When last we checked in on our faithful heroes, they had lost two out of three on a quick trip to Pittsburgh. On the back of being swept in four straight games by the Phillies to end the last homestand, that made six losses in seven games. Suddenly the team found itself in third place and 2½ games out of first place in the National League East after spending more than a month either in first or within a half game of the lead. There was definitely reason to be pessimistic.
Yet, the Cubs had made a trade in May for Dennis Eckersley who’d given the Cubs consistent deep starts even if the team wasn’t yet winning many games when he pitched. June saw the Cubs trade two young, talented outfielders for Rick Sutcliffe. There was no question this organization was going for it. There was a blend of young talent and veterans with a bit left in the tank and there was definitely reason for optimism.
Game 67, June 22 - Cubs triple up Cards 9-3 (36-31)
- Superhero - Ryne Sandberg (.156). After a four-hit game on Thursday in the series finale against the Pirates, Sandberg collects three more hits in five at bats. The one that landed him here was a first inning double (.096) following Bob Dernier’s lead off single. He would later score on a Keith Moreland three run homer as the Cubs jumped out to a 4-0 lead after an inning.
- Hero - Jody Davis (.134). The Cubs catcher had just one hit in four plate appearances on the day, but it was a two-run homer in the sixth after the Cards had cut it to 4-3 (.161). He also had a walk and scored a run in the eighth.
- Sidekick - Rick Reuschel (.116). On this day, Rick was in pretty strong form. He gave the Cubs 7.1 innings allowing eight hits, two walks and three runs while striking out five.
- Billy Goat - Gary Matthews (-.063). Sarge doesn’t appear down here a lot, but the Cubs offense was potent and balanced on this day. Matthews did have one hit in four at bats and drove in a run with a first inning ground out.
- Goat - Larry Bowa (-.008). After moving out Reuschel’s hitting performance, there are only two other Cubs in negative territory. And so here we have Larry with two hits in four at bats. Tough luck for sure.
- Kid - Ron Cey (-.004). And Bowa wasn’t even alone with the tough luck. Ron not only had a walk in the game, but had a solo homer in four plate appearances. But he gets the tough luck appearance in the bottom Goat podium.
Harry Carry had a little song he would sometimes sing after Jody Davis homered where he declared Jody King of Wrigley Field. Certainly, you could see that in his 1984 splits. Jody hit .282/.356/.496 at Wrigley and .233/.276/.353 elsewhere. Indeed, throughout his career he hit .258/.324/.446 at Wrigley, quite a bit better than his .245/.307/.403 career numbers. The only place he had a higher career OPS was at Dodger Stadium and of course he had 10 times as many plate appearances at Wrigley Field. Baseball Reference shows Wrigley Field as about 10 percent better for hitters in 1984 than the average park. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that we’ve covered more than one Cub who was significantly better at Wrigley. It was no Coors, but that was not an insignificant impact.
Game 68, June 23 - Cubs win “The Sandberg Game” 12-11 (37-31)
- Superhero - Ryne Sandberg (1.045). For the third straight game, Sandberg lands in this spot. There are Superhero performances and then there are SUPERHERO performances. This was the latter. For those of you who are not fully versed in this game, let me walk you through it. After the Cardinals scored a run in the top of the first, Bob Dernier singled and stole second to start the game for the Cubs. Ryne Sandberg followed with an RBI single (.071). He next batted in the third inning with no outs and the bases empty. The Cubs were trailing 7-1 and he singled (.013) but Gary Matthews followed by grounding into a double play. In the fifth inning Sandberg batted with one out and runners on second and third. The Cubs were still down 7-1 at the time. He grounded to short and Jay Johnstone scored the Cubs second run (-.017). After Willie McGee’s third hit of the game left the park for a two-run homer, the Cardinals had a 9-3 lead. The Cubs rallied in the bottom of the sixth. By the time Sandberg came back to the plate, it was only 9-6 and there were runners on second and third. Sandberg singled driving in two more runs to make it 9-8 (.058).
That was already a pretty good day for Sandberg, three hits in four at bats and four RBI to go with it. But the next time he stepped to the plate, he was leading off the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cubs were down 9-8 and the pitcher was Bruce Sutter. We talked about Sutter in a previous column, but again for those of you who weren’t around, Bruce was one of the best relievers of the 80s. In 1984 he would make his sixth All-Star appearance. He won a Cy Young in 1979. And 1984 was the fifth season he finished in the top six in the Cy Young voting. It was also the fifth time he finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting. Across his whole career Sutter averaged allowing .7 home runs per nine innings. 1984 Ryne Sandberg didn’t care much for history or statistics. He hit a home run to tie the game (.431). The Cubs would get a runner into scoring position but Sutter shut the door as he did so many times to so many teams.
