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10 epic games that Rob Manfred would sacrifice in the name of ‘pace of play’

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These are the games where fans are born!

John Baker scores the winning run at 1:37 a.m. on July 30, 2014
Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images

I cannot for the life of me figure out why the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, is so intent on “fixing” a game that is practically perfect. Josh already did an excellent job explaining the implications of the rule changes that will go into effect across Minor League Baseball this year, but to remind you:

  • Mound visits will be limited
  • Pitch clock use will be extended (15 seconds, 20 seconds if there are runners on base)
  • ALL extra innings will begin with a runner on second base

Every time I thought more about the implications of these rule changes at the major league level I got a little bit angrier. For example, I thought about the 2017 World Series and the unbelievable back and forth of Games 2 and 5. I wondered how many people became baseball fans solely because of those games? I know of at least one.

Then came the realization that a pitcher could pitch a perfect game or no-hitter under these rules and lose:

As the day went on I started thinking of all of the epic games I’ve watched over the years and how many of them would never have happened under the new minor league rules. So, here they are, the top 10 Cubs games I’ve seen that Major League Baseball would like to sacrifice in the name of “pace of play.”

10. Yankees defeat the Cubs 5-4, May 7, 2017

I’m sure this 18-inning affair is exactly what Manfred is hoping to prevent with these types of rules, so even though the Cubs lost I had to include it. Besides, there were a lot of gems in this marathon game last May and it belongs on this list. The fact that it set a major league record for strikeouts (48) would honestly be enough, but there is so much more.

This game also featured a brilliant three-run ninth-inning Cubs comeback against none other than their previous closer, Aroldis Chapman. The classic small ball rally was capped off when Chapman ploinked Anthony Rizzo with two out and the bases loaded, bringing the tying run home before Chapman was relieved by Tyler Clippard.

Finally, even though it didn’t work out for our boys in blue, the baseball universe would have been deprived of this absolutely stellar catch by Kyle Schwarber in the 12th inning:

9. Dodgers defeat the Cubs 2-1, August 17-18, 1982

The longest game by innings in the history of Wrigley Field couldn’t be confined to a single day. In 1982 there were no lights at Wrigley Field, so with the game deadlocked 1-1 in the 18th inning, and the sun setting, they called the game and resumed it the next day, thus the two days listed in the heading. It took 21 innings played over six hours and 10 minutes to determine a winner.

The benches were so depleted that when Tommy Lasorda and Ron Cey were ejected in the 20th inning, Fernando Valenzuela was called upon to man a corner spot in the outfield. The Dodgers were clearly hoping to avoid him needing to actually field anything, so he moved from left to right field depending on the batter. The player he was trading spots with? None other than future Cubs manager Dusty Baker.

Interestingly, with modern replay review, the winning run might not have scored. Steve Sax was called safe at the plate in the top of the 21st and most video replays showed he was probably out.

8. Astros defeat the Cubs 8-7, September 2-3, 1986

Don’t worry Cubs fans, we’re getting to some victories soon.

However, I’d be remiss to talk about epic extra inning games and not include the debut of one of the greatest Cubs pitchers of all time: Greg Maddux.

In 1986 the Astros were a pretty good team. At 75-57 they were at the top of the N.L. West. The Cubs... well, the Cubs were not a pretty good team. Their 55-77 record would have been 20 games behind the Astros if they had been in the same division. In fact, the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention during the middle of this game, because this was another game that had to be suspended during extra innings due to darkness. This time the game was stopped in the top of the 15th with the game tied 4-4.

Wait a second, Sara. If the game was tied 4-4 in the 15th how did it wind up with a final score of 8-7? I’m so glad you asked! A wild 17th inning saw the Astros break away with three runs in the top of the frame with a walk, three singles and a fielder’s choice. The Cubs hadn’t scored since yesterday (literally) but their bats woke up in the bottom of the frame. Ryne Sandberg walked, Bobby Dernier followed that with a double, and Keith Moreland tied the game with a home run.

