The 12 Greatest Games Played at Wrigley Field

October 14, 2016 No Comments »
The 12 Greatest Games Played at Wrigley Field

If you ask me, there’s no better place to watch a baseball game than Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs played their first game at Wrigley Field in 1916.

Here are the 12 greatest games played at the Friendly Confines.

#12. Slugfest at the Friendly Confines

May 17, 1979: Cubs vs Phillies

Mike Schmidt once hit four homers in a game at Wrigley, but that one didn’t make this list. But this one, which was also a Cubs’ loss, did make the cut. It had to, it was so amazing.

Had Schmidt played his home games at Wrigley the big redhead probably could have broke the single-season homer record every year. But he was resigned to have to play nine games as a visitor each season instead. This afternoon, Schmidt and his Phillie friends had to score 23 runs to defeat the Cubs in one of baseball’s most incredible slugfests.

In the first inning the Phils scored seven runs, all of them on the longball: Schmidt (3-run HR), Bob Boone (3-run HR), and pitcher Randy Lerch (solo HR). The wind was blowing out of Wrigley this afternoon, which is the only way Randy Lerch was going to hit a homer.

The Cubs didn’t roll over and die, they scored six runs of their own in the opening frame: Bill Buckner (RBI-single), Ted Sizemore (RBI-single), Donnie Moore (RBI-triple, by the relief pitcher in the first inning!) and a three-run home run by Dave Kingman, the Cub’s answer to Schmidt. Kingman, who was nicknamed “King Kong,” hit home runs unlike any other man—they soared high and deep, sometimes appearing to disappear completely into the sky.

In the third the Phillies scored eight runs, even though they intentionally walked Schmidt. The big blows were a two-run single by Pete Rose and a three-run homer by Garry Maddox. That same pair delivered RBIs the next inning too, staking Philly to a football-like 17-6 lead.

Then King Kong hit his second homer, a two-run blast in the fourth, and Steve Ontiveros followed with one of his own. The Cubs trailed 17-9. The Phillies weren’t content with their offensive outburst, and in the fifth they pushed across four more, and once again Schmidt was walked with runners on base.

Trailing 21-9, Chicago responded again, this time with another crooked number, scoring seven runs, four of them on a grand slam by Buckner. Kingman was walked but scored on a two-run homer by Jerry Martin. The Phillies now led 21-16 through five innings.

In the bottom of the sixth, Kingman faced Ron Reed with two runners on and sent a moonshot to left for a three-run homer, his third round tripper of the game. The blast pulled the Cubbies to within 21-19.

The Phils added a run in the seventh when Bob Boone (who had five RBIs in the game) doubled. Then the Cubs struck back in the bottom of the eighth, this time with small ball, stringing together five singles to score three times and knot the game 22-22. By this time fans in the stands were exhausted from watching runners circle the bases.

The game stayed deadlocked through nine and both managers turned it over to their best relievers in extra-innings. In the tenth with two outs Bruce Sutter decided to pitch to Schmidt, which was a mistake, of course. The Philly slugger turned on a pitch and sent it onto Waveland Avenue for his second homer and the 11th homer hit in the game. Rawley Eastwick retired the side in the bottom of the tenth (the only time all game that happened on either side), striking out Kingman for the second out. The Phils won 23-22 in a game that featured 50 hits and 70 base runners. PHEW! Most fans went home feeling like they’d seen the Eagles beat the Bears at Wrigley Field.

#11. Double No-Hitter

May 2, 1917: Cubs vs Reds

If you saw James Vaughn on a baseball diamond today you wouldn’t take a second look, because he’d look every other fella in a uniform. But back before the First World War (The Big One), the 6’4, 215-pound pitcher was so unusually gigantic his friends called him “Hippo.” No word on what his enemies called him.