In the top of the tenth inning, Ozzie Smith lead off with a single off of the Cubs own relief ace Lee Smith. He then stole second and Willie McGee hit a double to give the Cardinals the lead and to give Willie McGee the cycle. This game was carried by NBC in its Game of the Week package. They always named a player of the game and McGee was named the Player of the Game in the top of the ninth inning before he completed this cycle. After his 10th-inning double, Willie had four hits and six RBI. When he scored one out later, it was his third run and he gave the Cardinals an 11-9 lead. And so it was that Bruce Sutter would get a second chance to close the door on the Cubs.
The first two Cubs hitters grounded out and it looked like Sutter would close this one out as he’d done so many times over the years. Bob Dernier then drew a walk. Amazingly, Sutter issued just 23 walks (four of those intentional) in 122⅔ innings of relief work in 1984! So this was an unusual walk. And of course that brought Sandberg back to the plate with the Cubs down 11-9 and representing the tying run. What followed was a moment that if we saw in a Hollywood movie we would declare it too ridiculous. Sandberg took one of the best pitchers of his generation deep for a second time (.489). Lee Smith worked around some trouble in the top of the 11th and after a Leon Durham walk, he stole second and advanced to third on a wild throw. Keith Moreland and Jody Davis were intentionally walked and Dave Owen had the walk off single for the Cubs.
- Hero - Bob Dernier (.207). Dernier had three hits and a walk in six plate appearance. He scored all four times he reached base. He had a double and a stolen base as part of his big day at the plate.
- Sidekick - Gary Matthews (.182). Matthews had two hits and a walk in six plate appearances. He drove in just one run and didn’t score.
- Billy Goat - Steve Trout (-.449). Trout did not have it on this day. He was touched for five hits, three walks and seven runs while only recording four outs.
- Goat - Lee Smith (-.253). These are the games you want to point to when you say wins are dumb. Lee allowed two runs in the top of the 11th and he records the win for this one. He allowed two hits, a walk and two runs in two innings of work.
- Kid - Keith Moreland (-.182). Keith had just two walks and a run to show for six plate appearances.
This was the third straight game in the Superhero spot for Sandberg and his seventh of the month in just 21 games. Add in two Hero performances and two sidekicks, and in over half the Cubs games in June Ryno was one of the top performers. This game was surreal. One of my favorite things I heard over the last year was Rick Sutcliffe talking about this game. The following day would be his home debut for the Cubs. His wife was in the stands for the first time and his memory is of her telling him not to screw it up after that performance. Indeed, in those days Sutcliffe had been pitching in front of empty stadiums in Cleveland and for the first time in years Wrigley Field was just starting to be the packed house that we all know it as these days. Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player growing up and this game is a massive reason why. Aside from one particular November game that occurred recently, this is probably the last game that will fade from my memory.
Game 69, June 24 - Sutcliffe didn’t screw it up, Cubs win 5-0 to complete sweep (38-31)
- Superhero - Rick Sutcliffe (.418). Sandberg’s amazing day would be tough to follow. But follow it he did. Not only did he have a complete game-shutout but he struck out 14 Cardinals. He allowed just five hits and a walk. Just one runner made it to third base on the day.
- Hero - Bob Dernier (.098). Bob had two hits, a stolen base and scored both times he reached base in four at bats.
- Sidekick - Ryne Sandberg (.086). Just one hit in four at bats but it was a big one. He tripled in the second run in the third and scored the third on a Cardinal error (.112).
- Billy Goat - Dave Owen (-.048). After moving out Rick Sutcliffe’s hitless in three at bats day, Dave is left in the bottom spot. Getting a start after his heroics the day before, he had one walk in three plate appearances getting a start at third base.
- Goat - Larry Bowa (-.045). Larry had one sacrifice bunt in three plate appearances.
- Kid - Keith Moreland (-.005). Keith actually had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances in a game he started at first but lands in this spot.
