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1969 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: part 25

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The regular season grinds to a close.

Bill Hands
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Today we look at the final games of the 1969 season. They took place over a week and a half in late September and early October. Week 24 of the season saw the Cubs split eight games. Unfortunately, the Mets won five of their eight and they sat 4½ games up with just seven games left. With only two games left head to head, the Cubs were left needing a miracle.

In week 25 of the season, the Cubs had a two-game series with the Expos sandwiched between two off days. Then on the weekend they had a three-game set in Pittsburgh to conclude the road season. Week 26 brings the final two games of the season. Those games were scheduled at home against the Mets. The Cubs were hoping and praying that they would matter.

Game 156, September 23: Cubs 3, Expos 7 (89-67)

The Expos jumped all over Ken Holtzman who only ended up pitching three innings. That’s because he allowed one in the first, three in the second, and one more in the third. The Expos tacked on two more in the fourth and led 7-0 before the Cubs ever got on the board. This was the eighth loss the Cubs suffered at the hands of the Expos who were 51-104 coming into the game. You can’t just assume you’ll destroy a team, no mater how bad they are. But, you’d have to expect that the Cubs would have won more than 10 games against them. The Cubs won 21 games against the Padres and Expos (out of 28). The Mets won 24 in the same number of games. Those three games would have tightened things up considerably.

  • Superhero: Oscar Gamble (.069). 1-3, BB, RBI
  • Hero/Sidekick: Willie Smith/Jim Colborn (.025). Smith 1-1, RBI; Colborn 2⅔IP, 1H, 1BB, 0R, 1K
  • Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.301). 3IP, 4H, 3BB, 5R, 3K, L (17-12)
  • Goat: Glenn Beckert (-.156). 0-4, 2DP, K
  • Kid: Randy Hundley (-.029). 0-3, 2K

Game 157, September 24: Cubs 6, Expos 3 (90-67)

The Expos scored first in this one with a run in the top of the first off of Bill Hands. The Cubs got that run back with a run of their own in the third. The game remained knotted at one until the sixth when the Expos nudged ahead with another run. But the Cubs scored five in the bottom of the sixth on an error, a double and then four straight singles. Hands went the distance, but the run he allowed in the eighth inning knocked him out of the Superhero spot and he missed a precious opportunity to gain an extra point in his bid to capture WPA Player of the Year in an upset.

  • Superhero: Glenn Beckert (.143). 1-4, 2B, RBI, R, K
  • Hero: Bill Hands (.138). 9IP, 10H, 1BB, 3R, 4K, W(19-14)
  • Sidekick: Ernie Banks (.105). 3-4, RBI, R
  • Billy Goat: Oscar Gamble (-.064). 0-4
  • Goat: Jim Hickman (-.043). 1-4, RBI, K
  • Kid: Ron Santo (.045). 1-4, RBI, R, K

Game 158, September 26: Cubs 0, Pirates 2 (90-68)

The offense was nowhere to be found behind Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins went the distance in the loss. With the final two games of the season turning out to be meaningless, this ended up being Fergie’s last start of the year. His 42 starts led all of baseball. He completed 23 games and had seven shutouts. He even earned a save to go with his 21-15 record and 3.21 ERA. He struck out an NL-leading 273 batters. At 26, Jenkins was still learning his craft. Two seasons later he’d go 24-13 in 39 starts, complete 30 games, throw 325 innings, allowing 304 hits (including 29 homers), face 1299 batters and win the NL Cy Young Award. All but the loss total led the NL with the complete game number leading the majors (something he did four times). Even at 284 wins, it seems very possible that Jenkins was good enough to win 300 games if he had more frequently had better teams around him.

  • Superhero: Don Kessinger (.014). 1-3, BB
  • Hero: Fergie Jenkins (.012). 8IP, 5H, 1BB, 2R, 8K, L (21-15)
  • Sidekick: Glenn Beckert (-.033). 1-4
  • Billy Goat: Ernie Banks (-.120). 1-4, DP, K
  • Goat: Oscar Gamble (-.114). 0-4
  • Kid: Billy Williams (-.085). 0-3, BB

Game 159, September 27: Cubs 1, Pirates 4 (90-69)

The Pirates scored one in the second and three more off of Ken Holtzman. The Cubs only managed four hits and didn’t score until the fifth inning.

  • Superhero: Ernie Banks (.079). 1-1, BB
  • Hero/Sidekick: Ron Santo/Joe Decker (.031). Santo: 0-1, BB, K; Decker 2IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R, 3K
  • Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.234). 4IP, 5H, 2BB, 4R (2ER), 1K, L (17-13)
  • Goat: Don Kessinger (-.132). 0-5
  • Kid: Jimmie Hall (-.069). 0-3, BB, 2K

Game 160, September 28: Cubs 3, Pirates 1 (91-69)

This one was scoreless for five innings. The Cubs put three on the board in the sixth behind starter Bill Hands and then held on for a 3-1 win. Hands not only picked up his 20th win of the season, he went the distance and recorded the Superhero spot. That left him just two points behind Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins would not start in the final series of the season, but Hands did. Could he pull off the upset? As for the Pirates, this win brought the Cubs to seven on the season against them (in 18 tries). The Pirates and Expos may have done more to keep the Cubs out of the playoffs than the Mets.

