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Today in Cubs history: The biggest blown lead in N.L. history

And most of that was courtesy of Mike Schmidt.

Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Mike Schmidt was known as a Cub-killer for most of his big-league career. Of his 548 career home runs, 78 were hit against the Cubs, the third-most by anyone. Willie Mays hit 92 and Hank Aaron 87, but Schmidt hit his 78 in 259 games against the Cubs, while Aaron played 340 games vs. the North Siders and Mays 347.

Schmidt’s dominance at Wrigley Field was even greater. He hit 50 homers at Wrigley in 138 games there. Only Mays had more — 54 in 179 games. By comparison, the active leader among visiting players at Wrigley is Albert Pujols, who has 29 and has likely played his last game there. Ryan Braun is next with 19.

That all sets the stage for one of the most remarkable games in Wrigley Field history, though it did not have a good ending for our favorite team.

As was the case for many memorable April games at Wrigley, it was warm with the wind blowing out strongly from the southwest. The high temperature in Chicago on April 17, 1976 was 88 degrees. I bet you’d like a day like that today.

The Cubs spotted the Phillies a 1-0 lead in the second inning and then got to work in the bottom of the frame, scoring seven runs and knocking future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton out of the game before the inning was over. Steve Swisher and Rick Monday both homered in the inning, and the Cubs added five more in the third, this time without a home run. One of the runs scored on a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

The Phillies scored again in the fourth, but Monday homered again in the bottom of the inning and the Cubs led 13-2 at the end of four. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turned out.

Schmidt homered with a man on base in the fifth to make it 13-4. The Cubs took that nine-run lead into the seventh. Nine runs ahead with nine outs to go.

Schmidt homered again in the seventh off Rick Reuschel, who probably was way out of gas. This one was with two runners on base. It’s 13-7 now.

The Phillies loaded the bases in the eighth and Dick Allen drove in a pair with a single to make it 13-9. Then it was Schmidt’s turn again. Yep, another homer, now the Cubs’ lead was down to one at just 13-12.

The Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the eighth. Darold Knowles, who had been a World Series hero for the Athletics just three years earlier, came on to try to nail down the final three outs.

Whoops: Bob Boone led off the ninth with a home run to tie the game. By the time the inning was over, Larry Bowa and Jay Johnstone — both future Cubs — would drive in runs and the Phillies actually led 15-13. Yes, the Cubs had blown an 11-run lead.

The Cubs had runners on second and third with two out in the bottom of the ninth when Steve Swisher singled them both in to send the game to extra innings tied at 15.

In those days, managers didn’t rush to take pitchers like Knowles out when they’d had a bad inning like that ninth inning. So Knowles began the 10th. He walked Allen and then up stepped Schmidt [VIDEO].

The call is from Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau of WGN radio. Schmidt had not only homered four times, he had homered in four consecutive at-bats and not before the fifth inning. He drove in eight runs on the day, and the Phillies now led 18-15.

Give the Cubs credit. They didn’t quit. A pair of doubles, the second one by Bill Madlock, made it 18-16 and brought the tying run to the plate with two out. But Tug McGraw got Jerry Morales to ground out and the Phillies had their 18-16 win. The 11-run blown lead stands to this day as the biggest blown lead in a National League game, though this mark was bettered by the Cleveland Indians, who came back from a 14-2 deficit against the Mariners to win 15-14 on August 5, 2001.

It all happened 44 years ago today.

The Phillies went on to win 101 games and the N.L. East title in 1976; the Cubs finished 75-87, the same mark they had the previous year. After that game, Knowles posted pretty good numbers the rest of 1976: 2.25 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, .229 opponents BA. After the season he was traded to the Rangers for Gene Clines, who was a useful spare-part outfielder for a couple of years and after three years as a Cubs coach, was a hitting coach for the Astros, Mariners, Brewers and Giants from 1988-2002 before returning to the Cubs as a coach under manager Dusty Baker from 2003-06.