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Today in Cubs history: The real first night game at Wrigley Field

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It was anticlimactic after the previous night’s hoopla, but the Cubs won.

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August 8, 1988 would have been the perfect night for the first game under Wrigley Field lights. “8-8-88” and all, the Cubs’ best pitcher on the mound, a full house... it wasn’t to be, as you know, because of one of the fiercest thunderstorms in recent Chicago history.

So instead, a humble little game the next night between the Cubs, who were floundering around .500, and the visiting Mets, running away with the N.L. East, would go into the record books as the first official Wrigley Field night game.

Instead of Rick Sutcliffe on the mound, it would be Mike Bielecki as the starting pitcher. That, in itself, was notable: Bielecki had been used off-and-on as a reliever early in 1988 after being acquired by trade just before the season started for a minor leaguer you’ve never heard of. This game was the first start Bielecki made in a Cubs uniform.

And it began as a good one. Here’s the first official night-game pitch and at-bat of the game, from the national NBC broadcast with Vin Scully on the call:

Bielecki shut out the Mets for the first four innings, allowing four singles. Mets starter Sid Fernandez also allowed the Cubs no runs, on only one hit, through the first four.

Then the Mets took the lead in the fifth. Wally Backman led off with a single and one out later, Lenny Dykstra homered.

Thus it’s Dykstra who has the record-book notation as the first player to homer in an official night game at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs got one of those runs back in the last of the fifth. Vance Law singled and Rafael Palmeiro tripled (!) him in. The Cubs tied the game in the sixth on an RBI groundout by Andre Dawson. Meanwhile, Frank DiPino was turning in two shutout relief innings.

Then the game got broken open in the bottom of the seventh. With two out and Palmeiro on first, Jody Davis doubled him in to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Roger McDowell replaced Fernandez at that point, but that only made things better for the Cubs. McDowell gave up four straight singles, and Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Dawson’s hits all drove in runs to give the Cubs a 6-2 lead.

If this sounds like a pretty dry description of an historic game, it’s because after the festivities the previous night, this simply felt like an ordinary baseball game, just played at a different time of day than any previous in Wrigley Field history.

The Mets scored a run in the eighth on a solo homer by Howard Johnson, and then Goose Gossage entered in the ninth for the save. He allowed a run, but wrapped up the game for his 12th save of 1988, a 6-4 Cubs win. He would save only one more game as a Cub before departing as a free agent at the end of the season. Fun fact about the Gossage save:

The game wasn’t sold out — 36,399, even in those pre-Wrigley expansion days, was a couple thousand short of a sellout, and more than 2,500 fewer than had paid for the previous night’s rainout. And it was much cooler that evening than it had been on August 8, 80 degrees under partly cloudy skies.

The Cubs had been permitted eight night games in 1988 by the city ordinance passed to allow night baseball at Wrigley (and then 18 every subsequent year until 2002, when the ordinance was revised). Just seven were scheduled, and with the August 8 rainout made up as an afternoon game (part of a doubleheader September 5), that 1988 number was reduced to six.

Here are the other five night games played at Wrigley in 1988.

August 22, Astros 9, Cubs 7: The first Cubs home run hit in a night game came in this one, a two-run shot by Damon Berryhill in the second inning. Berryhill hit another homer in the game, but the Cubs came up short. Another homer in this game was hit by future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio — his first MLB home run.

August 23, Cubs 9, Astros 3: The Cubs broke open a 2-2 tie with a seven-run seventh, highlighted by another home run from Berryhill.

September 6, Phillies 3, Cubs 2: Andre Dawson homered, but the Phillies defeated the Cubs and Jamie Moyer.

September 7, Cubs 9, Mets 8: The Cubs entered the ninth with an 8-3 lead, but Jeff Pico and Drew Hall blew it and the Mets tied it with a five-run inning. Rafael Palmeiro tripled leading off the bottom of the ninth and one out later, Berryhill singled him in for the win.

September 20, second game, Expos 9, Cubs 1: This game was notable not only for being the first doubleheader game played under the lights (Game 1 was scheduled for 3:05, the DH resulted as a makeup for a rainout the previous day), but for being the first Wrigley Field appearance for future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. It was Johnson’s second major-league start and he dominated, throwing a complete game and striking out 11.

But what was most memorable about that game was this: In the seventh inning, Johnson led off with a single, his first big-league hit. Manny Trillo was playing first base for the Cubs that night. Johnson had just become the tallest player in MLB history at 6-11. Trillo’s listed at 6-1... I don’t think that’s accurate, because the TV shots of Johnson standing next to Trillo at first base made Manny look like a little kid. I wish there were video of this I could show you, because I will never forget watching that (I wasn’t at this game).

The Expos would trade Johnson to the Mariners the following year in a deal that brought Mark Langston to Montreal in an attempt to win the N.L. East, which didn’t happen.

The Cubs never did defeat Randy Johnson; in his career he made 15 appearances (14 starts) against them and went 13-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 0.984 WHIP.