In week 17, the Cubs won five of seven, including four straight to end the week. That swelled their division lead to 6½ games with just over 50 games remaining. Excitement in Chicago was growing by the day as it looked, at long last, as if the Cubs would get back to the postseason for the first time since their World Series appearance in 1945.
But, there was still a lot of baseball left to be played. One daunting aspect of the remaining 50+ games was the road trip that starts in week 18. The Cubs would have a two week long trip to Houston and the west coast. They would play 13 games over the two-week period. With Houston always a tough place to play, and both the Giants and Dodgers competing for their own spot in the post season, this looked like a tough trip. Let’s get right to the action and see how it went.
Game 110, August 4: Cubs 9, Astros 3 (69-41)
With Fergie Jenkins on the hill, the trip started off with a bang. The Cubs scored in the top of the first, added three more in the third and two more in the fourth and lead 6-0 before the Astros managed their first run. The Cubs added one in the sixth and two in the eighth around an Astros run in the fifth and two in the seventh. The Cubs pounded out 16 hits, five doubles (including one by Jenkins) and drew four walks as they won a fifth straight game.
- Superhero: Glenn Beckert (.230). 5-6, 2 2B, 2RBI, R, K
- Hero: Randy Hundley (.198). 2-4, SF, 2B, 4RBI, K
- Sidekick: Ferguson Jenkins (.153). 9IP, 4H, 1BB, 3R, 12K, W(15-9)
- Billy Goat: Ernie Banks (-.114). 0-5, R, 2K
- Goat: Paul Popovich (-.062). 1-4, SH
- Kid: Jim Hickman (-.032). 2-5, RBI, K, DP
Game 111, August 5: Cubs 5, Astros 2 (70-41)
The Cubs stayed red hot with their second straight win against the Astros and sixth straight overall. In this one, the offense pounded out 16 hits. Oddly, they drew no walks. They did have six doubles though. They hit into two double plays or this one might have been even more lopsided.
- Superhero: Bill Hands (.222). 6⅔IP, 6H, 5BB, 1R, 3K, W(13-8)
- Hero: Jim Hickman (.148). 2-4, 2 2B, RBI, R, SB, K
- Sidekick: Randy Hundley (.074). 2-4, 2B, 2R
- Billy Goat: Don Kessinger (-.040). 1-5
- Goat: Ernie Banks (-.019). 1-4, 2B, RBI, DP, K
- Kid: Glenn Beckert (-.018). 2-5, 2B
Game 112, August 6: Cubs 5, Astros 4 (71-41)
The Cubs reached 30 games over .500 with their second straight series sweep and seventh consecutive win overall. Rich Nye started this one for the Cubs and it looked for a bit like he might end up taking the loss to end the streak. But, the Cubs battled back. They actually scored first with two in the second, but the Astros scored two of their own in the third. After each team scored a run in the fourth, the Astros scored again in the fifth and took a 4-3 lead to the seventh. But the Cubs scored two and held on for the win.
- Superhero: Dick Selma (.415). 3IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R, 4K, SV (1)
- Hero: Don Kessinger (.364). 1-4, RBI
- Sidekick: Randy Hundley (.113). 2-4, K
- Billy Goat: Rich Nye (-.260). 6IP, 5H, 3BB, 4R, 5K, W(3-5)
- Goat: Ron Santo (-.088). 0-4, K
- Kid: Glenn Beckert (-.081). 0-4, K
Game 113, August 8: Cubs 0, Dodgers 5 (71-42)
The winning streak ended at seven. The Cubs managed only two hits behind starter Fergie Jenkins. The Dodgers scored two in the second and two more in the third on their way to an easy victory. Leo Durocher also protested a call in this game. Once again, he lost a protest as he had in another protest we covered earlier in the season. This one had to do with the advancement of runners on an errant throw into the dugout. As part of the background of the story, the Cubs had been involved in a similar situation a week earlier where the same play was ruled differently by a different crew. Certainly, not hard to understand Leo’s frustration with that.
