The Mets erased a 7-1 deficit in the bottom of the ninth Thursday night and shocked the Phillies, 8-7.
It was the first time in 398 games that a team prevailed after trailing by 6 runs in the ninth.
Nearly 70 years ago, the Cubs won in the same fashion -- starting with 2 out and nobody on base!
This post first appeared in 2019.
SCORCHER IN CINCINNATI
On a blazing hot Sunday afternoon in 1952, the Chicago Cubs produced the greatest single-game comeback in the history of Major League Baseball.
It happened June 29, 1952, a day on which the visiting Cubs and host Cincinnati Reds played a doubleheader at Crosley Field.
"The official temperature was 97," Irving Vaughan reported in the Chicago Tribune. "In the roof top press box it reached 104 degrees, but a cold wave set in and the mercury contracted to 102.
"Down on the playing field it was far more uncomfortable. Hank Sauer became starry-eyed after the first game and couldn’t bounce back. Bruce Edwards had to give up after three innings of work in the second game. More than a few of the Reds quit for the same reason."
In the first of the two games, the Cubs trailed by 6 runs with 2 out and nobody on base in the top of the ninth inning.
The probability of the Cubs winning the game at that point was 0.01 percent.
That is not 1 percent.
That is 1 one-hundredth of 1 percent, or 1 chance in 10,000.
Then 9 consecutive Cubs reached base, culminating in a 2-run, go-ahead single by one of the most obscure players in Cubs history.
TOP OF THE LIST
Baseball-reference.com has a list of the 100 most improbable comeback wins in regular-season games (https://www.baseball-reference.com/friv/comeback-wins.shtml).
The Cubs’ rally against the Reds is No. 1 on that list.
Only one other game ever has been won by a team that had a winning expectancy as low as 0.01 percent, a 1990 game in Los Angeles in which the visiting Phillies reached 0.01 when they fell 10 runs behind the Dodgers with 1 out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The Phillies had more runs to overcome, but had 8 outs at bat in which to do so – not just 1 more out, as the Cubs did in 1952 at Cincinnati.
(The Mets' lowest expectancy on Thursday against the Phillies was 0.20, which is tied for the 54th-lowest percentage on the list.)
SPLIT FIRST PAIR
The Cubs and Reds had split the first 2 games of their 4-game series, the Cubs taking the opener on Friday, 6-0, then the Reds notching a 3-2 walk-off win on Saturday.
Going into Sunday, the Cubs were in third place, with a record of 36-29, 11 games behind the first-place Dodgers. The Reds were 30-36, tied for fifth with the Phillies.
The starting pitcher for the Reds in Game 1 on Sunday was Bubba Church, a 27-year-old righthander who had been traded to Cincinnati from Philadelphia on May 23. Church had gone 15-11 for the Phillies in 1951, but had pitched only 5 innings in 1952 before being sent to the Reds.
With 2 out in the top of the first inning, Church surrendered a solo homer to Dee Fondy that gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
The lead lasted for only 3 batters in the bottom of the inning.
Johnny Klippstein, the Cubs’ 24-year-old righty, walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a double to Bobby Adams. That would prove to be the only one of the Reds’ 15 hits that went for extra bases.
Grady Hatton followed with an RBI single, tying the score.
After a fly out, another single sent Hatton to third, then Joe Adcock singled him home.
The Reds increased their lead to 3-1 in the second on a 2-out RBI single by Adams.
The Cubs closed to within 3-2 in the fourth, as Fondy doubled and scored on a single by Toby Atwell.
REDS PULL AWAY
Then the Reds broke the game open in the fifth.
Klippstein allowed back-to-back singles to Bob Borkowski and Adams to start the inning. He retired Hatton on a popup, but then Ted Kluszewski singled, scoring Borkowski, sending Adams to third and knocking out Klippstein.
