As we looked back at the 1989 season, as July was turning to August, I pointed out a scheduling quirk and some early season weather led the Cubs to playing 18 games in 17 days. In the hottest part of the summer and while trying to chase down a division title, that must have seemed a daunting task. We’ve covered the first 11 of those games and the Cubs won eight of them. They’d actually won 15 of 21 overall and that drew them into a first place tie.
If you are a Cubs fan of 10 years or less, the Cubs being in contention in August almost seems like a given. More seasons than not recently, they have been. If you’ve been a Cubs fan for even 20 years, it’s still pretty ordinary to see the Cubs in contention. But if you are a Cubs fan of 30 or more years, it’s pretty unusual. And, even if they compete for a while, you are generally expecting things to go south at any moment. So competing in 1989, even five years removed from finally breaking the post season drought in 1984 was pretty crazy.
And crazier still because regardless if you were looking at the team in spring training that year or right now with hindsight and looking at the players on that team, you’d wonder how they could ever be a contender. It was a team largely full of guys who were some amount of has been or never will be. I say that with all due pause given that three Cubs who would be Hall of Famers were on the team (and very much still productive). Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux rank among my all-time favorite Cubs. Dawson had a bit of a down year that season, mainly due to injuries. Sandberg was still doing his thing. He hit 30 homers. Scored over 100 runs. Maddux would win 19 games in a 5+ bWAR season.
But the guys who pushed that team into contention were really Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, Lloyd McClendon, Mike Bielecki, Les Lancaster. This isn’t hyperbole. Lancaster was fourth on that team in bWAR — as a reliever. Bielecki was fifth. For both of them, that season came out of nowhere. McClendon hit 12 homers in part-time play. Walton and Smith were neck and neck for Rookie of the Year. All of that is particularly crazy because none of them really carried it forward. They were just guys who had one great season.
Let’s get back to the grind. That grind finds us in what was a wholly unexpected place. The Expos and the Cubs were meeting in Wrigley Field in August with first place in the division on the line. The two teams were tied atop the division. A year earlier they’d finished third and fourth, losing more than 160 games between them and finishing a combined 44 games out of first. The Mets had run away with the division in 1988 and in 1987 the Cardinals played in the World Series. The Mets won the Series in 1986. Those were the teams one would have expected to win.
We return to the grind of 1989 where the Cubs and Expos were battling it out for the NL East crown.
Game 112, August 7: Cubs 5, Expos 2 (64-48)
The last thing in the world the Cubs wanted in a week where they were playing eight games in seven days on the road was an 18-inning game. But that’s just what happened on August 6. That game saw a huge relief outing from Scott Sanderson who was the unfortunate loser, but his eight innings saved the Cubs from crushing their bullpen. Still, they’d look for early offense and a good start on Monday to set the tone for the homestand.
Jerome Walton extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a single in the first. He’d go to second on a passed ball and third on a groundout. But then he was stranded there. When Tim Wallach led off the second with a homer, this one was moving quickly in the wrong direction. Maddux would work around a single, an error and a walk without allowing additional damage, but he’d labored through the second to be sure.
The Cubs trailed by one heading to their half of the third when Jerome Walton led off with a triple. After a strikeout, Dwight Smith delivered an RBI single to tie the game. Then Mark Grace slugged a two-run homer to put the Cubs up two. That inning changed the complexion of the game. Walton had three hits in the game. He had 20 games of three or more hits in his career and eight of them were in 1989.
After the rough second inning, Maddux had a bit of an odd start. He walked hitters in the third, fourth, and fifth innings. But only one hit over that time. He allowed another hit in the seventh, but a double play limited the Expos to just three hitters.
Walton singled in the Cubs half of the seventh and Ryne Sandberg went deep to cap the Cubs scoring at five. Tim Raines homered in the eighth for the Expos’ final run. Maddux went the distance and just like that, the bullpen was reset, the Cubs won a game and were in first place. That was one of those complete games that would never happen today. Maddux faced 37 batters, allowed 11 hits/walks and was generally less than exceptional. But he gave the Cubs exactly what they needed on that day.
With 50 games to play, the Cubs were in first place, 16 games over .500.
