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1989 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats: Part 22

The one with the game of the year

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Welcome back to another edition of Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats. We’ve been looking back at the 1989 season and this time around, we have a real treat. During the 22nd week of the 1989 season, the game of the year happened. Before we can get there, though, let’s set the table.

In week 21, the Cubs lost their first three games, stretching a losing streak to six games. I’ve said before that the 1989 Cubs were an odd division winner. One of the reasons I’ve said that is that six-game losing streak. It’s not crazy that a team will drop six in a row on the way to winning a division crown. But for that team, they’d already had a seven game winning streak in June. Now they had lost six straight in August.

I think, here in 2022 we’d all be less than shocked by such a feat. With six divisions, it’s probably even likely that one of the teams will back into the playoffs and have troubles like that. But in 1989, there were only four divisions. There weren’t too many teams backing into the playoffs and in fact, these Cubs weren’t one of them. But perhaps the nature of being a “lightning in a bottle” type team and franchise in general led to that kind of inconsistency even on what was otherwise a very good team that year.

The last half of the week saw the Cubs take two out of three from the Braves who were visiting Wrigley Field. Both wins were of the walkoff variety as they were both extra inning affairs. Two such games on a homestand is an oddity. But a third walkoff? It’s coming. Week 22 will see the Cubs host the Astros for three and then head on the road to face those same Braves as August gave way to September.

Let’s get to it!

Game 131, August 28: Cubs 6, Astros 1 (74-57)

As he did so often that season, Jerome Walton started the game off by laying down a bunt. The result? A wild throw and he started the game on second base. Ryne Sandberg followed with a single. Walton stayed put on a grounder that resulted in a force out. Mark Grace then took a walk that loaded the bases. Astros starter Jose Cano’s troubles with control didn’t end there though. He issued a bases loaded walk to Andre Dawson and the Cubs were on the board.

Shawon Dunston then lined a two-run double. Just like that, the Cubs had a three run first inning lead behind starter Greg Maddux who’d thrown a perfect first. But that wasn’t it, after a Domingo Ramos intentional walk, Rick Wrona had a sacrifice fly yielding the fourth run of the inning.

The game was still 4-0 when Lloyd McClendon drilled a one-out solo homer in the fifth. Staring at a five run deficit, the Astros finally got on the board in the sixth. With two outs, Rafael Ramirez reached second on an error. He then scored on a Kevin Bass single.

The Cubs got that run right back in their half of the sixth. Ramos drew an unintentional walk with one out. Then one out later, Maddux singled him to second. Ramos then scored when Walton reached on an error.

Maddux went the distance and the Cubs had their third win in four games after losing six straight.

  • Superhero: Greg Maddux (.217). 9IP (35 batters), 6H, 2BB, R (0ER), 4K (W 15-10)
  • Hero: Shawon Dunston (.116). 1-4, 2B, 2RBI
  • Sidekick: Jerome Walton (.102). 2-4, R
  • Billy Goat: Lloyd McClendon (-.041). 1-4, HR, RBI, 2R
  • Goat: Rick Wrong (-.005). 0-4, RBI, SF, K, DP
  • Kid: Domingo Ramos (.005). 1-2, 2BB, R

Game 132, August 29: Cubs 10, Astros 9 (75-57)

If I seem giddy about this one, it’s because I am. This was my favorite ever Cubs game prior to 2016. (Once the calendar flipped to 2016, trying to decide between games is like trying to decide which child is your favorite).

This game started out great. Mike Bielecki retired the Astros in order in the first. Then in the bottom of the inning, the Cubs had runners on first and second but failed to cash in. Glenn Davis led off the second for the Astros with a walk. He went to second on a wild pitch. One out later, Ken Caminiti and Craig Biggio each drew walks to load the bases. Bielecki coaxed Rafael Ramirez into a perfect result, a grounder to short. But Shawon Dunston committed an error. Two runs scored on the play. Bielecki did escape without further damage.