- Superhero: Ron Santo (.030). 0-3
- Hero: Willie Smith (-.003). 0-1, K
- Sidekick: Al Spangler (-.008). 0-1
- Billy Goat: Ernie Banks (-.051). 0-3, K
- Goat: Randy Hundley (-.042). 0-3, 2K
- Kid: Glenn Beckert (-.041). 0-4
Game 114, August 9: Cubs 4, Dodgers 0 (72-42)
The resurgent Cubs won for the eighth time in nine tries, this time via the shutout. Bill Hands did the trick, picking up his third shutout and ninth complete game. The Cubs had nine hits and scored a run in the second, two in the fourth and another in the eighth to coast to the victory. The offense was powered by Jim Hickman who hit his eighth homers and added a double.
- Superhero: Bill Hands (.365). 9IP, 6H, 2BB, 0R, 3K, W(14-8)
- Hero: Jim Hickman (.229). 3-4, 2HR, 2B, 2RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Randy Hundley (.139). 2-5, HR, RBI, 2R, 2K
- Billy Goat: Jim Qualls (-.188). 0-4
- Goat: Ron Santo (-.072). 1-5, K
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.067). 1-4, BB, K
Game 115, August 10: Cubs 2, Dodgers 4 (72-43)
The Dodgers took two out of three in the set to cool off the Cubs a bit. This was a pitcher’s duel early with Don Sutton and Ken Holtzman on the hill. But the Dodgers pushed across two in the fourth and held onto a 2-0 lead through seven innings. But the Cubs did put up a fight, scoring a run in the eighth. But then they allowed two more in the bottom of the inning. They got one back in the ninth, but it was too little, too late.
- Superhero: Randy Hundley (.172). 2-4, 2B, RBI, R
- Hero: Jim Hickman (.147). 1-2, 2BB, K
- Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.049). 1-4, RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Bill Heath (-.137). 0-1
- Goat: Jim Qualls (-.137). 0-3
- Kid: Paul Popovich (-.126). 0-1
Looking Back: The Cubs won four of six to start their long road trip. Certainly, after starting the trip with a sweep of the Astros, the Cubs had to hope they could maybe win more than four, but four of six is always a good result on the road. That is doubly true when one opponent is a .500 team and the other one is in contention for a division title. Their division lead which started the week at 6½ games, got as high as nine with the sweep of the Astros. But it was trimmed back down to 7½ with the series loss in LA.
WPA Hero of the Week: Randy Hundley (+6)
WPA Goat of the Week: Ernie Banks (-9)
WPA Oddity of the Week: That would certainly be the Friday game in Los Angeles. We have Ron Santo in the Superhero spot despite going hitless in three at bats. How was this accomplished? He reached on an error. Had that not occurred, this could have been a game with the entire team in negative territory. As it is, two pinch hitters occupied the second and third positions with negative scores. Certainly odd.
Week 18 Featured Player: Bill Heath
Bill was signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1960. He was traded to the White Sox in 1964. He appeared in one game for the Sox in 1965, his MLB debut. He was then traded to the Astros in 1965. There, he played in 64 games over two seasons, with a .703 OPS. The Tigers purchased his contract from the Astros in May of ‘67 and he finished his season there, appearing in 20 games with a .277 OPS.
In 1968, Heath bounced around from the Yankees to the Dodgers, but not getting back to the major leagues. In 1969, he signed with the Cubs as a free agent. He got into 27 games as a Cub with a .597 OPS. Heath lived the life of a third catcher, rarely seeing the field.
Tragically, Bill and his wife were murdered in a home invasion of 1975 and his daughter was kidnapped.
Looking Ahead: Week 19 will see the Cubs finish their trip west. That would include a stop in San Diego for two games and then moving on to San Francisco for four, including a Sunday Doubleheader. That gave the Cubs rare off days on Monday and Thursday. A day off in southern California for a team with a 7½-game lead with less than 50 games remaining should have been just what the doctor ordered to help recharge the team ahead of a stretch run. A second day off in southern California after a stop in San Diego doubles the pleasure.