After perusing my recent post about games that the Cubs won a strikeout/throwout doubleplay, constant reader Ernaga commented, in part, "how many Cubs losses have ended either by a pick-off at first or by a runner being thrown out at second on a straight steal."
The answer is:
19 losses with a failed attempt to steal as the last play
6 losses with a pickoff for the final out
At least, those are the number of such plays I could find since 1903, first season for which baseball-reference.com has data that can be searched in its Pivotal Play Finder.
FIRST CAUGHT-STEALING LOSS
The first of the Cubs' defeats on a final-play steal came on July 26, 1915, at Fenway Park in Boston, where the Braves were playing home games while awaiting the completion of their new park.
The Braves tallied a run in the fourth on a single, a bunt, a walk and another single.
When the Cubs loaded the bases in the eighth, the Braves summoned reliever Tom Hughes.
This was not "Long Tom" Hughes, a right hander who had pitched for the Cubs in 1900-01, going 1-1, then 10-23. In the latter year, he lost a game which he threw 13.2 innings and struck out 15 -- a team record that was matched 4 times in subsequent seasons but not broken until Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout effort in 1998.
"Long Tom" had retired after 1913, at age 34.
The Braves' Tom Hughes, also a righty, was 31 and had pitched for the Yankees in 1906-07 and 1909-10 before joining the Braves in 1914.
So far in 1915, he had a 7-11 record and a 2.59 earned run average in 24 games, 16 of them starts. He had finished 7 of his 8 relief appearances, earning 3 saves.
Against the Cubs, Hughes struck out Bob Fisher. Red Murray then lined a pitch right at Hughes, who raised his hands to protect himself. The ball hit his hands, struck his chest and dropped to the ground. Hughes picked it up and threw it home to force out the runner from third. The catcher then fired to first to complete an inning-ending double play.
Hughes started the ninth by getting Heinie Zimmerman to line out to left. Cy Williams singled, but Pete Knisely struck out.
That brought up Cubs catcher Jimmy Archer, who was serving as manager for the ailing Roger Bresnahan. On an unknown count, Williams broke for second, only to be gunned down, ending the game.
Whether Archer signaled for Williams to run or Williams ran on his own also is unknown.
The 1-0 victory was the Braves' last game at Fenway Park before inaugurating Braves Field on Aug. 18, following a 19-game road trip.
FIRST CAUGHT-STEALING LOSS AT HOME
Less than 3 years later, the Cubs lost on a final-play steal attempt at home for the first time.
On July 9, 1918, the Cubs had led the Giants, 6-0, after 6 innings, only to allow 3 runs in the seventh and 3 more in the eighth.
With 1 out in the 10th, Jim Thorpe -- yes, THAT Jim Thorpe -- homered off Phil Douglas to put New York in front, 7-6.
The first 2 Cubs made outs in the bottom half. Charlie Deal then singled and was replaced by pinch runner Charlie Wortman.
Rollie Zeider had walked and made two sacrifice bunts in 4 earlier trips to the plate. This time, he never got the chance to complete his appearance, as Wortman was caught stealing.
The Cubs have lost in extra innings on a final-out try to steal only twice since then, both also at home: their very next such loss, by 1-2, in 14 innings, to the Phillies, on Aug. 2, 1919, and by 6-7, in 10 innings, to the Reds, on April 22, 1947.
So, they have 1 extra-inning caught-stealing loss after the ninth inning in the past 103 years and none in the past 75!
MORE CAUGHT-STEALING LOSSES
Of the Cubs' 16 such losses in the ninth inning, 8 came at home and 8 on the road.
The Cubs trailed by 1 run in all but 2 of the losses: a 2-8 defeat by the Phillies at home on July 3, 1973, and a 0-10 drubbing by the Dodgers at home on June 1, 1974.
They had only a runner on first in all but 2 games as well.
The first was the 1974 contest against the Dodgers, in which they had men on second and third.
Jose Cardenal, on third, "tried to break the shutout on a ball that escaped catcher Steve Yeager," the Chicago Tribune reported. "[Pitcher Andy] Messersmith raced in, caught a hurried throw, and tagged out Jose.
"It was the final frustration of a complete mismatch, and nobody was knocking Jose -- least of all the 19,558 fans who by now were ready for a quick ending anyway."
That was the only caught-stealing loss in which the Cubs failed to score since the first one, in 1915.
DOUBLE STEAL FAILS
The other with multiple runners was at St. Louis, on April 13, 1988, when the Cubs lost, 3-4.
With 1 out in the ninth, Rafael Palmeiro singled. Rolando Roomes pinch ran and stopped at second on a single by Vance Law.
"[Jim] Sundberg's fly ball got Roomes, the tying run, to third with two out, and up stepped Shawon Dunston," the Tribune said. "After [Todd] Worrell got two strikes on Dunston, [Manager Don] Zimmer put on a double steal, but Roomes was called out on a close play at the plate to end it.
" 'I thought I kind of got in there,' Roomes said, 'and he did tag me high.'