Willard Marshall, facing Cubs reliever Willie Ramsdell, grounded to second, with Adams racing home on the play and Wally Westlake, pinch-running for Kluszewski, advancing to second. Adcock then singled, the Reds’ fourth hit of the inning, and Westlake came around to make the score 6-2.
Ramsdell induced a grounder to short to retire the side, then returned to pitch a scoreless sixth.
Bob Schultz took over on the mound for the Cubs in the seventh and allowed an RBI single by Marshall.
Schultz also served up singles to the first 3 batters in the eighth. The last was by Church, the Reds’ pitcher, and it gave him an 8-2 cushion going to the ninth.
2 QUICK OUTS
Through 8 innings, Church had allowed 2 runs on 8 hits, struck out 3 and walked none.
He quickly got Atwell to ground out to second, then struck out Bob Addis.
The Cubs’ win expectancy now stood at 0.01 percent, and Church was 1 out away from a complete-game victory.
DOUBLE STARTS RALLY
The next batter was Bill Serena, a 27-year-old second and third baseman, whose entire 6-season career was spent with the Cubs, from 1949-54. The 1952 season, 1 of only 2 in which he played regularly, would be his best: a .274 average, 21 doubles, 5 triples, 15 home runs and 61 RBI.
One of those doubles had come earlier in the game, with 2 out and nobody on in the second inning. Now, in the ninth, he doubled again to keep the inning alive.
Roy Smalley then coaxed the Cubs’ first walk of the game.
The pitcher’s spot was up next, and manager Phil Cavaretta sent up Gene Hermanski to pinch hit.
Hermanski, a 32-year-old outfielder, spent 9 seasons in the majors, but played in as many as 100 games only twice. He was a Cub from 1951-53, and in 1952 would hit .255 in 275 at-bats, driving in 34 runs.
He singled up the middle against Church, making the score 8-3, with runners on first and third.
The Cubs’ win expectancy remained less than 1 percent.
Eddie Miskis, at the top of the Cubs’ batting order, had gone 1 for 4 against Church, singling in the third. This time, with 2 out in the ninth, he laid down a bunt.
Ed Kazak had taken over at third for the Reds in the eighth. He raced in, picked up the ball and fired it toward the plate, hoping to catch Smalley, who was headed for home. But Kazak’s throw was wild and Smalley scored.
It was now 8-4, with runners on second and third, and the Cubs’ win expectancy at 1 percent.
It was also the end of the day for Church. Luke Sewell, manager of the Reds, brought Frank Smith, another righty, in from the bullpen.
Smith, 24, was in his third of seven MLB seasons, all but 1 with Cincinnati, and would retire with a 35-33 record, 44 saves and a 3.81 ERA. He would wind up 12-11 in 1952, appearing in a career-high 53 games and finishing 37 of them.
This would not be among those 37.
Hal Jeffcoat was the first batter he faced.
Jeffcoat, 27, had been with the Cubs since 1948 and would remain with them through 1955. But in the final 2 seasons, he would be a pitcher rather than an outfielder. Ultimately, he would last 12 seasons in the majors, batting .248 and compiling a 39-37 record with a 4.22 ERA.
In 1952, he would bat only .219, and he had gone 0 for 4 and hit into a double play against Church.
But Smith hit him with a pitch. By season’s end, Smith would hit 7 batters, leading the majors.
DEFICIT DOWN TO 2
The bases now were loaded for Fondy. He drilled a single, scoring Hermanski and Miskis, to bring the Cubs to within 8-6, with runners on first and second.
The Cubs’ win expectancy rose to 7 percent.
The 2-run single was the third hit of the game for Fondy, who earlier had homered and doubled off Church.
A Cub from from 1951-57, Fondy compiled a .286 average in 8 big league seasons, during which he collected exactly 1,000 hits, including 144 doubles and 69 homers, while driving in 373 runs.
He would bat an even .300 in 1952, finishing ninth among all National League hitters.
SWEET SWING BY SAUER
Randy Jackson pinch-ran for Fondy as Hank Sauer stepped to the plate.