One out later Jody Davis singled and was replaced with a pinch runner: Maddux. Maddux made it to second base on a single but was stranded there after a groundout by Mike Martin. The next inning he threw his first major league pitches and ended up losing the game after giving up a home run to Billy Hatcher.

The win probability chart for this game is wild:

Astros-Cubs Win Probability
Baseball Reference

7. Cubs defeat the Braves 7-6, May 23, 1987

Joey Votto and Mike Trout could tell you a bit about how difficult it is to win an MVP for a last place team, but in 1987 Andre Dawson did just that. One of my favorite moments of his season came before the Cubs meltdown that year, on May 23 when they were still just one game back of the Cardinals.

The Cubs looked like they were headed for a 6-4 loss with two out in the bottom of the ninth when Dawson decided to make the game last a few innings longer. He hit a home run to tie the game 6-6 in the ninth.

The Cubs would ultimately win the game in the bottom of the 16th with Sandberg scoring on a Jerry Mumphrey double.

5 & 6. Cubs defeat the Pirates 8-7 (8/29/2016) and Cubs defeat the Giants 3-2 (9/4/2016)

Look, this is my list so indulge me a bit. Neither of these games is likely to make a list on its own, but together they’re pretty special.

After moving to Chicago I was rewarded with the greatest Cubs team of my lifetime. I went to the ballpark as much as I could and in late August/early September I happened to have tickets to two games: this 13-inning win against the Pirates and this 13-inning victory against the Giants. That’s right, in the span of one week, the Cubs won two different 13-inning games and even though the scores were different the late innings were shockingly similar.

The Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by one in both games. They were 36 games over .500 for the first one and 40 games over .500 for the second one, so there wasn’t a ton of anxiety involved in the ninth, but there was a sense: This team, they never quit, why not win today?

Both days sellout crowds were rewarded with ninth-inning comebacks to tie the game, and both days those crowds were rewarded with walkoff wins in the 13th.

Fun note: the San Francisco game was by far Jason Heyward’s best offensive game of the 2016 season, even though he made an uncharacteristic error in the first inning.

4. The John Baker Game, July 29, 2014

This was a brilliant game by a terrible team. Frankly, it’s the type of game that makes baseball superior to every other sport. Think about it, if your team is bad in football how many good games will you remember, let alone brilliant ones? But in baseball, you can be a fifth place team with very little hope and be rewarded with a game like the John Baker Game.

Danny Rockett has covered this game in more detail than I ever could, and I encourage you to read it all. He even wrote a song about it, which you can listen to here.

The short version is this: two teams that were both about 20 games under .500 in late July met at Wrigley Field. The Colorado Rockies jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead against Edwin Jackson, who managed to pitch only four innings that day (I like him so much more as a National, but I digress) — 105 pitches, incidentally, in those four innings. The Cubs fought back and managed to tie the game at three in the bottom of the fifth.

Then the type of game that makes Manfred wake up in cold sweats broke out — a 3-3 deadlock from the fourth inning until the 16th frame. Eleven whole scoreless innings.

The Cubs ran through their bullpen and as a result, in the top of the 16th inning, backup catcher John Baker entered the game. As a pitcher.

Baker threw an exceptional top of the 16th (for a catcher). He got Charlie Culberson to pop out, followed it with a walk to Drew Stubbs and then ended the inning with a groundout double play.

But Baker wasn’t done.

In the bottom of the 16th he led off the inning with a walk and ultimately scored on a Starlin Castro sacrifice fly (it was really a line out). Here’s the video of Baker’s feat.

And with that, Baker became the first position player in Cubs history to record a win. Do you hate fun like this that much, Rob Manfred?

3. Cubs defeat the Cardinals 4-2, September 2, 2003

On September 2, 2003 the Cubs, Cardinals and Astros were in the midst of an intense pennant race. Only 1½ games separated the first-place Cardinals and the third-place Cubs as the Cardinals came to Wrigley field for a doubleheader. While the teams would wind up splitting the games, the first game was special.