  • Superhero: Bill Hands (.448). 9IP, 6H, 0BB, 1R (0ER), 3K, W (20-14)
  • Hero: Billy Williams (.191). 1-4, HR, 3RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Paul Popovich (.075). 1-3, BB, R, K
  • Billy Goat: Randy Hundley (-.069). 0-4, K
  • Goat: Ernie Banks (-.054). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Ron Santo (-.023). 1-3, BB

Game 161, October 1: Cubs 5, Mets 6; 12 innings (91-70)

This was win number 100 for the Mets. It wasn’t an easy one for them though. The Cubs scored first with two in the first. But the Mets bounced back with one in the second and then two in the fourth. But the Cubs tied at two in the bottom of the fourth. The game stayed knotted until the ninth when amazingly both teams scored two runs. Ken Holtzman threw all nine innings despite allowing nine hits and three walks. His season ERA notched up to 3.59. The Cubs bullpen combined to face 12 batters, allowed two hits and a walk and the decisive run.

  • Superhero: Phil Regan 2IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 1K
  • Hero: Billy Williams (.216). 2-6, RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Don Kessinger (.143). 1-4, 2BB, R
  • Billy Goat: Ron Santo (-.257). 1-4, BB, SF, RBI, DP, K
  • Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.199). 9IP, 9H, 3BB, 5R, 5K
  • Kid: Jim Hickman (-.185). 1-5, BB, K

Game 162, October 2: Cubs 5, Mets 3 (92-70)

The Mets scored the first three runs, two in the first and one in the fourth. The Cubs scored one of their own in the fourth, another in the fifth and then three in the sixth to win one last game. Jim Hickman started this game and entered just two points behind Fergie Jenkins. Had he been allowed to go the distance and the results were the same, it would have been enough for the tie. However, he left after only five innings, losing 3-0. That was enough to crown Jenkins as the WPA Player of the Year.

  • Superhero: Ernie Banks (.421). 2-4, HR, 3B, 3RBI, R
  • Hero: Joe Decker (.279). 4IP, 2H, 1BB, 0R, 3K, W (1-0)
  • Sidekick: Willie Smith (.145). 1-1, 2B, RBI
  • Billy Goat: Oscar Gamble (-.151). 0-3, DP
  • Goat: Don Kessinger (-.097). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Bill Hands (-.086). 5IP, 7H, 1BB, 3R (2ER), 2K

Looking Back: Over the final 10 days of the season, the Cubs played seven games. They won one game against each of the three teams the played for a 3-4 record. The Mets? Starting with a doubleheader win on September 21 that we talked about last time, they won nine straight games before the Cubs beat them on the last day of the season. Once again, pitching was the story of the streak. In the nine game winning streak, they allowed a total of 12 runs. Two of the games went into extra innings and five of the 12 runs were scored in just one game by the Cubs. The Mets went to Philadelphia the last weekend in September and swept a three game set without allowing a single run. That followed a shutout in the previous game in St. Louis, for a total of four straight shutouts. They had five times during the season where they had two or more consecutive shutouts and 28 total team shutouts.

The Mets held opponents to three or fewer runs in 102 games. They won 85 of them. If you couldn’t find a way to get four or more runs against them, you were unlikely to beat them. And it was exceedingly difficult to get to four. Oddly enough, when things went bad, they tended to go really bad for the Mets. They had games where they allowed 10, 11(x4), 15 and 16 runs.

For their part, the Cubs had 22 shutouts. The Cubs were 53-3 if they held a team to two or fewer runs. It was still an era largely dominated by good pitching. The Cubs just didn’t quite get enough of it.

WPA Hero of the Week: Bill Hands (+4)

WPA Goat of the Week: Ken Holtzman (-8)

Looking Ahead: That wraps our coverage of the 1969 season. I’ll come back soon with one more quick look back. We’ll have the full and final standings for Heroes and Goats. I’ve already spoiled that Fergie Jenkins was Player of the Year by WPA (and Bill Hands second), but how did the rest shake out? I’ll also have a few more parting thoughts on the collapse and some of the things that went wrong.

Of course, I can’t say this often enough. For the way September went and the poor taste that left for decades in the hearts of Cubs fans, the 1969 Mets were a historically dominant team. The real shocker in hindsight is that they were somehow 18-23 after games of May 27. If they hadn’t under achieved for the first quarter of that season, it’s very possible that they’d have been a 105-110 win season, lapped a good Cubs team and there would have been many, many less hard feelings for so long. After 100 regular season wins, they won the Championship Series against the Braves in three straight despite subpar pitching performances (15 runs allowed). Then they lost Game 1 of the World Series before winning four straight for the championship. They allowed only nine runs in the five-game Series and four of those were in the Game 1 loss.