This series was suggested by BCB reader Easy Ed in the comments to this post requesting ideas:
Walk-off hits that scored multiple runs.
Home runs not included. 1 single, double or triple, that turned a loss into a win.
I thought that was pretty interesting. In other words, a hit other than a home run while the Cubs were trailing by a run (or more, though as it turns out all the wins in this 10-part series were accomplished one run down) that gave the team a walkoff win.
As noted, this will be a 10-article series. There are exactly 10 of these in Cubs history since 1978.
This is the story of the first one.
The 1978 Cubs contended for the NL East title, for a while, anyway, before finishing 79-83. They scored a fair number of runs — 664, fifth in the NL — but had almost no power. Dave Kingman, in his first year with the team, hit 28. No one else had more than nine (Bobby Murcer). The team total of 72 home runs was the lowest in a full season since 1947 and since 1978, the next-lowest Cubs homer total in a 162-game season is 101.
Yikes. So when the Cubs scored runs in 1978, it was by the old-fashioned “manufacture a run” theory. The team OBP of .331 ranked third in the NL and they stole 110 bases, which wasn’t a lot by 1970s standards but was the most any Cubs team had stolen since 1920 (!).
That sets the stage for this affair on August 20.
The Cubs were still hanging around contention as the day began, though they’d lost three of their previous four. They were in second place at 62-55, only three games behind the first-place Phillies.
Mike LaCoss, who was a decent but not great pitcher, shut out the Cubs for eight innings on just five hits. Cubs starter Ray Burris hit George Foster with a pitch leading off the seventh and he scored on an RBI double by Johnny Bench and the Reds led 1-0.
In the bottom of the ninth, LaCoss retired the first two Cubs in order. Then Larry Biittner and Manny Trillo singled, putting the tying and winning runs on base. At that point, Reds manager Sparky Anderson called on Doug Bair, who had been more or less lights-out that year, to finish things off.
But Bair walked Ivan De Jesus, loading the bases, and that brought up Cubs catcher Dave Rader, who had entered earlier in the game replacing Tim Blackwell.
Neither Blackwell nor Rader could hit. Rader had been acquired from the Cardinals the previous offseason along with Hector Cruz for Jerry Morales, Steve Swisher and cash.
Rader was given the starting job, and hit reasonably well for a couple of months, but then went into a long slump, losing that starting job to Blackwell and playing only occasionally. In 25 games (15 starts) from July 17-August 19 he hit .125/.283/.125 (5-for-48). Why he was playing at all is a mystery.
Rader lofted a ball toward the right-field wall and, as I was then sitting in the RF bleachers, I couldn’t see it land. At first I thought it had been a walkoff grand slam, but it hit high off the wall for a double. Biittner and Trillo scored and the Cubs had a thrilling 2-1 win in front of a sellout of 39,242. I searched everywhere for video of this play; sadly, none seems to survive.
Beyond the walkoff win, what I remember most about that afternoon is that right after Rader’s hit I got stung by a bee, or wasp, or ... I don’t know, something, in my upper leg. I was afraid of a bad reaction to it, but all it did was hurt for a couple days and then went away.
After that win the Cubs proceeded to go to Houston and get swept by the Astros, although they were still as close as 3½ games out of first place September 3 after sweeping a doubleheader from the same Astros at Wrigley Field. From there, though, they went 10-17, and that, as they say, was that.
There aren’t any photos available to me in our photo editor of Rader as a Cub, so you get the 1970s era photo of Wrigley Field above instead (someday, I’ve got to sleuth that photo, too). Before the 1979 season Rader was traded to the Phillies, along with Greg Gross and Manny Trillo, for Derek Botelho, Barry Foote, Jerry Martin, Ted Sizemore and a minor leaguer named Henry Mack, yet another deal that didn’t really work out for the Cubs.