The Cubs again put two runners on and failed to cash in. I think we all have that radar that says that a couple of squandered opportunities seems to doom a team to failure on a given day. In the fourth, Caminiti singled, Biggio followed with a double and then a Ramirez double gave the Astros two more runs and a four run lead.

The Cubs couldn’t cash in on a leadoff double in their half of the fourth and then when Bill Doran and Kevin Bass walked leading off the fifth, Bielecki’s day was done. Dean Wilkins was into the game. He walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. He did recover and get a pop up for the first out of the inning. But then a passed ball gave the Astros a fifth run. After a strikeout, Ramirez homered and this one was a rout. The Cubs were down 9-0 after the Astros half of the fifth.

As in, 99.2% chance of a team when winning by nine after the top of the fifth. The Cubs got a leadoff walk in the sixth, but a double play made short work of that. So it was down nine after six (99.6%).

Calvin Schiraldi threw a scoreless sixth inning. And finally, the Cubs bats broke through. It was an innocuous enough start. Mark Grace drew a one out walk and then moved to second on a groundout. Dunston singled off of Astros starter Mark Portugal. The Astros showed some stunningly good fundamentals on the play, throwing to the plate to try to get Grace with a nine run lead. The throw was late and Dunston went to second. That paid off when Domingo Ramos followed with a single. The Cubs had two runs in the inning, but that was it. Down seven after six, that’s back to 99.2%.

Scott Sanderson threw a perfect seventh. Portugal was still working with a seven run lead in the seventh and he started the inning by hitting Jerome Walton. One out later, Portugal was chased when Lloyd McClendon launched a two run homer. Down five with eight outs remaining and the bases empty. That’s 97.4%.

Grace greeted Astros reliever Brian Meyer with a single and then moved to second on a balk. Grace giving the Astros trouble on the bases. Bet you didn’t have that one on your bingo card. Dwight Smith then singled and Grace scored. The deficit was down to four. But that was all the Cubs got out of the inning and they were still down four after seven (96.6%).

Sanderson worked around a couple of singles in the top of the eighth. That was aided by a runner being gunned down at the plate. Joe Girardi led off the eighth with a single, then advanced to second on a passed ball. He was still there one out later when Jerome Walton reached on an error. Ryne Sandberg then got in the action with an RBI-single (84%), McClendon singled off of a new reliever, Danny Darwin, scoring yet another run (75%).

The Astros then turned to Juan Agosto, one of the very dependable setup men of the era. With him on the mound, there was a passed ball, moving the runners up. (66.3) Grace followed with an RBI singled and the lead was down to one. (51.1) That brought Smith to the plate and what followed was a chaotic play.

Smith lofted one to center with runners on first and third and one out, the Cubs down one. The ball was caught in center and McClendon broke for the plate from third. He scored but Grace also tried to reach second and was out there. Two outs on the play, ending the rally. But not until the game was tied. That moved the Cubs all of the way up to 50/50 to win. Make note that these tables do not take into account home field advantage. It is a 50/50 game with a tie game heading to the ninth.

Les Lancaster worked a scoreless ninth for the Cubs, but future Cub Dave Smith answered with one for the Astros. Paul Assenmacher threw a scoreless tenth. Walton then drew a leadoff walk off of Smith. Sandberg followed with a sacrifice. McClendon followed with a single and the Cubs elected to hold Walton at third and not take an aggressive chance. Grace was then intentionally walked. That brought Dwight Smith to the plate to face Dave Smith with the bases loaded in the tenth inning. Dwight drilled a single to right and the comeback was complete.

This was the game that won the Rookie of the Year award for Dwight in my world. God bless Walton and his contributions to this team. Certainly, Walton had a big impact on this game. He scored three of the 10 Cubs runs. But Smith didn’t start this game. He came to the plate three times, had two singles, a sacrifice fly and drove in three runs. Among those three runs were the tying and winning runs. It’s one game. But it’s the one I’ll always remember from 1989.

