterwald’s second homer of the game tied the contest again in the bottom of the 12th.

Rick Reuschel, the Cubs’ best starter, came on to pitch in the 13th with two on and one out and got out of the inning. A good hitter, Reuschel singled with one out in the bottom of the 13th, advanced to third (watch him run on the video, he was an excellent baserunner despite his size) on a single by Steve Ontiveros, and scored on a single by Rosello, in a way atoning for his error.

The 11 home runs combined for the two teams remains the National League record for such things. It’s been done three times, all at Wrigley Field. The Cubs had 24 hits that day; they’ve had that many (or more) just eight times in franchise history (in the baseball-reference era, since 1913).

The Cubs struggled that July, but that win moved them to a 60-39 record and held a 2½-game lead in the N.L. East.

You know what happened after that and it doesn’t bear repeating here. This game was in many ways even wilder than the famous 23-22 loss to the Phillies two years later, in part because the Cubs won this one and in part because of the homer record, the outfielders used as infielders, and the guy making the key error redeeming himself.