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Cubs historical Heroes and Goats: Comebacks

In the wake of Saturday’s win, here’s a look at some of the great comebacks in Cubs history.

Al Yellon

Saturday’s wild game got me thinking about how the comeback stacked up with some memorable comebacks in Cubs history. With no game to recap for Heroes & Goats today, let’s have a look back at Saturday and other big Cubs comebacks.

How epic was that comeback?

First of all, you’d think it would be easier to track down the great comebacks a team has made. But I had to dig quite a bit to find as many as I did. Here is a look at 10 of the greatest comebacks in Cubs history. In all but one instance, I’ve examined just how low the probability of victory was as per the WPA statistic. WPA isn’t perfect as it doesn’t try to account for where a game is being played, the weight of the moment, the quality of the opposition, etc. It simply looks at how likely a team is to win the game based upon the current situation in terms of score, outs remaining and any base runners in play.

With that in mind, I’ve organized the comebacks I was able to dig up by the size of the deficit at the time the comeback started.

Nine run comebacks

Fangraphs doesn’t do their WPA graphs all of the way back to 1930 but that’s where we go for our first game. On September 28, 1930 the Cubs allowed nine runs in the top of the second inning. They scored three runs in the third, two in the fifth, three in the sixth and after allowing two in the eighth, five more in the bottom of the eighth to win 13-11. There are no WPA statistics this far back, but take a look at the box score. The Cubs lineup included Footsie, Woody, Kiki, Hack, Gabby and High Pockets. The Reds had a future famous Cubs manager playing short. And the Cubs scored 13 runs without the aid of a home run.

On August 29, 1989, the Cubs also overcame a nine run deficit:

Source: FanGraphs

Three different future managers played for the Cubs in that game and they all had three hits! The Cubs trailed 9-0 after the fifth and WPA shows the Cubs as having .3 percent chance of winning after the Cubs leadoff hitter was retired in the sixth and then again after the third batter of the inning was again retired. As late as the top of the eighth inning, the Cubs chances of winning were still just 2.9 percent.

Eight run comebacks

This past Saturday, the Cubs trailed 10-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth in this game:

Source: FanGraphs

With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the seventh and trailing 10-3, the Cubs chances of winning bottomed out at .6 percent. This one gets a special spot in this list because the Cubs entered the bottom of the eighth with just 3.9 percent chance of winning and then dropped down to 2.0 percent after two of the first four hitters struck out. They finished the inning with a 98.4 percent chance of winning by way of their four run lead.

On May 30, 2008, the Cubs fell behind 8-0:

Source: FanGraphs

After allowing a two-out home run in the top of the fourth, the Cubs chances of winning had dropped down to 2.6 percent. Even after scoring a run in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs dropped down to .8 percent by the bottom of the sixth when they were still trailing 9-1.

On July 7, 2011, the Cubs were also behind 8-0:

Source: FanGraphs

As late as the bottom of the sixth in this one, after a strike out for the second out of the inning the Cubs were down to .4 percent chances of winning.

And in 1999, this one happened:

Source: FanGraphs

This one started early. The Cubs were down 9-1 after the third inning in this game in Colorado. The Cubs dropped as low as a 3.4 percent chance of winning after a two-run homer in the bottom of the third for the Rockies. After the first out for the Cubs in the top of the eighth they still had just a 13.3 percent chance of winning.

Seven run comeback

On June 19, 2009 there was this one in which the Cubs trailed 7-0:

Source: FanGraphs

After trailing 7-0 through five innings, the Cubs had just a 2.9 percent chance of winning and were facing Cliff Lee, an All-Star pitcher in those days. Even after getting a run in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs dropped down as far as 2.7 percent chance after the first out in the sixth. The Cubs still had only a 12.1 percent chance of winning the game after the first out of the ninth against the Indians closer who had once been a promising young starter who struck out 20 batters and made two All-Star teams.

Six run comeback

The biggest comeback by the 2016 World Champion Cubs came on July 31:

Source: FanGraphs

That’s the famous “Brian Matusz Game.” The Cubs trailed 6-0 after the top of the fourth. Felix Hernandez was on the mound for the Mariners making this one appear even more daunting. The 3.5 percent chance of winning that WPA registered after the final out of the fourth inning doesn’t even account for Hernandez’ usual dominance. The Cubs still trailed 6-3 when the ninth inning started. Current Cubs reliever Steve Cishek had been called on to close the game for the Mariners. After he struck out Kris Bryant to start the inning, the Cubs were down to 1.7 percent chance of winning.

Four run comeback in the ninth inning!

This one was a little smaller, but it lands here because the Cubs trailed 6-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth:

Source: FanGraphs

Actually, this was even more dire than that intro. The Cubs not only trailed 6-2, but their first two hitters were retired. The Cubs were down to just .2 percent chance of winning. And those hitters were their second and third hitters in the order. At least one Doofus Cubs Fan would be excited to see who came through with a three-run homer to send this game to extra innings.

Special mention: Postseason comeback

Finally, there is this one. It lands here because it happened in the playoffs. The Cubs were leading the series two games to one, but they would have to face Johnny Cueto if the series went to five games. He had been brilliant in a Game 1 loss to the Cubs and the Giants would possibly also have had playoff superhero Madison Bumgarner available in relief.

Source: FanGraphs

The Cubs trailed this one 5-2 heading to the top of the ninth in San Francisco. Bruce Bochy deployed five different relievers in attempting to close this one out. When the Cubs came to the plate they had a 2.5 percent chance of winning. And again, WPA doesn’t take into account the magnitude of a game or the location. The Cubs scored four in the ninth and moved on the NLCS and an eventually World Championship. Without this win, it will forever be a question as to whether they would have eventually won that championship.

So there you have it, 10 of the most memorable come from behind wins in Cubs history. Do you have a favorite? Do you have one that we didn’t talk about? Let us know in the comments below.


What is the greatest comeback in Cubs history?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    September 28, 1930
    (2 votes)
  • 10%
    August 28, 1989
    (6 votes)
  • 15%
    April 14, 2018
    (9 votes)
  • 5%
    May 30, 2008
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    July 7, 2011
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    June 22, 2009
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    June 19, 2009
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    July 31, 2016
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    September 18, 2008
    (0 votes)
  • 59%
    October 12, 2016
    (35 votes)
59 votes total Vote Now