Here’s the article Al wrote about this game on its 30th anniversary in 2019.

  • Superhero: Lloyd McClendon (.246). 3-5, HR, HBP, 3RBI, 2R
  • Hero: Dwight Smith (.207). 2-2, SF, 3RBI
  • Sidekick: Ryne Sandberg (.143). 3-5, S, RBI, R, K
  • Billy Goat: Mike Bielecki (-.234). 4IP (21 batters), 3H, 5BB, 6R (5ER), 5K, WP
  • Goat: Darrin Jackson (-.207). 0-1
  • Kid: Dean Wilkins (-.063). IP (6 batters), H, 2BB, 3R, K

Game 133, August 30: Astros 8 at Cubs 4 (75-58)

Rick Sutcliffe got in trouble in this one right away. Gerald Young led off with a single. He moved to second on a balk and third on a groundout to second that maybe could otherwise have been a double play. After a Kevin Bass walk, Glenn Wilson hit a sacrifice fly for the first run.

Dwight Smith stayed red hot and hit a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to tie the score. But in the third inning, Bill Doran had a two out double and then scored on an RBI-single from Bass.

It was the fourth inning that sunk this game. Sutcliffe allowed a leadoff walk to Harry Spilman. Rafael Ramirez followed with a single. One out later a wild pitch moved the runners up and then Alex Trevino had an RBI-single. Astros starter Mike Scott followed with an RBI-single of his own and that was it for Sutcliffe.

The bullpen was forced into the game early for the second straight day. It was Scott Sanderson who’d thrown two scoreless the day before and had spent most of his career as a starter. Young followed with the third straight RBI-single and it was 5-1.

Ryne Sandberg hit a solo homer in the bottom of the inning. But the Astros got right back at it in the sixth. Spilman led off with a single and moved to third on a double by Ramirez. Reynolds was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs. A medium depth fly ball to right failed to produce a run, even with Smith in right field in place of the usual Andre Dawson. After a popup, it looked like Sanderson might escape unscathed. But Young delivered a two-run single.

Spilman completed a big day at the plate with an RBI double off of Mitch Williams following a walk by Wilson. In the bottom of the inning, Jerome Walton led off with a bunt hit. Two outs later he scored on a two run homer by Mark Grace.

So much for momentum. Coming off of three wins in four games and most specifically, a dramatic come from behind victory, the Cubs are largely held in check by Mike Scott and fall to defeat, failing to sweep the Astros. Still, the Cubs salvaged what had been a tough start to the homestand, ultimately winning four of nine including three extra inning, walk off victories. Notably, they actually increased the lead by one game on the division over that tough 10 game stretch of games. They’d have an off day before continuing in Atlanta.

  • Superhero: Dwight Smith (.068). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, K
  • Hero: Ryne Sandberg (.047). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, K
  • Sidekick: Dean Wilkins (.010). 2IP (6 batters), K
  • Billy Goat: Rick Sutcliffe (-.303). 3⅓ IP (18 batters), 8H, 2BB, 5R, K, 2WP, BK (L 13-11)
  • Goat: Scott Sanderson (-.083). 2⅔ IP (14 batters), 4H, 2BB, 2R, K, WP
  • Kid: Jerome Walton (-.040). 1-4, R

Game 134, September 1: Braves 5, Cubs 1 (75-59)

Steve Wilson started this game for the Cubs but failed to record an out. He walked Oddibe McDowell and future Cub Jeff Blauser to start the game. Lonnie Smith and Dale Murphy followed with a pair of RBI-singles and that was it for Wilson. There was at least a day off between, but that was three straight early hooks for the starters if you are paying attention.

Paul Kilgus came in and was greeted with an RBI double from Darrell Evans before settling down and retiring three straight to escape the inning with only a three run deficit. But the damage was done.

Kilgus followed up with a scoreless second, but then he got into trouble in the third. Murphy and Evans produced a single and a double to start the inning. One out later Jeff Treadway delivered a two-run single and it was 5-0.