"Replays showed that Roomes kind of got in there and that catcher Tony Pena tagged him high."
Never heard of Roomes? That was the 26-year-old outfielder's second big league game. He also had pinch run in his debut the previous day. He pinch hit in his third game, then pinch ran in his fourth and fifth, before finally playing 3 innings in right field in his sixth, on April 26.
After pinch hitting again 4 days later, he was sent to the minors. He returned in September and played in 10 games before the season ended: 3 starts, 1 as a defensive replacement, 2 as a pinch hitter and 4 as a pinch runner.
He batted .188, going 3 for 16, all singles.
In December, the Cubs traded him the Reds, for Lloyd McClendon.
Roomes slashed .263/.296/.419 in 107 games for Cincinnati in 1989, then appeared in only 30 for the Reds and 15 for the Expos in 1990.
That proved to be his last season in the big leagues. He spent 1991 in the minors, then retired, at age 29.
LAST CAUGHT-STEALING LOSSES
Since the 1988 defeat at St. Louis, the Cubs have lost 2 more games on a final-play caught stealing.
On April 24, 1992, Jerome Walton was tagged at second in the bottom of the ninth with Ryne Sandberg at the plate and the Cubs down by 2-3 against the Pirates.
It didn't happen again until April 19, 2013, at Milwaukee.
With 2 out, nobody on and the Cubs behind, 4-5, pinch hitter Dioner Navarro singled. Newly acquired Julio Borbon ran for Navarro "and ended the game by getting thrown out trying to steal second. It was that kind of night."
Unusual as it was, Borbon's game-ending steal attempt was not the play that everyone was talking about after the game.
Basebal-reference's web page about the game features this description, beneath the date, starting time, duration, venue, etc., but above the line score:
"In the bottom of the 8th, Jean Segura became very, very confused. Segura reached and then stole second. Ryan Braun then walked. Segura was picked off second and in the process of the rundown both baserunners ended up on second. Braun is out automatically. Segura had been tagged while safely on the base and started towards the first base dugout thinking he was out. After he realized his gaffe, he ran and stood on first base safely. Rules do not permit intentional returns to first, and the league later ruled that Segura should have been called out. Segura was then caught trying to steal second for a second time in the inning."
ALL GAME-ENDING CAUGHT-STEALING LOSSES
(Date, score, inning, opponent, runner, batter. All were out at 2nd except where noted.)
7/26/1915, 0-1, top 9th, Braves, Cy Williams, Jimmy Archer
7/09/1918: 6-7, bottom 10th, Giants, Chuck Wortman, Rollie Zeider
8/02/1919: 1-2, bottom 14th, Phillies, Charlie Pick, Dode Paskert
8/29/1919: 1-2, bottom 9th, Pirates, Sherry Magee, Fred Lear
6/23/1920: 1-2, top 9th, Giants, Babe Twombly, Buck Herzog
9/30/1922: 8-9, bottom 9th, Cardinals, George Maisel, John Kelleher
5/29/1923: 6-7, top 9th, Pirates, George Grantham, Gabby Hartnett
6/02/1923: 1-2, top 9th, Reds, Cliff Heathcote, Butch Weis
10/02/1925: 3-4, bottom 9th, Cardinals, Gale Staley, Sparky Adams
7/06/1941: 1-2, top 9th, Pirates, Dom Dallessandro, Lou Stringer
4/22/1947: 6-7, bottom 10th, Reds, Peanut Lowrey, Andy Pafko
6/16/1947: 1-2, bottom 9th, Dodgers, Eddie Waitkus, Clyde McCullough
7/03/1973: 2-8, bottom 9th, Phillies, Rick Monday, Glenn Beckert
6/01/1974: 0-10, bottom 9th, Dodgers, Jose Cardenal (out at home, runners 2nd and 3rd), Jerry Morales
5/23/1983: 2-3, top 9th, Astros, Leon Durham, Gary Woods
9/07/1987: 2-3, bottom 9th, Pirates, Chico Walker, Manny Trillo
4/13/1988: 3-4, top 9th, Cardinals, Rolando Roomes (out at home, runners 1st and 3rd), Shawon Dunston
4/24/1992: 2-3, bottom 9th, Pirates, Jerome Walton, Ryne Sandberg
4/19/2013: 4-5, top 9th, Brewers, Julio Borbon, David DeJesus
FIRST PICKOFF LOSS
On April 17, 1926, the Cardinals took a 3-2 lead at St. Louis with a run in the bottom of the eighth.
Howard Freigau led off the Cub's ninth with a double, but was tagged out trying to reach third on a bunt by Charlie Grimm.
Cliff Heathcote ran for Grimm at first. He returned safely to the bag on a popup, then was picked off by pitcher Bill Sherdel to end the game.
FIRST PICKOFF LOSS AT HOME
More than 5 years later, on July 6, 1931, the Cubs were 1 out away from a 6-5 win at Wrigley Field. Then back-to-back RBI doubles gave the Cardinals a 7-6 lead.