The Cubs were in their second season at Wrigley Field when Vaughn took the ball to face the visiting Reds on May 2, 1917 in a game that would normally mean diddlysquat. Opposing him was Fred Toney, a man with two first names who once tossed a 17-inning no-hitter in the bush leagues. On this day, Toney and Vaughn hooked up in the best pitching duel Wrigley has ever seen, even nearly 100 years later. Statistically it might be the best pitching duel in baseball history.

Both pitchers took no-hitters into the fifth inning, then the sixth, the seventh, and finally the ninth inning. Both Hippo and Fred refused to blink and after they got through the ninth without allowing a base hit, the game went to extra innings. Vaughn came out for the tenth and promptly allowed a single and a run to Cincy. Toney set the Cubs down in the tenth and completed a 10-inning no-hitter. Because both pitchers went nine frames without allowing a hit (the only time that’s happened since Ulysses S. Grant was president), this one’s called “The Double No-Hitter” even though Hippo didn’t get credit for an official no-no. About 2,800 souls saw this game at Wrigley, but don’t look for a witness, they’re all dead now.

#10. Ruth Calls His Shot

October 1, 1932: Cubs vs Yankees, World Series Game Three

The Cubs were in the process of being swept aside by the Yankees, a team that was much, much better than they were. But the Cubs were more than their equal in trash-talking, and as the series progressed, the two clubs traded Ricklesesque insults. By Game Three at Wrigley, Babe Ruth was fed up with the verbal thrashing he was getting from the Chicago bench. The Cubs especially liked making fun of the Babe’s big nose, dark complexion, and wide midsection.

When Ruth came to the plate to face Cubs’ pitcher Charlie Root in the fifth inning of Game Three the slugger had already hit a home run in the game. The Cubs’ bench was giving Ruth an earful as he stood in the batters’ box. Root was happy to face a distracted Bambino. Video of the incident clearly shows the Babe pointing and jawing at the home bench. After taking strikes from Root, the Yankee points either at the Cub bench or indicates that he has one more strike. On the final pitch he shifted his massive structure, turning his big belly and rifling his bat to strike the baseball with great power, sending it into the right field Wrigley Field bleachers. As he made his way around the bases in his Fred Flintstone tippy-toe fashion, Ruth continued hollering at the Cub bench. The homer became known as “The Called Shot,” though it’s unlikely the big fella predicted a home run.

Lou Gehrig, the Scottie Pippen to Ruth’s MJ, followed with a home run of his own, but no one remembers that. The Cubs lost the game, and were eliminated the next day, but Babe’s “Called Shot” is a fixture in baseball myth.

#9. Cubs thump the Padres in NLCS

October 2, 1984: Cubs vs Padres, NL Championship Series Game One

Everyone was sure the Cubs would pound the San Diego Padres in the ’84 NLCS and the result of Game One at Wrigley only cemented that popular theory. Chicago scored in the first when leadoff man Bob Dernier hit a home run. Dernier was exciting, fast, a great outfielder, but he was most definitely not a home run hitter. The blast was only his fourth of the entire season and just his ninth in five years in the big leagues. Bull Durham hit nine homers while taking a nap.

The Cubs scored another in the first on a homer by Sarge Matthews, then in the third starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe launched a homer. At this point—as Sutcliffe jogged around the bags with his perfectly coiffed red hair and beard under his blue Cubs’ helmet—it seemed the baseball gods were on Chicago’s side. Sutcliffe had hit exactly one homer previously and he was far more famous for being a stingy pitcher, which he was on this day, going seven innings and allowing two measly hits and zero runs. Meanwhile, Matthews hit another homer, Ron Cey hit one too, and by the sixth the Cubbies were up 13-0.

It was a raucous Tuesday afternoon game at Wrigley, the first postseason game for the Cubs in 39 years. The fact that it proved to be the first act of a playoff series that resulted in doom for the Cubs doesn’t remove the wonderful, carnival-like feeling their fans felt on the day of Game One, when the team exorcised some demons.