The Cubs did manage to plate a run in the top of the fifth. That was powered by an Andre Dawson solo homer. But that was all the Cubs managed as Derek Lilliquist allowed only one run on five hits over eight innings. Two pretty strong opposition pitching performances and the Cubs lost two in a row.

  • Superhero: Lloyd McClendon (.022). 1-3, 2B
  • Hero: Jeff Pico (.018). 2⅔ IP (10 batters), 4H, 3K
  • Sidekick: Paul Assenmacher (.006). 1⅓ IP (4 batters), K
  • Billy Goat: Steve Wilson (-.289). 0IP (4 batters), 2H, 2BB, 3R (L 5-3)
  • Goat: Mark Grace (-.079). 0-4, DP
  • Kid: Luis Salazar (-.048). 0-3, K

Game 135, September 2: Cubs 10 at Braves 3 (76-59)

Jerome Walton singled off of Braves starter Marty Clary to get things off on the right foot. Ryne Sandberg then hit a grounder to third that Jeff Blauser misplayed and the Cubs had Clary on the ropes quickly. After a groundout moved the runners to second and third with one out, the Cubs cashed in with more help from the Braves defense. Mark Grace hit a grounder to short and Andres Thomas misplayed that one, resulting in the first two Cubs runs. Grace then stole second! Andre Dawson drew a walk and Luis Salazar collected his first hit and his first RBI as a Cub. One out later Rick Wrona slugged a three run homer and the Cubs had six on the board before Greg Maddux ever took the mound.

Oddibe McDowell singled to start things off for the Braves and went all of the way around to third when Dawson misplayed the ball in right. That allowed Jeff Treadway’s ground ball to be run scoring.

Walton led off the second with his second hit of the game, a double. An out later, Dwight Smith had an RBI-single to restore the lead to six. The game stayed there until the fourth when Smith drew a one-out walk. Grace followed with a single and then Dawson delivered a two-run double. Salazar followed with an RBI-double of his own and the Cubs led 10-1.

The Braves got a solo homer from Jeff Wetherby in the sixth (his only big-league HR in 52 MLB games) and an RBI single by Lonnie Smith in the eighth off of Kevin Blankenship. Blankenship was obtained by the Cubs midseason the year before. This was his first appearance of 1989 for the Cubs major league squad and just his second ever appearance for the Cubs. In fact, this was one of just eight lifetime appearances, and one of only three in relief. In all, three appearances in 1988 (one for the Cubs), two in 1989, and three more in 1990 and then that was it.

The Cubs picked up a win in easy fashion, aided by some spotty Braves defense that turned what might have been a fairly easy inning into a six run rally.

  • Superhero: Mark Grace (.163). 3-5, 2R, SB
  • Hero: Rick Wrona (.135). 1-4, HR, 3RBI, R, 2K
  • Sidekick: Luis Salazar (.068). 2-3, 2B, 2RBI, R
  • Billy Goat: Shawon Dunston (-.043). 0-3
  • Goat: Curtis Wilkerson (-.001). 0-1
  • Kid: (5 tied) Marvell Wynne (0-2), Domingo Ramos (0-2), Gary Varsho (0-1), Greg Smith (0-1), Doug Dascenzo (0-1); all were .000

Game 136, September 3: Braves 8, Cubs 5 (76-60)

Jerome Walton once again led off the game with a single for the Cubs. He made it to third on a pair of ground outs and then Mark Grace drew a walk. With runners on first and third, Grace got caught in a rundown, just long enough for Walton to score before being tagged for the third out.

Mike Bielecki who’d already had one rough outing in the week was on the mound again as the Cubs starters took extra turns in a playoff push (only four different starters in a six game week). In the bottom of the first, Jeff Treadway had a one out double to get things started. In succession, Dale Murphy, Darrell Evans and Jeff Blauser each followed with RBI-singles and the Braves were up 3-1 after one.