Sauer, the Cubs’ cleanup hitter, would be voted the NL’s Most Valuable Player after the 1952 season, in which he led the majors with 37 homers and 121 runs batted in. Sauer would hit 198 homers and drive in 587 runs in 7 seasons with the Cubs, 1949-55, during a 15-year MLB career.
He had been 0 for 4 against Church, but blasted a double against Smith, making the score 8-7 and leaving runners on second and third.
The Cubs’ win expectancy climbed to 20 percent.
Having failed to retire any of the 3 batters he faced, Smith gave way to Ken Raffensberger, a 34-year-old lefty who had made his major league debut back in 1939 and had been a Cub in 1940-41. In 1940, he finished 7-9 with a 3.38 ERA, made 10 starts, pitched 3 complete games, notched 3 saves and finished 16 games.
In 1944, with the Phillies, he led the majors in losses, with 20. He did the same for the Reds in 1951, with 17.
Over 15 seasons with 4 teams, he wound up 119-154, with a 3.60 ERA. But in 1952 he was headed for 17-13 with a 2.81 ERA and an MLB-best 6 shutouts.
Bruce Edwards pinch-hit for Atwell and was walked intentionally, loading the bases.
Cavaretta then turned to another pinch-hitter.
Even hard-core, long-time Cubs fans may not have heard of Johnny Pramesa.
A catcher, he had toiled in the minors from 1943-49, missing 2 years while serving in the military. Then he played 163 total games for the Reds in 1949-51, batting .267 with 59 RBI.
The Cubs had obtained him from the Reds in October 1951, along with outfielder Bob Usher (who would play in exactly 1 game for the Cubs) for Bob Borkowski and Smoky Burgess.
Pramesa had appeared in only 2 games each in April and May 1952, then in 11 games in June prior to coming to the plate in the ninth inning against Raffensberger. In all, Pramesa had started 8 games behind the plate, and been a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement in 7 games.
He had come to the plate just 34 times, going 8 for 33, .242, with 1 double, 1 homer and 2 RBI.
But none of that mattered as he stepped in against Raffensberger. Pramesa stroked a single that scored Jackson with the tying run and Sauer with the go-ahead run.
Incredibly, the score was Cubs 9, Reds 8.
The Cubs’ win expectancy jumped to 84 percent.
Starting with 2 out and nobody on base, behind by 6 runs, the Cubs had parlayed 2 doubles, 3 singles, 2 walks, a hit batsman and an error into 7 runs.
Serena, the 13th batter of the inning, popped up for the third out.
Cubs reliever Dutch Leonard walked Westlake, the Reds’ leadoff batter in the bottom of the ninth, and Marshall bunted Westlake to second.
But Westlake was thrown out at third on a grounder back to the mound by Adcock, then Leonard got a fly out to left to preserve the Cubs’ incredible, historic victory.
PRAMESA AFTER HEROICS
Edwards, not Pramesa, had been the Cubs’ catcher in the bottom of the ninth.
Pramesa would play again that day, taking over from a heat-stricken Edwards in the fourth inning of the second game and going the rest of the way in the Cubs’ 9-1 loss.
Then Pramesa would not play again until July 12. And that would be the first of only 6 more games he played for the Cubs, including starts July 13 and 16.
On July 26, in the sixth inning of a 7-2 loss at Philadelphia, he pinch-hit for Klippstein and singled.
It was his 13th hit of the season, the 141st of his career and his last in the big leagues.
The Cubs sent him to their AAA farm club in Springfield, Mass., where he remained the rest of 1952. He did not play in 1953, and retired after spending 1954 with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League, and 1955 with Los Angeles and with Des Moines of the Western League.
His major league career consisted of 185 games, in which he batted .268 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI.
In just 22 games with the Cubs, he hit 1 homer and drove in only 5 runs – including the 2 that made the difference in the greatest comeback in MLB history.