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Cubs Heroes and Goats, 1984 edition: The NLCS

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A fantastic start slowly evolves into a train wreck and disappointment.

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Avert your eyes if you are still scarred from 1984. I actually wasn’t originally going to touch the playoffs, but there was a request for it and so with a little time left before real, meaningful baseball begins to be played we’ll go ahead and take a look at the National League Championship Series from that year.

Game 1, October 2 - Cubs crush Padres 13-0 (1-0)

  • Superhero - Rick Sutcliffe (.195). The Red Baron picked up right where his 20 win regular season left off. He threw seven innings of two-hit ball. He struck out eight, though his control was a bit off on the day. He allowed five walks and hit a batter. Most of you will best remember the long home run he also hit in the third inning off of Eric Show.
  • Hero - Bob Dernier (.126). When a game gets lopsided in a hurry, you’ll see guys up here who contributed in the early going. Bob had two hits and two walks in his five plate appearances. He scored three times. Most amazingly, he hit a home run off of Show to start the scoring. After only three home runs in 612 at bats, this was almost as likely a source of power as Sutcliffe was. But that first inning home run increased the Cubs chances to win by about 10%.
  • Sidekick - Gary Matthews (.104). Matthews had a huge day at the plate. He also homered in that first inning and then for good measure took Greg Harris deep in the fifth inning with two men on base. In all he had two hits in four at bats and drove in four runs. His home run tacked on about 7% more to the Cubs win probability.
  • Billy Goat - Larry Bowa (-.038). Bowa actually had a hit, a walk, an RBI and a run scored, but none of that did much for his WPA. He grounded into a double play his first time up in the second inning and that cost the Cubs about 3% of their win percentage.
  • Goat - Jody Davis (-.024). Jody actually had two hits, a run and an RBI in four plate appearances. Alas, he was retired the first two times he batted and it was already 8-0 before he had his first hit, an RBI single in the fifth.
  • Kid - Gary Woods (.000). Gary was hitless in one at bat. Three other Cubs had the same WPA, but technically contributed positive results. Steve Lake and Henry Cotto each had a hit in their only at bat. Warren Brusstar had two scoreless innings (though he did allow four hits).

Everything went right for the Cubs in this one. They had 16 hits and drew six walks in eight innings at the plate. They allowed only 11 base runners in nine innings on the hill. Cubs fans were in a word euphoric after this game. I have fond memories of this one because our north side grade school actually pulled us all into the gymnasium to watch the game. This is probably on the short list of games in Cubs history that most fans would point to as one of those games where you just wish you could redistribute the runs scored to another game or two.

Game 2, October 3 - Cubs push Padres to the brink with 4-2 win (2-0)

  • Superhero - Steve Trout (.284). They say momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. Trout carried the momentum right on into game two. He was only slightly less effective than Sutcliffe with 8⅓ innings of five hit, three walk ball. He did allow two runs, but he also assured that the Cubs would head to San Diego having only used two relievers.
  • Hero - Ron Cey (.125). Ron finished near the bottom of the standings for Heroes and Goats in the regular season despite a 97 RBI season. Throughout the season he excelled in RBI situations. In this one, he walked in the first inning with two outs and a runner on second. Then in the third inning he batted with one out and a runner on first. He launched a double that scored Keith Moreland all of the way from first giving the Cubs a 2-0 lead. That one was worth 14% for the Cubs win probability. That one ended up being the biggest WPA swing in the game.
  • Sidekick - Lee Smith (.084). Lee came into this game with a runner on first and one out following a Trout walk issued to Kevin McReynolds. Big Lee faced two batters, retired them both and closed this one down without giving the Padres any hope or momentum of their own heading back to San Diego.
  • Billy Goat - Leon Durham (-.033). Again the game was mostly positive as the Cubs had a 3-0 lead after three innings. Alas, Durham ends up here following a day in which he was hitless in four at bats.
  • Goat - Jody Davis (-.027). Jody had a sacrifice fly in the third inning following the Cey double to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. He also made the last out of the first inning though with runners on first and second and two outs.
  • Kid - Gary Matthews (-.009). Gary had a walk and also had an RBI ground out in the first inning.