It really doesn’t get much better than a Cubs-Cardinals pennant race in September. The Cardinals took an early 2-0 lead on Carlos Zambrano with runs in the second and fourth inning, but the Cubs got both of those runs back putting up two of their own in the fifth. The next 10 innings were exactly the uneventful extra-inning nightmare that inspired the concern about pace of play in the first place. Whatever shall we do if there are 15 innings, late in the season, in Game 1 of a double header?!?!

The people who are so concerned about those scoreless 10 innings would have missed one of the greatest home runs in the history of Wrigley Field, because in the bottom of the 15th with a runner on first Sammy Sosa hit an absolute moonshot. It landed on the far side of Waveland Avenue and still stands as the latest Cubs walkoff homer in franchise history.

2. The Sandberg Game, June 23, 1984

I might have been a Cubs fan without the Sandberg Game, but we’ll never know because as fate would have it on June 23, 1984 the NBC Saturday Game of the Week featured the Cubs and the Cardinals and I’ve never looked back.

This game started terribly for the Cubs. By the end of the second inning they were down 7-1 and the Cardinals are the most skilled practitioners of the dark arts in baseball, so it really looked like this game was a foregone conclusion.

It wound up being one of those wild Wrigley Field games, however and even though the Cardinals entered the sixth inning with a 9-3 lead, by the end of that inning Sandberg was notching his third and fourth RBI to make it 9-8.

It looked like the game might end that way until the bottom of the ninth, when Ryno led off the ninth with a home run against Bruce Sutter to tie the game at nine. In the 10th, the Cardinals added two runs to make it 11-9, so in the bottom of the frame, Sandberg had to hit a two run shot to tie it again.

The game finally ended when Dave Owen hit a single that drove in Leon Durham, but, with maybe one of the greatest single game lines of all time, this will always be the Sandberg Game.

Ryne Sandberg: 5-for-6, two home runs, seven RBI.

1. Cubs defeat the Indians 8-7 in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, November 2, 2016

Okay, before you say “Sara, there could be different postseason rules,” or “Sara, this game only went 10 innings,” I think it’s really important to note a couple of things: there is no postseason or 10th inning exception to the rule changes announced today in the minor leagues.

Yes, you heard that right. There is no buffer. The runner would start on second starting in the 10th. See for yourself:

Rule changes press release
Minor League Baseball

So you’ll forgive me for adding a 10-inning game to the list of marathon games, it looks like baseball is testing these rules with no buffer or exception.

With a runner on second to start the inning the entire 10th inning changes for both sides and not necessarily for the better. For starters, it’s unclear that Schwarber would then be swinging away on the first pitch, he could very well try to bunt the runner over. While that might work, and Kris Bryant might still hit that long fly ball to bring the runner home, Albert Almora Jr. is no longer on second to tag when that ball is hit, the Cubs score one run and the bases are empty. With the bases empty is Rizzo still walked? Unlikely. I have a lot of faith in Anthony Rizzo to get on base in a big spot, but I’m reluctant to give up this moment for some “pace of play” obsession:

Imagine the Indians 10th with a runner starting on second? I don’t even dare talk about it. Speaking of moments I’m unwilling to give up, Manfred will have to pry this moment out of my cold, dead hands:

Takeaways

This isn’t close to a complete list. For starters, I limited it to games that have happened in my lifetime and games that I’ve seen (okay, okay, I might have been three years old in 1982, but the Fernando Valenzuela/Dusty Baker thing was way too good to pass up).

In all seriousness, these are just some epic Cubs extra-inning games that would be ruined under this Manfred plan. There are 29 other teams and fanbases and all certainly have similar stories. I basically can’t think of a worse way to get people excited about baseball than to eliminate many of the greatest games ever played.

For the love of all that is holy in baseball, Rob Manfred. Don’t do this.