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Today in 1989 Cubs history: The time a reliever got a walkoff hit

The “Boys of Zimmer” came from behind and an unlikely hitter drove in the winning run.

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All through this spring and summer, you’ve been reading about the 1969 Cubs, the famous team that never won anything 50 years ago, yet their story still resonates in the hearts of Cubs fans.

Today, I’ll begin a short series of articles commemorating the 30th anniversary of a Cubs team that did win something, Don Zimmer’s 1989 “Boys of Zimmer,” who were N.L. East champions with a 93-win season. Though they failed to get to the World Series, that team, too, had its memorable moments.

The 1989 Cubs had held first place for much of May and June, but a seven-game losing streak at the end of June had dumped them out of first place, and as they entered the game against the Giants at Wrigley Field July 20, they were 2½ games out of the top spot in the N.L. East.

Mike LaCoss, who was a good but not great pitcher, shut the Cubs down for the first seven innings with no runs on just three hits, striking out nine. The Giants fashioned a 3-0 lead off lefty Paul Kilgus, and entered the ninth inning retaining that lead with closer Steve Bedrosian on the mound. Bedrosian, as still was the fashion for some closers in those days, had also pitched the eighth inning.

With one out, Mark Grace and Damon Berryhill singled, but Lloyd McClendon popped out for the second out of the ninth, the Cubs still down by three. Dwight Smith singled, making it 3-1, and he and Berryhill moved up to second and third on a throwing error. Curtis Wilkerson then singled in both runs to tie the game.

Both teams put runners in scoring position in the 10th, but neither could score. Les Lancaster, who had shut down the Giants’ scoring opportunity in the 10th, also threw a scoreless 11th.

In the bottom of the 11th, McClendon singled but Smith hit into a double play. Wilkerson then singled. The Cubs, having just returned from a West Coast trip where they used a lot of relief pitchers, left Lancaster in to bat, as Zimmer knew he’d need Lancaster to throw the 12th.

Les Lancaster was one of the worst-hitting pitchers I can remember from that era. He entered that game with an .071 (5-for-70) career batting average.

Lancaster hit a double down the left-field line that scored Wilkerson from first base with the winning run. It was one of just four doubles he hit in his career, and he wound up an .097 lifetime hitter (13-for-132 with 64 strikeouts).

(In case you don’t recognize the announcer’s voice, that’s Al Michaels. This game was televised by ABC, which had moved its Monday Night Baseball franchise to Thursdays in 1989, the final year ABC carried baseball.)

The Cubs won the game 4-3. It is one of just three games in Cubs history in which a relief pitcher had a walkoff hit. The others: May 25, 1927, when Charlie Root, throwing in relief, singled in the winning run over the Reds, and June 6, 1963 by Lindy McDaniel, and the latter (also over the Giants) deserves a longer explanation.

McDaniel had entered that game against the Giants in the 10th inning with the score tied 2-2 and the bases loaded with one out. He picked Willie Mays off second base, struck out Ed Bailey and then came to bat to lead off the bottom of the 10th and hit a walkoff homer.

Lancaster’s walkoff double prompted the Cubs to go on a winning run. Including that game, they won 21 of their next 28 and led the N.L. East by 4½ games on August 17, eventually winning the division by six games.

This article is part of a series commemorating important events in the 1989 Cubs N.L. East championship season, 30 years ago. Thanks to BCBer MN exile for his assistance with the video clip.