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Today in Cubs history: Don Kessinger has a 6-hit game

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The game had other significance, too.

Don Kessinger bats during the 1969 season
Photo by: 1970 SPX/Diamond Images via Getty Images

In all of Cubs history, just five players have ever had six hits in a single game.

Here are those five players and the games where they accomplished this feat. Overall, it’s been done 150 times in MLB history, most recently in 2018.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H
1 Sammy Sosa 1993-07-02 CHC COL W 11-8 6 6 2 6
2 Jose Cardenal 1976-05-02 (1) CHC SFG W 6-5 7 7 2 6
3 Bill Madlock 1975-07-26 CHC NYM L 8-9 6 6 1 6
4 Don Kessinger 1971-06-17 CHC STL W 7-6 6 6 3 6
5 Frank Demaree 1937-07-05 (1) CHC STL W 13-12 8 7 2 6

Provided by Stathead.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 6/4/2021.

As you can see, Don Kessinger’s six-hit game happened 50 years ago today, June 17, 1971.

The game was significant even before it began. Burt Hooton, who the Cubs had selected in the first round of the draft’s then “secondary phase” (second overall) just one week earlier, made his major-league debut, starting the game against the Cardinals. Of the selection, Cubs general manager John Holland was quoted in the Tribune:

“We certainly are going to give him every chance to help us this season,” Holland said, “and he is confident that he can. He also understands that if we think it is necessary for him to be sent out for a while, it will be best for him.”

The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, keyed by Kessinger’s leadoff single. Glenn Beckert also singled and a Billy Williams single and Ron Santo sacrifice fly accounted for the two runs. In the second, the Cubs scored a third run. Chris Cannizzaro walked and Brock Davis singled. They moved up on a bunt by Hooton and Kessinger singled in a run on his second hit of the day.

Hooton got through two scoreless innings despite three walks and a wild pitch, but Joe Torre homered off him in the third to make it 3-1 Cubs. In the fourth, after two more walks and a single off Hooton made it 3-2, Leo Durocher removed the rookie pitcher. He’d given up three hits and walked five. Hooton was sent to the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma after the game. He wouldn’t return until September.

Back to the game — the Cubs took a 4-3 lead in the fifth on an RBI groundout by Cannizzaro. Kessinger had singled in the fourth for his third hit and got his fourth hit, another single, in the sixth, but was stranded both times. The Cardinals went ahead 6-4 in the seventh on a three-run homer by Ted Simmons off Ray Newman, a lefthander who the Tribune reported would ride his bicycle to Wrigley Field from his apartment in Old Town. Newman pitched in 30 games for the Cubs in 1971 and in March 1972 was traded to the Brewers for two guys you’ve never heard of.

Jim Hickman homered for the Cubs in the bottom of the seventh to make it 6-5, and in the eighth Kessinger’s fifth hit of the afternoon, a leadoff double, keyed a game-tying rally. He was sacrificed to third — you would never do that in 2021! — and after a walk, Ron Santo singled Kessinger in to tie the game.

Neither team scored in the ninth, and the Cardinals went out scoreless in the top of the 10th.

Kessinger, again, led off an inning, the last of the 10th. He singled, hit number six. Another sac bunt — all right, this one I’ll allow — moved him into scoring position.

Billy Williams was intentionally walked, the old-fashioned kind where you had to throw four pitches, and then Santo singled in Kessinger for the walkoff win. Sadly, no video survives from this game, one of the earliest games I attended in person.

The Cubs had struggled early that year; the win brought them over .500 at 33-32, though they were still 7½ games behind the first-place Pirates. The Cubs really never had a shot at the division title in 1971; after sweeping a doubleheader from the Astros August 20, they sneaked to within 4½ games of first place, but went 15-24 the rest of the way to finish 83-79, 14 games behind the Pirates, who went on to win the World Series.

It’s worth remembering Don Kessinger’s six-hit game, even though it took 10 innings for him to do it. It happened 50 years ago today.