Kiki Cuyler drew a 1-out walk in the bottom of the inning. After Hack Wilson hit a fly that was caught near the fence, Cuyler made a dash for second.
Pitcher Jesse Haines threw to the first baseman, who relayed the ball to the shortstop for the tag.
The Cubs' next 3 last-play pickoff losses came with them trailing by 10, 2 and 2 runs. The last of the trio, on May 7, 1969, happened in the bottom of the 12th inning, sealing a 2-4 loss to the Dodgers.
LAST PICKOFF LOSS
A 6-run eighth inning brought the Cubs to within 7-8 at Arizona on June 9, 1999.
Their first 2 batters in the ninth were retired, but Henry Rodriguez kept hope alive with a walk.
Lance Johnson ran for Rodriguez, and before Vladimir Nunez threw a pitch to Benito Santiago, he caught Johnson leaning at first. As in 1931, the first baseman relayed to the second baseman, who applied the tag to end the game.
ALL GAME-ENDING PICKOFF LOSSES
(Date, score, inning, opponent, runner, batter. All were picked off 1st. Runner only on 1st except where noted.)
4/17/1926: 2-3, top 9th, Cardinals, Cliff Heathcote, Gabby Hartnett
7/06/1931: 5-6, bottom 9th, Cardinals, Kiki Cuyler, Rogers Hornsby
7/18/1932: 3-13, bottom 9th, Giants, Vince Barton, Charlie Grimm
8/11/1956: 1-3, bottom 9th, Cardinals, Frank Kellert (runners 1st and 3rd), Jerry Kindall
5/07/1969: 2-4, bottom 12th, Dodgers, Nate Oliver (runners 1st and 3rd), Don Kessinger
6/09/1999: 7-8, top 9th, Diamondbacks, Lance Johnson, Benito Santiago
ROBIN AND CANARY
The Cubs have won 2 games when a last-play pickoff attempt by their opponent went awry.
On July 13, 1920, the visiting Robins (today's Dodgers) scored a run in the top of the ninth to take a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom, Fred Merkle singled with 1 out and stopped at third on a double by Dave Robertson.
When Al Mamaux came in to pitch to Dode Paskert, Cubs Manager Fred Mitchell sent Turner Barber to bat for Paskert and Max Flack to run for Merkle.
Here is how the Tribune described what happened next:
Just for that Boss [Wilbert] Robinson ordered Barber passed so as to bring up [Charlie] Deal with the bags full.
While all hands were intent on this passing process [Hi] Myers began sneaking in from center field, giving a correct imitation of a robin creeping up on a canary, only in this case it was a Robin crawling up on a Cub for the purpose of catching him napping off second.
When the third intentional bad ball had delivered to Barber the trap was all set. [Catcher Rowdy] Elliott fired the pill to second base.
Robertson saw it coming and made a flying leap for the bag, landing with all his spikes bristling just as the ball got there. Myers saw the jagged spikes and sidestepped them.
Also he sidestepped the ball, which went scooting out into center field where there was nobody home, demonstrating by its speed how good Elliott's arm is.
Just to show he was still in the game, Myers chased the ball frantically almost to the fence, but by the time he picked it up Robertson had followed Flack across the plate, the game was over, and everyone except Hy was halfway to the clubhouse.
The only other such pickoff/walk-off win came on July 22, 1988 -- on a remarkably similar play.
The visiting Padres tied the score at 4 on 2 singles and a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
The game remained deadlocked until the 11th.
Manny Trillo led off with a single and was bunted to second. He stayed there on a tap back to the mound.
Next up was Damon Berryhill, who already had homered and doubled. Padres Manager Jack McKeon ordered pitcher Lance McCullers to walk Berryhill intentionally.
From the Tribune:
McCullers threw a wide one, and catcher Benito
Santiago threw it back. McCullers threw a second wide one, and Santiago threw it.
"I thought he was throwing it back to me," McCullers aid.
"The ball went right by my nose," said Berryhill, who was startled.
So was second baseman Roberto Alomar.
"I was standing real close to the bag," said Trillo, who averages a stolen base every two years. "I saw the second baseman with both hands on both knees. The next thing I know, there's a throw to second base, I turn around toward center field, and I still see the second baseman with both hands on both knees.
"So I thought, 'Oh, boy.'
Alomar said he didn't see the ball through the shadows until the last instant, when he flinched. He got the error.
"If it hit me," Alomar said, "it could kill me."
Trillo rounded third as the ball bounced toward center fielder [Marvell] Wynne, who was as surprised as everybody else.
"Third-base coach Chuck Cottier kept waving his arms, and Trillo slid over the plate with the winner as Santiago failed to handle Wynne's pretty good throw."
The story quoted McKeon as saying, "I've never seen anything like that in my 40 years in baseball."
No fan of the Cubs had in more than 68 years, and hasn't seen again in the 34 years since that day.
TOMORROW: Cubs' wins that ended with opponent caught stealing or picked off