But the Cubs wouldn’t go down without a fight. Ryne Sandberg led off the fourth with a single off of Braves starter Pete Smith. Sandberg moved to second on an error on the play and then third on a grounder. Grace then singled, driving in the run. Andre Dawson followed with a two-run homer and the Cubs led 4-3.

Smith helped get the Braves the lead back when he helped himself with a one out single. He then moved to third on an Oddibe McDowell double. Treadway followed with an RBI-single. That was it for Bielecki who gave way to Scott Sanderson. Sanderson recorded the first out but then allowed an RBI-single to Murphy. Steve Wilson came in to face Evans, but Evans joined Murphy with his second RBI-single. After Jeff Pico was brought in to face Blauser, the Braves successfully repeated their three straight RBI singles of the first inning, with the same three hitters returning in the fourth to do it again. The only difference is that Blauser’s second hit was a two-run single. That made it 8-4 and this one was essentially over.

Andre Dawson hit a two-out solo homer in the sixth, but it was much too late on this day and the Cubs lost two of three in Atlanta.

  • Superhero: Andre Dawson (.225). 2-4, 2HR, 3RBI, R, DP
  • Hero: Jerome Walton (.141). 2-4, R, K
  • Sidekick: Mark Grace (.047). 2-3, BB, RBI, R, CS
  • Billy Goat: Mike Bielecki (-.457). 3⅓ IP (21 batters), 8H, 3BB, 6R, 2K (L 14-6)

*This was the 10th worst WPA game score of the year for the 1989 Cubs

  • Goat: Steve Wilson (-.117). 0IP (1 batter), H, R
  • Kid: Dwight Smith (-.084). 0-4

So there it is, the week containing my favorite game of the 1989 season. It’s one of those quirks in home mentality. A game like this takes on legendary status. Of course, it’s a glass half empty, half full situation. The good news? The Cubs came from behind down nine runs as they came to bat in the sixth inning. The bad? They were down 9-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth.

Somehow, this game sticks out to me more than so many “better” ones. A game like Kyle Hendrick’s 81-pitch shutout of the Cardinals in May 2019, one of the last games I went to in person. Certainly Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter of the Reds in April of 2016 represents just about as perfect of a team outcome as is ever possible. But somehow I remember that 1989 game more than so many others. And for that matter, an April game in 2018 against the Braves. A game that should have been snowed out and saw the Cubs make an equally improbable comeback to win.

People sometimes expect one of these “special” games to provide a boost to a team. That’s certainly not visible here. The Cubs had that great win for their third win in four games, all in walkoff fashion. Then they lost three of four afterwards. Alas, in August and into early September, the Cubs were playing very mediocre baseball. They showed little signs of a team that had been as far as 21 games over .500 in mid-August.

Fortunately, this sideways week wasn’t devastating in the standings. They started the week two games in front. They had added half a game to the lead by mid-week but ended up down a half game by the end of the week. In week 23 of the season, the Cubs will take that paltry 1½-game lead and continue their three-city road trip with a pair of two-game sets. The first will be in New York and then they’ll head to Philadelphia. In a rare three opponent week, the Cubs will then come home and face the Cardinals.

With a seven-game week, the season will be pushed to under 20 games remaining. Though we know how it ended, there’s still a lot of baseball and several twists and turns before it reaches that conclusion.

1989 Cubs Historical Heroes and Goats Player of the Week: Greg Maddux

The 22nd week of the 1989 baseball season featured an occurrence that was not particularly an oddity in baseball history. Greg Maddux started two games and he won them both. By 1989, we weren’t yet at peak Maddux. Sure, he’d already been an All-Star during a 1988 season in which he went 18-8 with a 3.18 ERA. In ‘89, he went 19-12 with a 2.95 ERA. He finished third in Cy Young voting for that season. He’d have slightly worse results the following two seasons while winning his first two gold gloves. Then in 1992, he peaked as a Cub. He went 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA on route to his first Cy Young award. For the second straight year, he led the NL (and actually in ‘92 the whole of MLB) in innings pitched. He led the NL in starts from 1990 to 1993.

