In our last edition of Historical Heroes and Goats, we had the final six games of a 12-game road trip. For the second consecutive week, the Cubs won four of six. With the successful road trip, the Cubs had moved out to an eight game lead in the standings. Now, they were coming home for an 11-game homestand. With so few games left on the schedule, a successful homestand would likely send the Cubs to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a quarter century.
With an off day on Monday heading into a series with the then third-place in the NL West Atlanta Braves, the Cubs were able to line up their big three of Ken Holtzman, Fergie Jenkins and Bill Hands for the first three games. After the Braves, an Astros team that had fallen off the pace in the West and had been swept at home by the Cubs a week earlier.
Game 142, August 19: Cubs 3, Braves 0 (77-45)
With this win, the Cubs moved to 6-1 against the Braves. At this time, the Braves fell to 66-58. But, they would get extremely hot down the stretch and go on to win the NL West with a 93-69 record. The Cubs success against the Braves that year is one of those many “might have beens.” As we all know, regular season success doesn’t always translate to the post season, but the Cubs really performed well against them (and also, they got swept by the Mets in the actual postseason.)
This win was lead by Ken Holtzman who wasn’t quite perfect, but he was certainly darn close. He allowed just three walks in throwing a no-hitter. Oddly, he didn’t strike anyone out. The stat nerds out there can crunch the numbers of exactly how much harder a no hitter is with no strikeouts, forcing you to rely on your defense to convert 27 outs. Al wrote an excellent piece about the game last summer during the 50 year celebration of the 1969 Cubs. For the lovers of Heroes and Goats, I’ll note that all nine Braves regulars registered negative scores for WPA. The Superhero for the Braves would have been Gary Neibauer who threw a perfect eighth inning (.007). Pinch hitter Tommie Aaron would have taken the third spot with a score of (-.007).
Here’s the last out:
- Superhero: Ken Holtzman (.405). 9IP, 0H, 3BB, 0R, 0K, W(14-7)
- Hero: Ron Santo (.168). 1-4, HR, 3RBI, R, K
- Sidekick: Glenn Beckert (.062). 1-4, R
- Billy Goat: Billy Williams (-.075). 0-4, K
- Goat: Ernie Banks (-.024). 0-3, 2K
- Kid: Jim Hickman (-.020) 0-3
Game 123, August 20: Cubs 2, Braves 6 (77-46)
Each team had nine hits and drew two walks in this one, but the Braves had much better sequencing. The Braves got a run in the second, the Cubs got their only two runs in the third and then the Braves took control with three in the fourth. They added single runs in the fifth and eighth innings and coasted to the win. This game also featured Cubs relievers other than Phil Regan. Hank Aguirre pitched for the first time in 12 days. For Ted Abernathy, he was pitching for the first time since July 29.
- Superhero: Ron Santo (.203). 1-3, BB, 2B, 2RBI, K
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.027). 2-5, R, SB
- Sidekick: Hank Aguirre (.004). ⅔IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 0K
- Billy Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.285). 7IP, 7H, 1BB, 5R, 5K, L(17-11)
- Goat: Jim Hickman (-.109). 0-4, K
- Kid: Billy Williams (-.053). 0-3, BB, R
Game 124, August 21: Cubs 1, Braves 3 (77-47)
The Cubs lost a series to the Braves for the only time in 1969, dropping the final two games of the series after Holtzman’s no-hitter. They actually scored first in this one, pushing a run across against Jim Britton in the fourth inning. But they only had four hits and when the Braves scored two in the sixth and one in the seventh, the Cubs were headed for another defeat.
- Superhero: Ron Santo (.076). 0-3, BB
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.049). 2-4, 2B, R
- Sidekick: Phil Regan (.048). 0-2, BB
- Billy Goat: Willie Smith (-.145). 0-4, K
- Goat: Don Kessinger (-.134). 0-4
- Kid: Billy Williams (-.102). 0-4, K
Game 125, August 22: Cubs 2, Astros 8 (77-48)
For the third straight day, the Cubs had a lead but ultimately fell to defeat. The Cubs scored two in the first off of Astros starter Larry Dierker, but the Astros got two right back in the top of the second. Then they added single runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth. The game was well in hand before they scored three more in the ninth, roughing up Phil Regan in the process. Once again, the Cubs bats were largely silenced, mustering only four hits.
