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Cubs historical sleuthing: A rare Joe Girardi error

This one was pretty easy, given some key clues.

Bettmann / Contributor

Getty Images says:

Cubs’ catcher Joe Girardi and first baseman Mark Grace drop ball of bat of Phillies Mike Schmidt (background) in second inning. Girardi (L) was given an error on the play in foul territory.

The first clue here is that this has to be Opening Day, given the bunting on the brick wall.

The batter, seen standing at the right of the photo, is longtime Cubs nemesis Mike Schmidt.

Schmidt retired in the middle of the 1989 season, so this has to be Opening Day 1989, because that was Girardi’s rookie year. In fact, other than catching pitches from Rick Sutcliffe that afternoon, this dropped popup, on which Girardi was in fact charged with an error, happened in the top of the second inning of Girardi’s MLB debut game.

Two pitches later, Schmidt hit a fly ball to center field and Jerome Walton — also making his MLB debut — dropped it for an error.

Here’s video that shows both of these errors:

So that’s two Cubs errors within three pitches, which didn’t seem to bode well.

But the Cubs actually took a 3-0 lead in this game, helped in part by a home run by Andre Dawson. Girardi went 2-for-3 and scored a run, and Walton went 2-for-4 with an RBI.

The Cubs led 5-3 in the eighth when Schmidt homered off Calvin Schiraldi to make it 5-4. One out later, Don Zimmer called on Mitch Williams to save the game — it was still common in those days to have a “closer” go more than one inning. Williams issued a pair of walks but got out of the inning, and it went to the ninth still 5-4.

Williams gave up three straight singles, but the Phillies couldn’t score, and with the bases loaded and nobody out, the Wild Thing had to face Schmidt.

Now, years earlier, you know what would have happened. Schmidt would have hit a grand slam. But this was the downside of his career and Williams struck him out. He then struck out Chris James and Mark Ryal and the Cubs won the game.

Here is that final out of what turned out to be a great season:

Schmidt hit one more home run against the Cubs, the next day off Jeff Pico. But he hit just six that year and announced his retirement May 29.

This all happened on Opening Day, Tuesday, April 4, 1989.