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The worst losses in Cubs history: September 4, 1988

The Cubs were over .500 when September 1988 began. And then...

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The 1988 Cubs were another one of those post-1984 teams that teased us for a while. Off to a middling start, they went 16-11 in June and after defeating the Giants 3-2 on July 4, were 44-36, just seven games out of first place in the N.L. East. Could they make a run at the division?

Uh, no. They lost 15 of their next 19 games to fall out of contention, though a 16-12 August got them back to respectability, entering September at 66-65. Remember that at the time, the Cubs franchise had had just one winning season since 1972, that being the N.L. East title year of 1984.

They lost the first two games of a series to the Reds on Labor Day weekend, and the Sunday finale would feature Calvin Schiraldi, who had been acquired over the winter from the Red Sox in the Lee Smith deal, against Danny Jackson, who was in the middle of the best season of his career.

Schiraldi came from the same college program that produced Roger Clemens. To say the two had different careers minimizes things; Schiraldi was just bad, and his failures in the 1986 World Series seemed to scar him. The Cubs finally dumped him on the Padres in 1989 in the Luis Salazar trade. That one worked out all right.

This game, though? Not so much. Schiraldi made it into the fifth inning, when the Reds, already leading 4-0, put nine on the board. Luis Quinones, who hit just 22 home runs in a 442-game MLB career, homered off Frank DiPino, who had relieved Schiraldi. The Reds put four on the board off Mike Capel in the ninth. Capel had also played college ball at Texas; he, Clemens and Schiraldi had all been Longhorns teammates. Only one of the three had a good MLB career.

Meanwhile, Jackson threw a six-hit shutout. He almost had that many hits by himself, going 4-for-5 with four runs scored. Just one pitcher (Micah Owings, in 2007) has matched that feat since. Jackson won 23 games in 1988, back when individual pitcher wins meant something, and finished second to Orel Hershiser in N.L. Cy Young voting.

Three years later, the Cubs signed Jackson to a four-year, $10.5 million deal. He’d had some shoulder injuries since the 23-win season but was only 29 and the Cubs thought they might be able to get something out of him. They were wrong. In a season and a half as a Cub, Jackson spent quite a bit of time on the disabled list. They eventually traded him to the Pirates for Steve Buechele, which worked out all right, and Jackson wound up with the Phillies, for whom he pitched in the 1993 World Series.

The 17-0 shutout was only the second-worst in Cubs history. The story of the worst is coming up later in this series.