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Today in Chicago Cubs history: It was warm and windy and the Cubs blew an 11-run lead

Both parts of this headline are unusual for from a 2018 viewpoint.

Mike Schmidt rounds third after hitting the first of four home runs on April 17, 1976
Bettmann Archive

It’s been brutally cold for most of the early baseball season in Chicago and much of the Midwest and Northeast.

So at least one part of this story should warm you up. 42 years ago today, it was 84 degrees at game time between the Cubs and Phillies with a wind blowing out at Wrigley Field at 20 miles per hour.

As you might imagine, that sent quite a few baseballs heading toward the Wrigley Field bleachers that Saturday afternoon, April 17, 1976.

Earlier today we talked about Cubs comebacks. This is one that went the other way.

The Cubs hit three home runs by the fourth inning: two by Rick Monday and one by Steve Swisher. Two of the three homers were off future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, who didn’t make it out of the second inning, allowing seven hits, two walks and seven runs.

All of that gave the Cubs a 13-2 lead after four innings. A no-brainer fun win, right?

Well, no. These were the 1976 Cubs, who would bottom out at 19 games under .500 (39-58) on July 26, before playing a bit better the rest of the way (36-29, presaging a good start the following year).

And most of what happened the rest of that afternoon was courtesy of another future Hall of Famer, Mike Schmidt.

Cubs starter Rick Reuschel actually retired Schmidt in his first at-bat, in the second inning. (Amazingly, Schmidt batted sixth in that Phillies lineup.) Schmidt singled in the fourth and was forced out, but the Phillies scored their first run.

He came up again with a runner on and two out in the fifth and homered. That made the score 13-4.

It was still 13-4 in the top of the seventh. The Phillies had already scored twice when Schmidt batted with two out and no one on base. He homered again, cutting the Cubs’ lead to six.

A six-run lead heading to the bottom of the seventh. What could possibly go wrong?

In the top of the eighth, Dick Allen singled in two runs with the bases loaded to make it 13-9. By this time Mike Garman had replaced Reuschel. It mattered not. Schmidt smashed his third homer of the game, this one a three-run shot, and suddenly it’s a one-run game, 13-12.

Darold Knowles relieved Garman. Knowles, famed for his work in the 1973 World Series for the Athletics, did not have a good outing on this windy day. Another homer — this one by Bob Boone — tied the game, and Knowles allowed two more runs in the inning, so the Cubs now trailed 15-13.

The Cubs weren’t done, though. With two out and runners on second and third in the ninth, Swisher singled in both and the game headed to extra innings tied 15-15.

With one out in the top of the 10th and a runner on base, Schmidt came to the plate:

Schmidt’s fourth homer of the game — and remember, he didn’t hit his first until the fifth inning — was off Rick Reuschel’s brother Paul, and the Phillies scored once more to make it 18-15. (That’s the WGN radio call on the video, with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau.)

This game — which eventually ran three hours, 41 minutes — wasn’t quite done. With two out in the last of the 10th, Bill Madlock doubled in Mike Adams — the only run Adams scored as a Cub — and Jerry Morales stepped to the plate as the potential tying run.

Phillies manager Danny Ozark called on Jim Lonborg, normally a starter. Lonborg got Morales to ground out, and posted one of just four saves he had in his big-league career. Here’s how Tribune writer Richard Dozer recapped this game:

The combined delights of hitting behind a 20 mile-an-hour wind in Wrigley Field against a Cub pitching staff that only a foe could love thrust Mike Schmidt, the National League home run champion, full force into the big league record book Saturday.

Schmidt smashed four consecutive home runs to set a modern National League record. With them, he drove across eight runs and dragged the Philadelphia Phillies off the floor to an incredible 18-16 victory in 10 innings before 28,287 shellshocked spectators.

Unbelievably defeated in this one, the staggered Cubs actually were ahead at one stage by a 13-2 score. But while Philadelphia pitchers were knocking down Cub hitters to gain a measure of respect Cub hurlers rarely attain, the whipped Chicagoans were overtaken in a three-run Philadelphia ninth.

The 11-run blown lead still stands as the biggest in National League history. (There have been a couple of A.L. games where a 12-run lead was blown.)

It will be quite a bit colder at Wrigley Field tonight and we’re not likely to see anywhere near 34 runs scored. You’ll also note both in the photo and the video that ivy was already growing on the Wrigley Field walls on that date. This year, we might not see ivy until June, the way this relentless cold has continued. But I just wanted you to know that it actually can be warm in Chicago at this time of year.