- Superhero: Greg Maddux (.326). 9IP (37 batters), 7H, 4BB, 2R, 3K (W 13-8)
- Hero: Jerome Walton (.167). 3-4, 3B, 2R
- Sidekick: Mark Grace (.135). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Andre Dawson (-.052). 0-4, 3K
- Goat: Damon Berryhill (-.032). 1-4
- Kid: Shawon Dunston (-.005). 1-4
Game 113, August 8: Cubs 4, Expos 2 (65-48)
Jerome Walton wasted no time at all extending his hitting streak to 19 games, leading off the first with a solo homer. Meanwhile Cubs starter Mike Bielecki worked around walks in each of the first and second and then two singles in the third to keep the Expos off of the board.
In the fourth, the Expos captured their first lead of the series. Tim Wallach singled with one out and then a batter later came around to score on a Mike Fitzgerald homer.
The score would stay 2-1 into the sixth inning. That’s when Ryne Sandberg went deep for the second time in as many days, this time to tie a game.
The starters were still in this game when Mark Grace also homered for the second time in as many games. That came off of Expos starter Dennis Martinez.
In the eighth inning, Domingo Ramos delivered a one-out single, one out later, he moved to second on a Sandberg single. He then scored on a Darrin Jackson single.
Mitch Williams threw a perfect eighth and retired the first batter in the ninth before yielding a single. He then left and Les Lancaster nailed it down for his fifth save.
The second straight win gave the Cubs a two-game lead in the division and moved them to a new season high of 17 games over .500.
- Superhero: Ryne Sandberg (.177). 2-4, HR, RBI, R
- Hero: Mark Grace (.158). 1-3, HR, BB, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Mike Bielecki (.149). 7IP (26 batters), 5H, 2BB, 2R, 4K (W 12-5)
- Billy Goat: Andre Dawson (-.107). 0-3, K, DP
- Goat: Damon Berryhill (-.068). 0-3, K
- Kid: Vance Law (-.048). 0-3, 2K
Game 114, August 9: Cubs 3, Expos 0 (66-48)
Mark Grace led off the second with a walk, moved to second on an Andre Dawson single and scored on one from Damon Berryhill to put the Cubs on the board. In the third, Jerome Walton singled to extend his hitting streak to 20 games. Ryne Sandberg followed with his third homer in as many games.
On the other side of the ledger, Rick Sutcliffe didn’t allow a hit until the fourth. In seven innings of work, the only times the Expos threatened were innings in which Rick walked multiple hitters. Mitch Williams threw the final two innings and picked up his 29th save.
The Cubs completed a three-game sweep of the Expos, who had spent 54 days in first place up until this series. In the series, Cubs pitching yielded just four runs. In doing so, they moved to 18 games over .500. The wheels would fall off a bit for the Expos. They’d fade and finish fourth, 12 games out.
- Superhero: Rick Sutcliffe (.299). 7IP (26 batters), H, 4BB, 5K (W 12-9)
- Hero: Ryne Sandberg (.135). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R
- Sidekick: Mitch Williams (.116). 2IP (9 batters), 3H, BB, K (Sv 29)
- Billy Goat: Vance Law (-.132). 0-3, DP
- Goat: Shawon Dunston (-.032). 1-3, K
- Kid: Dwight Smith (-.025). 0-4, K
Game 115, August 10: Phillies 16, at Cubs 13 (66-49)
These two teams were both using “depth” starters in the opener. For the Cubs: Jeff Pico. For the Phillies: Randy O’Neal. O’Neal appeared in 20 games that season for the Phils, but posted a 6.69 ERA and only started one game. Pico made five starts for the Cubs that year. This one was forgettable for both.
It started out great for the Cubs. Pico was perfect in the first and Ryne Sandberg homered, for the fourth straight game, with one out in the bottom of the inning. But that wasn’t it for the Cubs in the inning. Dwight Smith followed with a single and then scored on a Mark Grace double.
John Kruk led off the second with a double and then one out later scored on a Charlie Hayes single. It was Kruk again in the third to give the Phillies the lead. He did that when he followed a two-out Von Hayes walk with a two-run homer.
The Cubs offense came out blazing in the third to chase O’Neal. Sandberg walked, Dwight Smith singled and Mark Grace walked to load the bases with no outs. The Phillies summoned future Cub Terry Mulholland and he did retire the first Cubs he faced. But then a Vance Law walk tied the game at three. A two-run single followed off of the bat of Shawon Dunston. A Joe Girardi double drove in two more and gave the Cubs a 7-3 lead.
After Pico was retired, the offense continued the onslaught. Jerome Walton had an RBI-single to extend his hitting streak to 21. Right at that point in time, the only Cub hotter than Walton was Sandberg. The Cubs second baseman homered for the second time and for the fifth time in four games to push the lead to 10-3.
