The Cubs had contended for the NL East title for a time in 1977 and 1978 with teams that weren’t really that good, and both faded late in the year.
They did the same in 1979. After a poor start — they were 20-25 at the end of May and 9½ games out of first place — they went on a 28-13 run before the All-Star break and began the second half just 2½ games behind.
Opening that second half at Wrigley Field against the Braves, they split the first two games of a three-game weekend series but gained a full game in the standings.
So they went into the game of July 21 against Atlanta just 1½ games behind the Montreal Expos, who then led the division. Mike Krukow was the Cubs starter and Rick Matula started for the Braves.
The game went into the top of the eighth tied 1-1, when Mike Lum — who would play for the Cubs two years later — homered off Krukow as a pinch-hitter for Matula.
And that’s where the game stood going to the bottom of the ninth, with Atlanta clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Barry Foote led off with a single and Miguel Dilone ran for him. One out later, Dilone stole second and advanced to third on a ground out. So the Cubs have the tying run on third, but there are two out. Dave Kingman — who had been out for over a week after being hit on the wrist by a pitch — batted for Ivan de Jesus and singled, with Dilone scoring to tie the game 2-2.
Scot Thompson was the next hitter:
Jeff Burroughs was the Braves’ left fielder. Suffice to say that Burroughs, who hit 240 home runs in a 16-year career, was much better suited to be a DH. Thompson’s single went under Burroughs’ legs and Kingman raced around the bases to score the winning run. Bob Logan’s Tribune recap included this colorful description of Kingman’s run around the basepaths:
Rumbling around the bases like a berserk water buffalo, Kingman scored the winning run without a play.
They don’t write ‘em like that anymore, that’s for sure.
The Cubs reached a then-season high 12 games over .500 with this 3-2 win, but the closest they could get to first place was one game out a week later. They peaked at 13 games over at 67-54 with a win over the Dodgers August 20, but by then the Pirates had overtaken both the Cubs and Expos into first place. From August 21 through the end of the season the Cubs went 13-28, the second-worst record in baseball over that span, and lost their final game to finish under .500 at 80-82.
It was still a fun season and Kingman hit what was at the time the second-most home runs in Cubs franchise history, 48.
And his “berserk water buffalo” run around the bases at Wrigley Field happened 43 years ago today, Saturday, July 21, 1979.