Solid pitching and just enough hitting pushed the Cubs to a 2-0 lead. This was the last year of the five-game National League Championship Series. But in the early 80’s that wasn’t the case. It is a common misconception that the format was changed because the Cubs didn’t have lights, but that narrative just isn’t true. In that time period, series were played two home games and then three road. The most recent series that went five games was in 1981 when the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Montreal Expos to get to the World Series. The Dodgers won the last two games in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to get to the World Series after splitting the first two games in LA. 1981 was an unusual year with the strike, but going back to 1980 the Phillies dropped the first two games at home and then went to Houston and won three straight to get to the Series. I was someone who carried that misconception about 1984 for years, but I just wasn’t right. Al definitively debunked this here at BCB in 2013.

Game 3, October 4 - Cubs squashed 7-1 by Padres (2-1)

  • Superhero - Ron Cey (.054). Ron had an RBI single in the second following a lead off double by Keith Moreland. At that point the Cubs had a 65% chance of winning the game. This is the exit ramp to leave this column before things turn.
  • Hero - Gary Matthews (.041). Gary had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances.
  • Sidekick - Jody Davis (.033). Jody finally gets on the board in a positive way with a hit in three at bats. Despite a massive work load in the regular season, Jody sported a .300/.273/.400 line through the first three games of the series despite the two appearances on the Goat podium.
  • Billy Goat - Dennis Eckersley (-.243). Dennis tried to keep that momentum going. He worked around a double in the first and a single in the third for the Padres and the Cubs took a 1-0 lead to the bottom of the fifth. I did warn you that things were going to go south. Dennis allowed back to back singles to start the fifth. He bounced back and got a pop out for the first out. Gary Templeton follow ed though with a two run double to give the Padres their first lead of the series at 2-1. Eckersley did get his counter part Ed Whitson to pop out for the second out but Alan Wiggins followed with his second single of the game, this one driving in a run to make it 3-1. Dennis went back out for the sixth inning and allowed two singles sandwiched around a ground out and then left the game. Both runs ended up scoring.
  • Goat - Leon Durham (-.162). Leon was hitless in four at bats again in this game. He also grounded into a double play in the top of the sixth after a lead off single by Matthews.
  • Kid - George Frazier (-.064). George relieved Eckersley with runners on first and second and one out. The first batter he faced singled and then Kevin McReynolds cleared the bases with a three run shot to close out the scoring at 7-1. Frazier did throw a perfect seventh, once again saving the Cubs bullpen.

The Cubs pitching cratered in the fifth and sixth innings and that contributed in no small part to this loss. However, I’ve always believed in tipping the cap when it is appropriate and Ed Whitson deserved a tip in this one. He threw eight innings allowing five hits and two walks. The Cubs never had a runner in scoring position after the second inning. Goose Gossage threw a perfect ninth inning to close it out.

Game 4, October 5 - Cubs drop seesaw battle to Padres 7-5 (2-2)

  • Superhero - Jody Davis (.527). Often when you see a guy with a WPA this high they had a walk off home run with their team trailing in the game. Jody got here in a different way. He came through not once but twice in clutch situations for the Cubs. He had a two out two run homer in the fourth that tied the game at 2-2 that increased the Cubs chances to win by about 23%. He followed that up with an RBI double off of Gossage in the eighth to put the Cubs up 5-4. This was again a two out hit and this one increased the Cubs chances to win by about 30%.
  • Hero - Leon Durham (.109). Leon followed the fourth inning Davis homer with one of his own. He also drew a walk in this game to finally provide some offense in this series.
  • Sidekick - Warren Brusstar (.102). Brusstar came in with two outs and a runner on first and got out of the fifth inning to preserve a 3-3 tie. He then faced only three batters in the sixth despite allowing a single to McReynolds. He was able to induce a double play to get out of the inning unscathed.
  • Billy Goat - Ron Cey (-.311). There a lot of things that could have changed this series. Ron had been so reliable in key situations, but he came to the plate against Craig Lefferts with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. He grounded out to second eliminating the last 17% chance of the Cubs winning. He also batted with men on base two other times in the game.
  • Goat - Tim Stoddard (-.294). Most people remember what came later in this game, but many forget Stoddard’s seventh inning with the score still tied at 3-3. It started innocently enough with a fly out. But then Stoddard issued a walk. The runner stole second and Stoddard seemed like he’d be okay when he got Wiggins to fly out. The Cubs intentionally walked Tony Gwynn who had an MVP caliber season to bring Steve Garvey to the plate. Garvey followed with a single to give the Padres the lead. Graig Nettles was the next hitter and while he was batting Jody Davis had a passed ball that allowed another run to score.
  • Kid - Lee Smith (-.271). The Cubs rallied back in the eighth to tie the score at 5-5 and that was the score when Lee came into this one. He retired the first batter Wiggins. The next was Gwynn who singled and that brought Steve Garvey to the plate. Garvey took one deep to center field for a walk off home run. Probably the most iconic moment and game of a Hall of Very Good type career for Garvey.

