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Today in Cubs history: A crazy 16-15 win at Wrigley Field

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The Cubs trailed by four entering the bottom of the eighth and won — but not before 13 innings were played.

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Perhaps the most famous high-scoring game in Cubs history is their 23-22 loss to the Phillies in 1979.

A little less than two years before that, though, the Cubs played a game at Wrigley Field that ought to be just as memorable — and a contest they won, 16-15 over the Reds in 13 innings. This game doesn’t get the attention it deserves, in my view, so I’m giving it some today because today is its anniversary — it happened July 28, 1977.

Let’s set the stage.

The Cubs went 40-15 in May and June 1977 combined. That's the best two calendar months any Cubs team has had since 1945. The 1984 team didn't do that; even the 97-win 2008 team fell short of a two-month span that good, nor did the 2016 World Series champion Cubs ever have a 55-game span that good (their best was 39-16). They were 59-39 entering this game and led the NL East by two games.

The 16-15 game, to me, epitomizes the entire crazy 1977 season. Bob Logan of the Tribune sums up the offensive prowess shown by both teams that afternoon:

The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds tangled in one of the most incredible, exciting, and entertaining games in the 61-year history of the vine-covered baseball shrine.It was unreal from start to finish, especially the Cubs’ 16-15 triumph in 13 innings after they trailed at various times by 6-0, 10-7, 14-10 and 15-14. Blend all that with 43 hits [11 of them homers] and 13 pitchers — and pour it to 32,155 semihysterical witnesses over four hours and 50 minutes.

There's something of note in that quote: "the 61-year history of the vine-covered baseball shrine". First, that count doesn't include the Federal League's two years there — that would bring things back only to 1916. Second, it shows how Wrigley was beginning to be viewed. Just 10 years before that, a Tribune writer termed Wrigley an "ancient park." But in 1977 it's a "vine-covered baseball shrine" — quite a difference in just a decade’s time, perhaps due to the generational change in the fanbase from what Tribune writer Ridgely Hunt called in 1966 "superannuated men" to the Bleacher Bums of the 1969 and the younger crowds filling the park in the 1970s.

In the Tribune, beat writer Richard Dozer tells how the Cubs finally beat the Reds that July afternoon:

Davey Rosello, who plays only when the Cubs have to go six deep for an infielder, found the hole he was looking for in the 13th inning Thursday.He found it with a slashing single through the cavity between third and short, and with this, the 24th Cub hit of the season’s wildest Wrigley Field melodrama, he drove in the winning run of a 16-15 Cub victory over the Cincinnati Reds. His was the third hit after two were out as shadows streaked the field. He was a player who was not supposed to be playing. His hit scored a pitcher who was not supposed to be pitching.

Rick Reuschel, having the best season of his career, made his second relief appearance of the year and got the win after his single started the winning rally. That was after the Cubs had hit two home runs to cut a 14-10 deficit to 14-13 in the last of the eighth, tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a single, walk and single after the first two men were out, and tied it again with a one-out home run in the bottom of the 12th inning after the Reds had taken a 15-14 lead in the top of the frame.

Also, Bobby Murcer, who hadn’t played the infield since he was a 20-year-old September callup for the Yankees in 1966, was forced to play both shortstop and second base — rotating depending on what side the batter was hitting from — after the Cubs ran out of infielders. He alternated there with another outfielder, Jose Cardenal, who also hadn’t played an infield position since the 1960s.

In those days, WGN-TV was very protective of Cubs highlights, not allowing them to be shown on rival local TV stations in order to promote people watching their newscasts. You’d often see cameras from the other stations lined up on the “catwalk” near the old press box (which is where the suites are now located) to shoot video of the game so they could have their own highlights. This practice ended in the 1980s, but WGN had enough time on their late newscast that evening to show TEN minutes of highlights from this game — and here they are:

It all happened 44 years ago today. Hey, the Cubs are playing the Reds again tonight, on the anniversary of this wild affair. Who knows? Maybe we could have another one like it.