When last we travelled to 1989, the Cubs were winning a pair of series against west coast foes, winning five of seven games in the process. Unfortunately, the Expos were unyielding and they finished the week pretty much right where they started. That is, they were still 3½ games out of first. With the power of hindsight, we know things worked out well, but in those days with so many years of Cubs ineptitude, the season was starting to look at least a little like a pleasant surprise that would come up short. After all, in this 17th week of the season, the Cubs will cross 100 games played. That is right about the time when baseball feels like the unending marathon is starting to look a bit like a sprint.
As that sprint begins, we’ll look at six games. The first three of those are a series in St. Louis. You’ll recall this is an odd stretch scheduling-wise. The Cubs played seven games last week, three in Los Angeles and four in Chicago. This week, they’ll travel to St. Louis for three, then finally get an off day after 14 consecutive games coming out of the All-Star break. Then after the off day, they head back to Chicago for three with the Mets. As the Cubs get back into division play, let’s see how they held up.
Game 98, July 24: Cubs 3 at Cardinals 2 (54-44)
The Cardinals wasted no time getting on the scoreboard against Mike Bielecki. Willie McGee started the game with a single, moved to third on a double by Milt Thompson and scored on a groundout by Pedro Guerrero.
In the third, the Cubs evened it up. It started with a one out single by Shawon Duston. He moved to second on a Bielecki sacrifice, then stole third. He was there when Jerome Walton singled, tying the game.
In the fifth, it was the bottom of the Cubs order again breaking through against Cardinals starter Scott Terry. Damon Berryhill singled, advanced to second on a groundout, moved to third on a Dunston single and then scored on a squeeze play executed by Bielecki.
The Cubs were clinging to a one run lead and facing once dominant closer Dan Quisenberry in the eighth inning. Dunston started the inning by bunting for a hit. Two batters later, he was still standing at first when Ryne Sandberg stepped to the plate. Sandberg doubled and Dunston came all of the way around to score and give the Cubs what turned out to be a key insurance run.
In the Cardinals half of the eighth inning, McGee led off with a single against Steve Wilson. But Wilson bounced back with a double play ball to Thompson. Guerrero doubled and that was it for Wilson. Les Lancaster came into the came to face Tom Brunansky and allowed an RBI-single.
Mitch Williams recorded the final four outs for his 24th save. But it wasn’t without drama. He allowed a one-out double to Ozzie Smith. Smith would later steal third, but was stranded there as the Cubs stayed hot and matched a then season-high 10 games over .500.
- Superhero: Mike Bielecki (.328). 7IP (27 batters), 4H, 2BB, R, 6K (W 10-5)
- Hero: Mitch Williams (.238). 1⅓ IP (5 batters), H, K (Sv 24)
- Sidekick: Shawon Dunston (.161). 3-3, 2R, SB
- Billy Goat: Les Lancaster (-.099). 0IP (1 batter), H
- Goat: Dwight Smith (-.067). 0-4, K
- Kid: Mark Grace (-.065). 0-4, K
Game 99, July 25: Cubs 4 at Cardinals 2 (55-44)
The Cubs struck first in this one with two runs in the second inning. The inning started with a pair of doubles by Andre Dawson and Lloyd McClendon. Then it seemed like the Cardinals would get out of the inning without much trouble. With two outs, McClendon was still standing on second when Shawon Dunston was intentionally walked to get to Cubs starter Paul Kilgus. But Kilgus singled and extended his lead to work with to two.
The Cardinals got one back in their half of the third and it was their pitcher who got things started. Joe Magrane doubled leading off the inning. A sacrifice bunt by Vince Coleman and a sacrifice fly by Willie McGee got the run in. Score one for small ball and putting the ball in play.
Kilgus got things started for the Cubs again in the fifth with a walk. He moved to third on a Jerome Walton double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryne Sandberg. Once again, the Cubs got an insurance run involving Dunston when he homered in the ninth inning.
That made things a little less uncomfortable when Mitch Williams, who had entered the game with a runner on first in the eighth inning, issued a two out walk to Jose Oquendo. That seemed innocuous enough, but then long time Cub Leon Durham delivered a pinch double. An error that play led to the run scoring. Williams recorded the final out, stranding Durham at third and the tying run at the plate.