This is probably another hat tip game. Garvey had to be seeing beach balls floating up to the plate on this day. He had four hits in five at bats and drove in five runs including the decisive one. Clearly the lack of bullpen depth was a problem for the Cubs in 1984. Tim Stoddard was the second best reliever through much of the early part of the season. George Frazier moved into that spot in the later part of the summer. But he faltered in September and then had a rough outing in game three the day before. I totally understand why Stoddard and Brusstar were used in this one. But it just didn’t work out for Stoddard.

Game 5, October 7 - Cubs again falter late in 6-3 loss as Padres advance to the World Series

  • Superhero - Leon Durham (.151). Durham had one of the least productive post seasons among Cubs hitters in 1984. But, he had a key home run in Game 4 and followed that up with a two run homer in the first inning with two outs.
  • Hero - Jody Davis (.056). It would be easy to forward a narrative about a run down Davis in the regular season. However, his was the most potent bat in the Cubs post season attack. He added a solo home run in the second inning of this one and finished the series with a line of .389/.368/.833.
  • Sidekick - Richie Hebner (.024). Richie pinch hit in the top of the eighth inning with the Cubs trailing 6-3 and was hit by a pitch. The Cubs had only five hits and three walks in this game. The Cubs only got runners into scoring position in the eighth inning of this game off of Gossage.
  • Billy Goat - Rick Sutcliffe (-.526). Rick made it through five scoreless innings in this one, never allowing a runner past first despite two singles and a walk allowed. But then the sixth inning happened. Wiggins singled, Gwynn followed with a single of his own and Steve Garvey drew a walk to load the bases. Sutcliffe drew two consecutive sacrifice flies and got out of this inning with a 3-2 lead. Then he went back out for a seventh inning. He walked the first batter he faced and the Padres sacrificed successfully. Sutcliffe then coaxed a grounder to first that Durham misplayed at first. The tying run scored on that play. Wiggins then singled, Gwynn doubled in two runs to give the Padres the lead and Garvey singled in another run to cap the scoring at 6-3.
  • Goat - Bob Dernier (-.081). Bob was hitless in four at bats and finished the series with a line of .235/.409/.529.
  • Kid - Ron Cey (-.062). Cey was again hitless, this time in four at bats. He finished the series with a line of .158/.273/.368.

In hindsight it is easy to say that someone other than Rick Sutcliffe should have started the seventh inning. He had battled to get out of the sixth and with the bottom of the Padres lineup due, maybe Steve Trout would have been the right choice. That would still have left Dennis Eckersley to start the first game of the World Series. Carmelo Martinez and Garry Templeton who were due up both swung from the right side. Of course with knowledge of the future it gives a chuckle to think that Eckersley, one of the greatest relievers of all time, could have come in to face those right handed hitters in the seventh. Alas, it was 1984 and not 1987. Dennis hadn’t pitched in relief since 1976. Of course Trout had very little experience relieving after 1979. Probably George Frazier should have been given the seventh, but it was far from unusual in those days for a manager to want to go down with the guy who got him there.

A sad chapter in Cubs history. This one joins the 1969 regular season and the 2003 postseason as ones that got away that seemed to be in hand. Alas, it would be 32 more years before the Cubs were finally able to finish the job. Fortunately, I feel very confident that they won’t have to wait nearly that long to cash in again.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented on this series. It was a real treat for me to do this. Please join me in the regular season for the daily recap of WPA and Heroes and Goats throughout the 2018 season. I’ll also be back next offseason with a whole new series covering another notable season in Cubs history.