Rick Sutcliffe was in his age-28 season when the Cubs acquired him. He was originally selected in 1974 by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 21st pick in the first round. He did appear in 98 games over parts of five seasons with the Dodgers amassing a 22-21 record, a 4.04 ERA and even 5 saves. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1979 for them before being traded in the offseason after the 1981 season. He pitched for the Indians for two seasons and the first two months of the 1984 season. He was 35-24 with a 3.92 ERA in 85 games for the Indians. There is no question that Rick spent the best years of his career in Chicago with an 82-65 record and a 3.74 ERA in 193 games. He completed 40 games or just over one in every five games in his Cubs career. We’ll be talking quite a bit more about Rick as the 1984 season progresses.
Game 70, June 25 - Cubs blanked by Pirates 3-0 (38-32)
- Superhero - Thad Bosley (.033). Thad made his Cubs debut in this game and drew a walk in a seventh inning pinch hit at bat. That was good enough for the top spot on a day where the Cubs managed only four hits and six walks.
- Hero - Warren Brusstar (.027). Warren allowed only one hit over two innings of work on a day where the pitching was pretty good.
- Sidekick - Jay Johnstone (.026). Jay drew two of the Cubs walks in this one as he reached twice in four plate appearances.
- Billy Goat - Ron Hassey (-.163). Ron did have one hit in four at bats. He lands here largely because he grounded into a double play with runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth (-.139).
- Goat - Keith Moreland (-.153). Keith was hitless in four at bats. The big negative for him was a foul out in the eighth with a runner on first and no outs (-.048).
- Kid - Dave Owen (-.144). Getting another start at third, Owen was again hitless, this time in four at bats.
Ron Hassey was 31 years old in 1984. He was drafted on three different occasions, first by the Reds, then the Royals and finally signing with the Indians in 1976. He debuted with the Indians in 1978. He managed to last 14 seasons in the Major Leagues and has a couple of most similar player comps to Francisco Cervelli. His best season by bWAR was 1980 with 3.8. He actually hit 13 home runs as a part time player in 1985 for the Yankees. He played in 19 games as a Cub and only batted 37 times.
Game 71, June 26 - Cubs trampled by Pirates 9-0 (38-33)
- Superhero - Richie Hebner (.032). A third inning single when it was only 3-0 Pirates was good for the top spot. It was his only hit in four at bats.
- Hero - Ron Hassey (.012). In just his second start with the Cubs, one walk in four plate appearances is enough to land him here. Probably indicative of nothing, the Cubs lost the first three games Ron started. He only started six games as a Cub that year and they lost four of them.
- Sidekick - Tim Stoddard (.000). I actually had to break a three way tie for this spot. Two hitters were hitless in one pinch hit at bat. I went with Tim Stoddard for one perfect inning. That theoretically gave the Cubs the most chance to win.
- Billy Goat - Dennis Eckersley (-.295). This one was a real clunker for Dennis. He retired eight batters while allowing eight hits and seven runs (five earned).
- Goat - Dickie Noles (-.065). Dickie got the next seven outs for the Cubs. He allowed five hits and a run. Dennis Eckersley departed with two runners on and both of them scored while Noles was pitching.
- Kid - Dave Owen (-.047). Owen got yet another start at third and was hitless in three at bats.
Dave Owen had the walkoff hit in the Sandberg game. Of course, the way that game played out he managed to have a walkoff hit and not make any podium. The Cubs picked Dave in the 1979 draft in the 10th round. He got into 16 games in 1983 and 47 more in 1984. Dave wasn’t much of a hitter. He had a .194/.269/.290 line in 1984. In those 47 games, he reached a podium 16 times. It wasn’t pretty though. In 1985 the Cubs traded Dave for an aging Manny Trillo.
Game 72, June 26 - Cubs bounce back to split doubleheader with 9-8 win (39-33)
- Superhero - Lee Smith (.190). This is a little bit of an odd line for a relief pitcher to get the top spot. Lee retired eight Pirates. He did allow four hits including a home run, and allowed two runs. But the eight outs was the key. The Cubs matched the two runs he allowed and therefore Smith never surrendered the lead.
- Hero - Jody Davis (.174). Unquestionably, Jody was the player of the game for the Cubs. He had four hits in four at bats, drove in a run and scored one. This was Jody’s only four hit game of the season. The biggest at bat was his first inning single with the bases loaded that tied the game at 1-1 (.089).
- Sidekick - Ron Cey (.127). After a few days off, Ron was back in the lineup. He was hitless on the day, but he did drive in a run and score one. He followed Jody’s RBI single with an RBI grounder. Cey reached on an error and two runs scored on the play (.146). He would later score to make it 6-1 Cubs.
