In 1978, there were at least some expectations for the Cubs to do well. They’d collapsed the last couple of months of 1977 after being in first place for more than two months, but added slugger Dave Kingman to their lineup and hoped a potent offense would help put them in contention.
As it turned out, that didn’t happen. Kingman missed more than 40 games with various injuries, but did wind up hitting 28 home runs in the 119 games he did play.
That wound up being 39 percent of all the home runs hit by the entire Cubs team that year. Kingman was the only player to hit double digits in homers. Bobby Murcer, after hitting 27 the year before, was second with nine. The team total of 72 was the lowest since the World War II year of 1944 and the lowest they’ve had in a full season since (excluding the pandemic and labor stoppage years) is 102, in 1982.
This brings us to a sunny, but chilly (55 degrees) May Wednesday afternoon in 1978. The Cubs hadn’t played since Sunday. A scheduled off day Monday was followed by the Cubs and Phillies being postponed on Tuesday, with that game made up at the end of June.
The Phillies led 4-2 going to the bottom of the ninth. Manny Trillo walked to lead off the inning, but was erased on a double play. Two out, nobody on. Steve Ontiveros and Dave Rader singled. Rudy Meoli — a real bit player, he played in just 35 games and hit .103 — ran for Rader.
Greg Gross smacked a triple to left off future Cub Warren Brusstar. Both runners scored to tie the game.
Bruce Sutter retired the Phillies in order in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the inning, the first two Cubs were routine outs. Then Gene Garber hit Kingman with a pitch.
Trillo was the next hitter. He smacked Garber’s first pitch four rows deep into the bleachers in left-center, per Richard Dozer’s Tribune recap of the game, and the Cubs had a 6-4 walkoff win in front of 17,901 at Wrigley Field, including me. It was Trillo’s first home run of the season and it put the Cubs in first place for the first time since August 5, 1977.
They stayed in the top spot for about a month, fell out but stayed in contention until early September. A doubleheader sweep of the Astros September 3 put them 3½ games out of first place, but a five-game losing streak after that pretty much ended things and they finished 79-83, 11 games behind the division-winning Phillies.
Here is the entire WGN radio broadcast of the game. The 10th inning starts at about two hours, 19 minutes into the video and Trillo’s homer comes at about two hours, 26 minutes in.
Manny Trillo’s extra-inning walkoff homer against the Phillies happened Wednesday, May 24, 1978, 45 years ago today.