It should have been safe. But Pico ran out of gas in the fifth. With one out, Dickie Thon, Von Hayes and John Kruk had three straight singles, the last one driving in a run. A walk and a sacrifice fly produced another run but pushed the Cubs closer to escaping with tolerable damage. But then Darren Daulton unloaded a three run shot. That cut the Cubs lead to just two and chased Pico.
Paul Kilgus came on, but the results weren’t much better. He was greeted by a Steve Jeltz double and then Randy Ready homered to tie the game. A single and a walk followed, but Kilgus did get out of the inning with the score tied.
By the end of the fifth, both starters were gone, the Cubs had an eight run inning and the Phillies had erased a seven run deficit in one inning. But it was far from over at 10-10.
John Kruk led off the sixth with a single for his fourth hit of the game. This one came off of Scott Sanderson. Ricky Jordan followed with a two-run homer.
But the Cubs didn’t stop fighting. Shawon Dunston led off the bottom of the inning with a single. When a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice followed, it didn’t feel like much of an inning brewing. But three straight RBI hits followed. The first was a single by Walton. Walton then came around to score on a Sandberg double. Smith followed with a run scoring single to give the Cubs a 13-12 lead after six.
Steve Wilson started the seventh for the Cubs and he got off on the wrong foot. He walked the speedy Lenny Dykstra. One out later, Dykstra stole second and then advanced to third on a passed ball. A pair of walks followed and Wilson’s day was done. Enter Les Lancaster. Les had been one of the Cubs most dependable relievers that summer. But not this time.
A Ricky Jordan single looked like it would score two, but actually a misplay brought a third run around to score. Charlie Hayes then capped the scoring with an RBI-single.
Jeff Parrett threw three scoreless innings to close out the game. That made him the winning pitcher. The Cubs three game winning streak was snapped. The Cubs lost despite having three players have four hit games. Definitely one of those unusual occurrences.
For Sandberg, a four-hit, two-homer game was an oddity, but not one of a kind. He actually had a five hit, two homer game in 1984. You all might have heard about that one. He had three different four hit, two homer games in his career, two of which were in 1989. This was one of 10 times he scored four runs in a game, twice that season. For Dunston, he had 10 games with four or more hits, one of those was a five hit game. This was his only four hit game in ‘89. For Smith, this was the second and final four hit game of his career. Both came that season.
But the real oddity was Lancaster. Sure, entering the game with the bases loaded and one out was a really tough spot. But the run Lancaster was charged with in this game was the first one he was charged with. Prior to this game, Lancaster was 3-0 with five saves. He’d been credited with 30⅔ scoreless innings of baseball, facing 117 batters. Strangely, starting with this performance, he became very human for most of August. Over six outings from August 10 to August 25, Les threw 12⅓ innings and allowed six runs. He was charged with 16 hits and 3 walks, though he did strikeout 13. Then after that, he threw another 29⅔ innings with a 1.52 ERA — a span of another 118 batters.
You can’t just yank six games out of a season. But without them, Lancaster had a historic season. Apart from those six games, Lancaster threw 60⅓ innings, facing 235 batters and allowing just six runs, five earned. That would be an 0.75 ERA, to save you all the math. He had a 4.05 ERA for his career. So that season was out of this world. Just one of those guys who had an out of nowhere season for the ‘89 Cubs.
Of course, it would be decades later before we’d talk about an 87.3 percent strand rate for baserunners. That is quite a bit above the norm and generally unsustainable in the long run. That season was aided by the highest strike out rate and the lowest walk rate of Lancaster’s career. His BABIP allowed wasn’t other worldly low, but at .270 was the lowest of his career as well. Quite simply, everything worked that one year for him. He might be the biggest outlier of the ‘89 Cubs.
- Superhero: Ryne Sandberg (.389). 4-5, 2HR, BB, 2B, 4RBI, 4R
- Hero: Dwight Smith (.258). 4-6, RBI, 2R, SB
- Sidekick: Shawon Dunston (.214). 4-5, 2RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Les Lancaster (-.386). ⅔ IP (5 batters), 3H, R
- Goat: Jeff Pico (-.343). 4⅔ IP (25 batters), 8H, 3BB, K
- Kid: Scott Sanderson (-.247). IP (6 batters). 3H, 2R, 3K
Game 116, August 11: Cubs 9, Phillies 2 (67-49)
Greg Maddux threw two perfect innings to start this one. In between, the Cubs threatened in the first, but ultimately left runners on second and third. But in the second they got on the board first. Damon Berryhill walked. One out later, Shawon Dunston also walked. Maddux bounced into a force out and then Jerome Walton reached base for a second time (without a hit) on a walk to load the bases. Ryne Sandberg then drew a walk to force in the game’s first run.