- Superhero: Paul Kilgus (.220). 6IP (22 batters), 4H, BB, R, 2K (W 6-9)
- Hero: Mitch Williams (.183). 2IP (8 batters), 2H, BB, R (0ER) (Sv 25)
- Honorable Mention: Paul Kilgus (.145). 1-1, BB, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Les Lancaster (.078). ⅓ IP (1 batter)
- Billy Goat: Vance Law (-.080). 0-4, K
- Goat: Calvin Schiraldi (-.077). ⅓ IP (3 batters), 2BB
- Kid: Damon Berryhill (-.060). 0-4, K
Game 100, July 26: Cardinals 2, Cubs 0 (55-45)
This one was a dandy pitchers’ duel between Jose DeLeon and Rick Sutcliffe. The game was scoreless into the third inning when Terry Pendleton and Tony Pena started the inning with back-to-back singles. After Sutcliffe struck out DeLeon, Vince Coleman hit a grounder to second. Even the talented middle infield combo of Ryne Sandberg and Shawon Duston couldn’t turn a double play on the lightning fast Vince Coleman and that allowed a run to score. The speedy Coleman grounded into a somewhat surprising 45 double plays in over 5,400 plate appearances. Oddly, 21 of those fall within three seasons (‘87, ‘90, ‘95), two of which were pre-injury.
In the eighth inning, Pendleton again got things started with a single off of Sutcliffe who was still in the game. Pena followed with a sacrifice bunt. After Sutcliffe struck out pinch hitter Denny Walling, Coleman came to the plate again. Once again he came through, this time with an RBI-single. With only 346 RBI in his career, Coleman only had 65 multi-RBI games. Unsurprisingly, with unbalanced schedules, seven of those were against the Cubs.
Offensively, the Cubs managed just two hits. They did draw three walks. They had one scoring chance in the seventh inning. Vance Law had a one out single and moved to third on a rare Ozzie Smith error. But Sutcliffe was the next batter and grounded out to end the inning.
The Cubs reach the 100 game mark winning 55% of their games. In this series, they held the Cardinals to exactly two runs in all three games. They won two of those three, stretching the recent hot streak up to seven wins in 10 games. Briefly reaching a season-high 11 games over .500.
- Superhero: Rick Sutcliffe (.098). 7⅔ IP (28 batters), 5H, 2BB, 2R, 5K (L 10-9)
- Hero: Steve Wilson (.008). ⅓ IP (1 batter)
- Sidekick: Shawon Dunston (.005). 0-3, K
- Billy Goat/Goat: Ryne Sandberg/Vance Law (-.132). Sandberg: 0-4, 2K; Law 0-3
- Kid: Jerome Walton (-.064). 1-4, 2K
Game 101, July 28: Cubs 6, Mets 5 (56-45)
This was one of those games with a peculiar game “shape” to it. The Cubs led early, coughed it up in a big way, but battled back and won. With David Cone on the mound for the Mets, Ryne Sandberg had a one out double in the first. He then scored from second(!) on a wild pitch for the game’s first run.
In the second, Damon Berryhill led off with a double, advanced to third on a Vance Law ground out and then scored on a squeeze play by Shawon Dunston. Don Zimmer loved the squeeze play and the bunt in general. It was a real weapon for that team.
But in the third, the wheels fell off for Cubs starter Scott Sanderson. It all started with a leadoff single by Cone. One out later, Dave Magadan added a double. Future Cub Howard Johnson followed with a three-run homer.
That wasn’t all though. Daryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds followed with a pair of singles, chasing Sanderson. The Cubs summoned Jeff Pico, who did retire the first batter he faced. But then he walked Gary Carter to load the bases. Kevin Elster capped the scoring with a two-run single.
The game stayed 5-2 into the seventh inning and Cone stayed on the hill after largely righting the ship from his rough start. Vance Law and Shawon Dunston started the seventh with a pair of singles and after Law went to third on Dunston’s single, it left a base open. Dunston stole that base, putting runners on second and third with no outs. A strikeout and a sacrifice fly from Jerome Walton cut the deficit to two, but it also put two outs on the board. With Sandberg coming to the plate, the Mets brought in another future Cub in Rick Aguilera. Sandberg responded with a single, scoring the second run of the inning.