- Superhero: Jim Hickman (.158). 1-3, BB, 2RBI
- Hero: Glenn Beckert (.027). 2-4, 2B, R
- Sidekick: Don Nottebart (-.003). 1IP, 1H, 1BB, 0R, 1K
- Billy Goat: Billy Williams (-.109). 0-4
- Goat: Dick Selma (-.099). 5IP, 4H, 6BB, 3R, 5K, L(12-5)
- Kid: Gene Oliver (-.084). 0-4, 2K
Game 126, August 23: Cubs 11, Astros 5 (78-48)
The Cubs bats powered the Cubs back into the win column, once again behind Holtzman Once again, the Cubs scored first, with two in the first. But this time, they kept adding. The Astros put up a fight, scoring three in the third and two in the fifth with the Cubs scoring two in the fourth between. But the Cubs put this one away late with four in the seventh and three in the eighth. The Cubs mustered 13 hits including four homers in the win. Jim Hickman hit two of the homers, one of which was a grand slam. This game also featured the WPA oddity that is the winning pitcher having the lowest WPA score on the team for the game. With eight hits, four walks and five runs allowed, this is one of the worse line scores you’ll see for a complete game in the divisional era.
- Superhero: Jim Hickman (.591). 2-5, 2HR, 5RBI, 2R, 1K
- Hero: Ron Santo (.133). 1-4, BB, HR, 3RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Billy Williams (.100). 1-4, BB, 2B, R
- Billy Goat: Ken Holtzman (-.192). 9IP, 8H, 4BB, 5R (4ER), 10K, W(15-7)
- Goat: Glenn Beckert (-.051). 1-4, BB, RBI, 3R
- Kid: Ernie Banks (-.041). 2-5, HR, 2RBI, R, 2K
Game 127, August 24: Cubs 10, Astros 9 (79-48)
This was just a weird week of baseball all together. The Astros lose this one despite having 17 hits. Astros reliever Fred Gladding is the losing pitcher for the second straight game. Hank Aguirre notched a save, his only one of the season. Billy Williams came a homer short of a cycle. Ernie Banks hit two more homers. and Jim Hickman hit his third in two days. The Astros chased Cubs starter Fergie Jenkins in the fourth inning, having already scored six runs off of him. They would go on to lead this one 8-2 heading to the bottom of the fourth. But the Cubs scored one in the bottom of the inning. They then scored three in the seventh and four in the eighth. Even after all of that, the Astros got a final run in the ninth to put a scare into the Cubs faithful.
- Superhero: Ernie Banks (.551). 3-4, BB, 2HR, 3RBI, 2R
- Hero: Ron Santo (.320). 3-4, BB, RBI, 3R
- Sidekick: Hank Aguirre (.283). ⅔IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 0K, SV(1)
- Billy Goat: Fergie Jenkins (-.287). 3⅔IP, 8H, 1BB, 6R, 2K
- Goat: Rich Nye (-.183). 0IP, 2H, 1BB, 2R, 0K
- Kid: Don Kessinger (-.182). 0-5, R
Game 128, August 24: Cubs 2, Astros 3 (79-49)
In a repeating theme, the Cubs held an early lead after scoring two runs in the first. But their bats failed to add on and they ultimately lost. The Cubs turned to journeyman starter Ken Johnson for the start. This was his first appearance for the Cubs after the Cubs purchased his contract from the Yankees on August 11. You may recall we introduced Johnson in the game he saved for the Cubs before he became a Cub (the June game was suspended and not completed until September allowing Johnson to collect a save for the Cubs on a day in which he was officially a Yankee).
- Superhero: Hank Aguirre (.213). 1⅔ IP, 0H, 0BB, 0R, 1K
- Hero: Dick Selma (.092). 2IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R, 2K
- Sidekick: Paul Popovich (.076). 0-0, BB
- Billy Goat: Ken Johnson (-.225). 5⅓ IP, 6H, 4BB, 3R, 7K, L(1-4)
- Goat: Billy Williams (-.220). 1-4, R, DP, K
- Kid: Randy Hundley (-.163). 0-3, BB, 2K
Looking Back: Absolutely not a disastrous week. Both the Astros and Braves were above .500 teams. Certainly, at home, even against two good teams, you’d hope for more than three wins in seven games. However, The Mets were posting a 5-1 week. The one loss was a 7-6 loss in 11 innings and that loss snapped a six game winning streak (and preceded another six game winning streak). The net result? By August 24, the division lead sat at just 5½ games (in actuality, it was at five because our recap counts that suspended game that hadn’t yet been completed). Certainly, with only a bit more than 30 games left in the season, the Cubs had a decent lead in the division.
WPA Hero of the Week: Ron Santo (+12)
WPA Goat of the Week: Billy Williams (-9)
Looking Ahead: In week 21 of the season, the Cubs will complete their homestand with four games against the Reds. The Reds came to Wrigley Field at 66-57 and still very much in the race for the NL West, just 1½ games out of first. Things were so tight in the West that the Reds were that close to first, but sitting in fourth place. They had been in first place earlier in the week and two weeks earlier had held first by as much as 2½ games. After those four home games, the Cubs would head to Atlanta for three more against the Braves. Definitely a tough week ahead, at least on paper.