- Billy Goat - George Frazier (-.121). George entered the game with two outs in the sixth and the Cubs leading 8-4. There were runners on first and second. He got the out to get out of the inning and then went back out for the seventh. He allowed a walk and a single. He then got a fielder’s choice grounder that recorded the first out and allowed a run. Ron Cey made an error on the next play and then Lee Mazzilli double in another run and that was it for Frazier.
- Goat - Gary Matthews (-.070). Gary had one hit in four at bats and scored once. His first inning strike out with runners on first and second and no outs was the primary culprit (-.055).
- Kid - Rich Bordi (-.028). Rich had a tough day. He made through two outs in the sixth, but of the five hits he allowed three were home runs. He allowed four runs, three earned on the day.
June was a bit of a mixed bag for Lee Smith. He appeared in 13 games, finishing 12 of them. He had a 1-2 record and six saves. He blew two saves. He threw 20 innings and allowed 16 hits and nine runs. He walked 12 and allowed four home runs resulting in a fairly weird looking opponent slash line of .213/.318/.440. The Cubs were 9-4 in the games that Lee appeared in.
Game 73, June 27 - Cubs win another close one 8-7 to split four game set (40-33)
- Superhero - Tim Stoddard (.293). Tim threw two shutout innings allowing one hit and one walk. Those two innings were the tenth and eleventh innings. Tim got the win for his efforts.
- Hero - Gary Matthews (.286). Gary had just one hit and one walk in five plate appearances. The one hit was an eighth inning two out, RBI double that gave the Cubs a 7-6 lead (.271). He had two RBI on the day.
- Sidekick - Ryne Sandberg (.237). Sandberg stayed red hot with a three hits in six at bats day. He scored two runs and drove in three. He had a two run homer in the first (.154) that gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead. He had an RBI single in the fourth (.082). He also doubled leading off the eleventh and eventually scored the winning run. He would have been the Superhero yet again but for a strike out with a runner on second and one out in the eighth with the score tied 6-6 (-.073).
- Billy Goat - Rick Reuschel (-.197). Rick was knocked around for 12 hits, two walks and five runs. One of the hits was a home run and he only struck out one batter.
- Goat - Lee Smith (-.181). Lee threw the ninth inning with the Cubs leading 7-6. He allowed a one out Tony Pena double a two out Jim Morrison triple to tie the game.
- Kid - Richie Hebner (-.163). Richie had just one hit in six at bats on the day. He played this game at first base.
Tim pitched in 13 games in June, throwing 21.2 innings. He allowed 18 hits and 11 walks. He allowed seven runs for an ERA of 2.91. He did strike out 19 hitters. Just like Lee Smith, it was an up and down month for Tim. He did have a 2-1 record and 2 saves in the month. Despite two home runs allowed, he held opponents to a line of .231/.326/.359.
- Ryne Sandberg 23
- Bob Dernier 15
- Richie Hebner 14
- Gary Matthews 12
- Leon Durham 9
- Steve Trout 8
- Rich Bordi 7
- Scott Sanderson 6
- Thad Bosley 3
- Rick Sutcliffe 3
- Jay Johnstone 2
- Gary Woods 2
- Dickie Noles 1
- Henry Cotto 1
- Warren Brusstar .5
- Tim Stoddard .5
- Lee Smith 0
- Mel Hall 0
- Keith Moreland 0
- Ron Hassey -1
- Don Schulze -2
- Porfi Altamarino -3
- George Frazier -4
- Tom Veryzer -4
- Dennis Eckersley -6
- Rick Reuschel -7
- Jody Davis -7
- Chuck Rainey -8
- Bill Buckner -9
- Dick Ruthven -9
- Dave Owen -10
- Larry Bowa -16
- Ron Cey -21
Ryne Sandberg had a monster week to take control at the top of the leaderboard. Bob Dernier climbs up to second and Richie Hebner takes advantage of a cool streak for Gary Matthews to move into third. Ron Cey was unchanged at the bottom but Larry Bowa drops into second to last and Dave Owen got some playing time and it lead to him showing up third from the bottom.
The Cubs had a very successful homestand, sweeping three from the Cardinals and then splitting a four game set with the Pirates. They moved back to seven games above .500 on the year. They had two walk offs, increasing their sixth and seventh of the year. They cut their deficit in the division back to one game and moved back into second place. Next up is a tough challenge as they go west for an 11-game trip to California. That road trip finishes the first half schedule.
That’s it for this week. Thank you for reading and thank you for commenting. Next week, we’ll be back early in the week with a look at another of biggest WPA games of the year. And later in the week we’ll have the next installment in this series.