That brought Dwight Smith to the plate as the go-ahead run. If it wasn’t for the oddity of a 30-game hitting streak by a rookie, Smith might have been the Rookie of the Year. And the reason is because when the Cubs had big moments, he was often right in the middle of them. This was one of those. Smith hit a two-run, go ahead homer that turned out to be the game winner. Mitch Williams faced just four hitters to retire the final four Mets and nail down another save.
- Superhero: Dwight Smith (.398). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R
- Hero: Mitch Williams (.243). 1⅓ IP (4 batters), H (Sv 26)
- Sidekick: Ryne Sandberg (.169). 2-4, 2B, RBI, 2R
- Billy Goat: Scott Sanderson (-.267). 2⅓ IP (14 batters), 8H, 5R
- Goat: Jeff Pico (-.091). 1⅔ IP (7 batters), H, BB
- Kid: Andre Dawson (-.082). 0-4, 2K
Game 102, July 29: Cubs 10, Mets 3 (57-45)
The Mets actually led in this game, scoring a pair of runs off of Cubs starter Greg Maddux in the top of the second inning. It started innocuous enough, with two outs in the second, eight hitter Kevin Elster slugged a two-run homer. If allowing a homer to a fairly weak eighth hitter wasn’t upsetting enough, Maddux followed by walking Mets starter Wally Whitehurst. Juan Samuel followed with a double and a Cubs miscue in the outfield allowed the second run to score.
In the bottom of the third, Jerome Walton led off with a single. This was the eighth consecutive game in which he had a hit. Ryne Sandberg followed with a game-tying two-run homer. Dwight Smith followed with a double, then advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly by Andre Dawson. With the Cubs already up one, Damon Berryhill followed with a solo homer. Two more singles in the inning chased Whitehurst, but the Cubs couldn’t add on.
The Cubs did even more damage in the fourth off Mets reliever Jeff Innis. Walton started the inning with his second hit of the day, a bunt single. That started off a parade of singles. Sandberg followed with a single of his own, putting runners at the corners. Smith followed with an RBI-single and then so did Mark Grace. That put the Cubs up by four. But a double play followed, diffusing what looked like it could be a huge inning.
Innis was still on the hill in the sixth when Walton continued his torrid hitting. He singled to start things off. After a fielder’s choice, Smith singled, putting runners at the corners. Grace followed with a ground out against new Mets reliever David West, driving in a run. West then walked Dawson intentionally. Berryhill followed with an RBI-single. Vance Law followed that with an RBI double and the Cubs led by seven.
Howard Johnson drove in a run in the seventh, aided by a Mark Grace error. Johnson got the run in on a groundout. With two outs in the seventh, Sandberg walked and scored on a Dwight Smith double to cap the scoring.
Sandberg reached four times, scored four times and had three hits. 35 times Sandberg had four or more hits in a game, including two five his games. I counted 142 times where he had three or more hits. How we evaluate and value players has changed over the years, but by any measure Sandberg was a star among stars.
Smith had four hits in this one. Smith had two doubles, two RBI and two runs. He had just two four hit games in his career.
- Superhero: Ryne Sandberg (.267). 3-4, HR, BB, 2RBI, 4R
- Hero: Damon Berryhill (.133). 3-5, HR, 2RBI, R
- Sidekick: Dwight Smith (.105). 4-5, 2-2B, 2RBI, 2R
- Billy Goat: Andre Dawon (-.025). 0-2, BB, SF, RBI, R, DP
- Goat: Vance Law (-.021). 2-5, 2B, RBI
- Kid: Mark Grace (-.009). 1-5, 2RBI
Game 103, July 30: Cubs 6, Mets 4 (58-45)
The Cubs jumped out early in this one, as Ryne Sandberg had a one out single in the first. He moved to third on a Mark Grace single off of Mets starter Bob Ojeda. He then scored on an Andre Dawson sacrifice fly. Ojeda probably prefers to be remembered as a member of the 1986 world champion Mets team. But he might be best remembered as the survivor of a boating accident that killed two Cleveland pitchers.
The Cubs also scored in the third inning. Jerome Walton led off the inning with a single to extend his hitting streak to nine games. Sandberg then reached on an error putting two on with none out. Mark Grace followed with one of just 17 successful sacrifice bunts in his career. Dawson was intentionally walked to get to Lloyd McClendon who drew the unintentional walk to plate the game’s second run.