Phillies starter Don Carman walked five Cubs over the first two innings. He’d only allowed one run, but a start like that rarely ends well. Meanwhile Maddux issued a walk in the third, but kept the Phillies from recording their first hit through another inning. Then Andre Dawson led off the third with a homer. Lloyd McClendon followed with a double. After an out, Domingo Ramos delivered a run scoring single to increase the lead to three.
Maddux was perfect in the fourth, but the Phillies finally fired up the offense in the fifth. Charlie Hayes started it with a one out single and ex-Cub Steve Lake followed with a walk. Dickie Thon followed with an RBI single for the Phills first run. After a sacrifice by Carman, Lenny Dykstra had a sac fly to cut it to one. Would the Cubs waste a lead again?
They would not. McClendon would have a one out double in the bottom of the inning. Berryhill and Ramos walked to load the bases and then Shawon Dunston singled scoring two runs and knocking out Carman. After a Maddux sacrifice, Walton extended his hitting streak with a two-run single. Ryne Sandberg followed with a two-run homer and it was 9-2.
Much attention will be paid to the Walton hitting streak and rightfully so. But let’s not ignore the blistering hot stretch for Sandberg. From August 3 to August 11, Sandberg had 44 plate appearances. He had seven homers, two doubles, nine runs, 14 RBI, and a stolen base. He had a slash line of .450/.500/1.025 (wRC+ 329). Very few players have ever recorded a stretch like that. He capped that with homers in five consecutive games (six homers total).
- Superhero: Ryne Sandberg (.177). 1-3, HR, 2BB, 3RBI, R, 2K
- Hero: Shawon Dunston (.127). 1-3, BB, 2RBI, R, K
- Sidekick: Jerome Walton (.116). 1-3, BB, HBP, 2RBI, R, K
- Billy Goat: Mark Grace (-.073). 0-5, 2K
- Goat/Kid: Curtis Wilkerson/Darrin Jackson (.000). Wilkerson: 0-0, BB, R; Jackson: 0-1
Game 117, August 12: Cubs 9, Phillies 7 (68-49)
This one got off to a rough start. Tom Herr had a one-out single in the top of the first and Von Hayes followed with a homer off Cubs starter Mike Bielecki. John Kruk followed with a triple and then scored on a wild pitch. The Phillies had a three run lead with one out in the first.
The Cubs wasted no time bouncing back. Jerome Walton singled to extend his hitting streak and then stole second. After a strikeout, Dwight Smith had a single, driving in the first run for the Cubs. Phillies starter Ken Howell then delivered a pair of walks to Mark Grace and Damon Berryhill. A Mitch Webster sacrifice fly was both the second out and the Cubs second run. Then Domingo Ramos drew a walk to re-load the bases. That brought Shawon Dunston to the plate. He delivered a three run double to cap a five run rally.
In the bottom of the second, the Cubs kept the offense rolling. Curtis Wilkerson drew a one-out walk and then stole second. One out later, Grace added an RBI single to extend the Cubs lead to three.
Mitch Webster and Domingo Ramos drew a pair of walks to start the third inning. They executed a double steal that ended up not being necessary as Dunston delivered a three-run homer. This would be one of two six-RBI games for Shawon in his career.
Charlie Hayes hit a solo homer off of Bielecki in the sixth, but the Cubs starter had done an excellent job of righting the ship after a rough first inning. Bielecki ended up pitching into the seventh before he got into some more trouble and left.
In the eighth, the Phillies made this one close. Scott Sanderson was pitching in relief. He retired the final two batters in the seventh and the first two in the eighth when he allowed a solo homer to Steve Jeltz. Dickie Thon singled and Lenny Dykstra finished the scoring for the day with a two-run homer.
The win moved the Cubs to 19 games over .500 for the first time.
- Superhero: Shawon Dunston (.304). 3-4, HR, 2B, 6RBI, R, K
- Hero: Mark Grace (.090). 2-4, BB, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Mitch Williams (.073). IP (6 batters), H, BB (Sv 30)
- Billy Goat: Mike Bielecki (-.132). 6⅓ IP (29 batters), 6H, 4BB, 4R, 2K (W 13-5)
- Goat: Paul Kilgus (-.034). 0IP (1 batter), HBP
- Kid: Curtis WIlkerson (-.010). 1-4, BB, R, SB, 2K
Game 118, August 13: Phillies 5, at Cubs 3 (68-50)
Once again, the Phillies jumped out quickly. Rick Sutcliffe walked Phillies leadoff hitter Lenny Dykstra. He was sacrificed to second and then moved to third on a flyout. John Kruk then drew a walk. Ricky Jordan came through with a two-out, two-run triple to give the Phillies the early lead.