But all of that is starting in the middle. Or at least the end of the beginning. The actual beginning for the professional career of Maddux was the amateur draft of 1984. He was the Cubs second round pick that year. I’ve said it before and Al has said it elsewhere, Dallas Green and the Cubs front office were really on to something. Had personalities not clashed, the history of the Cubs starting with the mid 80’s might have been very different.

At the age of 20, Greg made six appearances (five starts) for the 1986 Cubs. He’d make 27 more starts the following year, getting knocked around to the tune of a 5.61 ERA. But by 1988, he was emerging as one of the best pitchers in the NL. Fast forwarding to where I left off, the Cubs let him leave in free agency after the 1992 season. I was as close to quitting being a Cubs fan that offseason as I have ever been. Maddux was one of my favorites and it seemed so senseless the way he was allowed to walk.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that every single one of the other 29 fanbases remembers Greg first and foremost as a Brave. Cubs fans cherish him as one of their own, and I certainly understand. But there is absolutely no question that his best work was as a Brave. He pitched for 11 seasons for them. In that time, he made 363 starts and was the winning pitcher in 194 of them.

As a Brave, he had a 2.63 ERA over 5,008⅓ innings. He completed 61 games with 21 of those being shutouts. He followed up his Cubs Cy Young in ‘92 with three more for the Braves in his first three seasons there. In 1995, he was 19-2 in 27 starts with a 1.63 ERA.

After his time as a Brave, there were two and a half more seasons as a Cub, two partial seasons as a Dodger and two seasons as a Padre. Though his work really tailed off after leaving the Braves. In that time period, the Braves did not get a lot of moves wrong. They grabbed him for the prime of his career and let him walk for the twilight of his career.

The hardware: There was a lot. 18 gold gloves. Those four Cy Young awards, in consecutive years no less. From ‘92 through ‘98 he finished in the top five for the Cy every single year. Two top five MVP finishes (‘94 and ‘95). He led NL pitchers in bWAR in three seasons (‘92, ‘94, ‘95). He led the NL in ERA four times wins, three times, WHIP four times, walks per nine innings nine times, innings pitched five times (he’s 13th all time in MLB innings pitched), he’s 10th all time in strikeouts, he’s fourth all time in starts. He led the NL in complete games three times and shutouts five.

I know we don’t love wins anymore and maybe we never should have. But it is an impressive accomplishment that Greg won 15 or more games for 17 consecutive seasons. That’s one of those records that will likely never be broken.

Of course, all of that is just the regular season stuff. He also appeared in 35 postseason games, 30 of them starts. In his era, just about the full season of an ace starter (Greg made 35 starts nine different times). In those 35 games, he was 11-14 with a 3.27 ERA. He won one World Series and lost two others.

Greg was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 on his first ballot. He received 97.2 percent of the votes. The other 2.8 percent apparently still believed that a player shouldn’t go in on the first ballot, that there was something magical about the first ballot. No serious person has ever constructed an argument that Maddux didn’t belong in the Hall after his amazing career. The JAWS system ranks Greg eighth all-time among starting pitchers.

Here’s some fun with Baseball Reference’s similar player scores for Maddux. Don Sutton ranks number one (suggesting that Don was criminally under rated by the Hall committees). Other names on that list are Warren Spahn, Fergie Jenkins, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, and Bert Blyleven (another who should have gone in earlier). By age, Mark Gubicza, Storm Davis, Dan Petry and Mike Witt appear in the early career. There there are names like Dennis Eckersley and Denny McLain. As his longevity really sets in, we see Seaver pop up five times, Juan Marichal four times, Jenkins and then Sutton twice. Obviously, we are talking about a who’s who of right handed pitchers who dominated.

Greg did some front office work for both the Cubs and Dodgers after he was done. He served as pitching coach for the USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Lastly, he spent four years as an assistant coach at UNLV starting in 2016, surely totally a coincidence that his son pitched for the team during those years.