When Shawon Dunston homered leading off the third inning, the Cubs were flying high and looking like they might cruise to a three game sweep. But the Mets came battling back. Mike Bielecki walked Daryl Strawberry to start the fifth. Kevin McReynolds followed with a double, putting two in scoring position with no outs. Greg Jeffries drove in the Mets first run on a ground out. Gary Carter drew a walk. Kevin Elster hit a sacrifice fly and the lead was down to one.
Dunston led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk. Bielecki sacrificed him to second. That’s where he was when Jerome Walton flew out for the second out. Dunston tagged and went to third. The throw was wild and he scored to make it 4-2 Cubs.
Bielecki recorded the first two hitters in the seventh inning, but then Elster doubled. The Cubs then went to the pen. Keith Hernandez delivered a pinch two-run single off of Mitch Williams to tie the game. Hernandez had to have been hurt at the time, as Ron Darling pinch ran for him. Darling moved to second on a wild pitch and that was the end of Williams. Les Lancaster came in and got the final out, Darling trying to advance to third on a ground ball off of the bat of Juan Samuel.
Walton delivered a one-out single against Rick Aguilera in the ninth inning. He moved to second on a wild pitch. One out later, the Mets summoned the man Cubs fans will remember as Randall Kirk Myers from his time with the Cubs. Myers coughed up a walk-off two-run homer to Mark Grace:
- Superhero: Mark Grace (.420). 2-3, HR, SH, BB, 2RBI, R
- Hero: Les Lancaster (.305). 2⅓IP (7 batters), K (W 3-0)
- Sidekick: Jerome Walton (.177). 3-5, 2R, SB
- Billy Goat: Mitch Williams (-.272). 0IP (1 batter), H, WP
- Goat: Vance Law (-.123). 0-4, K
- Kid: Damon Berryhill (-.080). 1-4, K
That was a successful week by any standard, the Cubs won five games in six tries. That pushed them to a new season high, 13 games over .500. The Friday and Sunday wins against the Mets each shaved a game off of the deficit in the division and the Cubs ended the week just 1½ games out of first. With 59 games remaining in the season, it once again looked like the Cubs had a very good chance of winning the division.
The big challenge now would be to go out on the road and keep it going. With 10 wins in 13 games, they were smoking hot. But, they faced a big challenge in heading east for five games in four days in Philadelphia. That would be followed by three in Pittsburgh.
1989 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats Player of the Week: Mike Bielecki
Mike was drafted initially by the Royals in the sixth round of the 1979 draft. He didn’t sign and was drafted again as the eighth pick in the June supplemental draft by the Pirates. Mike pitched just one season in college. But that was because he went to Loyola College in Maryland. Their baseball program folded after Mike’s first year.
Bielecki would reach the majors for the first time in 1984, pitching in four games for the Pirates at the age of 24. The following year, he made seven starts among 12 appearances for them.
In 1986, Bielecki had his first significant time as a starter, making 27 starts and logging 148⅔ innings with a 4.66 ERA. He made just eight starts in 1987. He was traded to the Cubs in 1988 for Mike Curtis in the offseason. In 1988, the Cubs used Mike largely in the bullpen, starting just five out of 19 games.
1989 was like an oasis in the desert of the career of Mike Bielecki. He made 33 starts with a 3.14 ERA and won 18 games. He finished ninth in Cy Young voting despite basically being the Cubs third starter.
That was the only season out of 14 big league seasons that Mike threw over 200 innings. His numbers would tail off the following year and by 1991, the Cubs traded him along with Damon Berryhill for Turk Wendell and Yorkis Perez.
After leaving the Cubs, Mike threw for the Braves, the Indians, the Braves, the Angels and the Braves. In 1996, he was on the postseason roster for a Braves team that reached the World Series. Mike made appearances in six games over three series, logging a 0.00 ERA over 6⅔ innings of work.
For his career, Bielecki threw 1,231 innings across 347 games in 14 seasons. He had a 70-73 record with a 4.18 ERA. He saved five games. He had a 41-31 record and a 4.05 ERA for the Cubs. But he pitched in parts of five season as a Brave with a 3.09 ERA, starting only 20 games out of 130 appearances.
There’s a story that Mike was invited to be on the boat on that fateful day with Bob Ojeda, Tim Crews and Steve Olin. He declined. He also has the distinction of being the starting pitcher on the first official night game at Wrigley Field on August 9, 1988 (with the original game the night before being rained out).