The Cubs only managed a single hit off of Phillies starter Bruce Ruffin through three innings, but they got things going in the fourth. Mark Grace had a one out triple and then one out later, Lloyd McClendon delivered an RBI single.
In the fifth, the Cubs bats got it going again. Domingo Ramos led off the inning with a walk. Two outs later, including a Sutcliffe sacrifice, he was on second when Jerome Walton delivered an RBI-double to extend his hitting streak. After an intentional walk to Ryne Sandberg, Grace delivered an RBI-single giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead.
Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived. Von Hayes led off the sixth with a solo homer to tie the game. It stayed tied until the eighth when Steve Wilson was summoned. Hayes drew a one out walk, followed by a Kruk single. A Jordan sacrifice fly gave the Phillies the lead and then Darren Daulton delivered an RBI single to complete the scoring.
Jeff Parrett faced only nine hitters in completing the final three innings and picked up another win. Three innings and a win would be a relative unusual occurrence these days. Parrett had 11 of them in his career, six of them that season and two of them in the same series. He also had one just two days later against the Dodgers.
- Superhero: Mark Grace (.303). 3-4, 3B, RBI, R
- Hero: Jerome Walton (.124). 1-3, 2B, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Lloyd McClendon (.119). 2-4, RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Steve Wilson (-.352). ⅔ IP (5 batters), 2H, BB (L 5-2)
- Goat: Andre Dawson (-.292). 0-4, DP
- Kid: Shawon Dunston (-.269). 0-4, DP
The Cubs won five of seven during the week. And they had finished their stretch of 18 games in 17 days. They came through that stretch with 13 wins. Going back further, they’d won 20 of 28. That stretch was exactly what they needed to springboard into first. After coming into the week tied for first, three wins against the team they were tied with gave them a three game lead in the division. The split with the Phillies only chipped a half game off of their lead. But they were still up 2½ games at week’s end.
Looking ahead, the Cubs finally had an off day Monday. Then they’d have six games on the road. The first three of those were in Cincinnati team that was well off the pace in the NL West. The last three were against the Astros, who were still hanging around in their division. A word of reminder though. As I’ve said throughout, this was NOT one of those seasons where the Cubs took control and then ran away with the division. The division title was very much up for grabs well into September.
1989 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats Player of the Week: Jerome Walton
In my head, I really have a temptation to use this space to look at the Rookie of the Year for 1989. But a) I think that discussion is premature and b) it isn’t at all fair to Walton. So instead, I’m solely going to look at the year and career of Walton as I’ve done for everyone else. I do promise a future piece on the Rookie of the Year voting, primarily because I’ve always felt that perhaps Dwight Smith should have actually won the award. That discussion is best held another day. I’ll try to lay out the case for each.
Jerome was drafted by the Cubs in January 1986 in the second round in the year he would turn 21. He was a true rookie in 1989, not having seen any major league action before landing in April and going on to win Rookie of the Year. That year was highlighted by a 30 game hitting streak. He played in 116 games that season and amassed 515 plate appearances. He had a line of .293/.335/.385 and stole 24 bases.
He’d play for the Cubs for four seasons and appear in 370 games with a .668 OPS. His playing time was cut short in 1992, appearing in only 30 games that season and the Cubs allowed him to leave as a free agent after the season. He appeared in only five games for the Angels the following season before resurfacing with the Reds in 1994.
He played some of his best baseball in ‘94 and ‘95 for the Reds. He produced an .853 OPS as a Red. He played sparingly in each of the next three years, one year with each of the Braves, Orioles and then-Devil Rays. He hung around for three more seasons playing in Canada, the Atlantic League and Mexico.
Over a 10-year career, he posted a .269 average and stole 58 bases in 598 games. He also was one of the Cubs who did produce in the postseason in 1989. He had a .780 OPS in 24 plate appearances. He had eight hits, two walks and four runs scored in five games. He would also appear on the postseason rosters of the Reds and Orioles in ‘95 and ‘97 respectively.
The internet isn’t overwhelmed with information about Jerome. It appears that he did some high school coaching after his playing days.