#8. Prior manhandles the Braves

October 3, 2003: Cubs vs Braves, NL Division Series Game Three

For a brief period early in the 21st century, the Cubs had an embarrassment of pitching riches in their ranks: the fire ball -throwing Texan Kerry Wood; the dynamic and emotional Carlos Zambrano; and the pitching prodigy from California, Mark Prior. Of the trio, Prior was the chosen one. He was a remarkably gifted pitcher with power, finesse, and maturity beyond his years. He was the Cubs’ Tom Seaver, a virtuoso on the mound. In the ’03 NLDS against the Braves, he performed his masterpiece.

The series was tied after two games in Atlanta and Game Three would be a prime time contest under the lights at Wrigley. Prior was matched against former Cub ace Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers in history. Chicago got two runs in the first and that’s all Prior would need. He surrendered a single in the third and then dominated Atlanta, holding them hitless the next four innings. he allowed a leadoff double and a sac fly in the eighth inning, but Prior struck out two batters in the ninth and closed the game out. He had spun a one-run, two-hit gem with seven strikeouts. Two days later, Wood defeated the Braves for the series win back in Atlanta.

#7. Extra inning win in the World Series to stay alive

October 8, 1945: Cubs vs Tigers

This is one of the most overlooked great games in baseball history and it came during the World Series when the Billy Goat Curse was set on the Cubs. Due to restrictions on travel due to wartime conditions, the first three games of the Fall Classic were played in Detroit, with the last four in Chicago. The Cubs led the Tigers 2-1 when the two teams traveled west for Game Four, but the Tigers snatched the next two games to seize a 3-2 edge.

Game Six was a Monday afternoon game and the Cubs sent veteran Clause Passeau to the hill to stave off elimination. Ol’ Claude did his job for six innings as the Cubs built a 5-1 lead, but then he stumbled in the seventh and was relieved. The Cubs rebuilt their lead to 7-3 after seven frames, the unlikely hitting star being Roy “Jeep” Hughes, who had three hits and two RBIs. But the Tigers got to Hank Wyse, a starter pitching in relief, and helped by an error by third baseman Stan Hack, Detroit tied the game, the last run coming on a homer by Hank Greenberg.

The next few innings were intense drama as the visiting Tigers tried to finish off the Cubs and the home team battled for their lives. In their half of the eighth the Cubs advanced a man to third, only to strand him 90 feet from home. In the top of the ninth the Tigs had runners at the corners with one out when a groundball was smashed to Hughes at short, playing in. The little shortstop fired the ball home and Detroit’s runner (Jimmy Outlaw) was tagged in a rundown. In the bottom of the ninth Andy Pafko lined a double for the Cubs to lead off, but a few batters later, after Detroit intentionally walked pinch-hitter Heinz Becker to face pitcher Hank Borowy, the threat was extinguished. Cub manager Charlie Grimm was not going to remove Borowy for a more capable bat, he wanted the game to rest on the arm of his ace. Both teams had threats in the tenth, but double plays ended those opportunities. In the top of the 12th inning, with shadows starting to overtake the field, the Tigers tried to press the issue, sending a baserunner in a steal attempt, only to have little-used catcher Dewey Williams throw him out. The Wrigley mob went crazy with chants of “DEWEY!” In the bottom of the 12th, Grimm emptied his bullets, using pinch-hitter Frank Secory, who promptly singled to center. Grimm then inserted pinch-runner Bill Schuester, a wartime player who was making his final appearance in a big league baseball game. Grimm’s move might have been the most famous use of a pinch-runner until Tito Francona inserted Dave Roberts against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. At any rate, trusty Stan Hack stroked a ball into the left field corner and Schuester moved faster than he probably ever had before, scooting around third and sliding home under a late tag for the winning run. The Cubs won 8-7 to force a seventh game, (which they lost, but can’t we enjoy this game without worrying about that?)

#6. Kerry Wood’s 20 K’s

May 6, 1998: Cubs vs Astros

Some people have called this the most dominating performance by a pitcher in baseball history, and who am I to argue? Wood manhandled the Astros in only his fifth start in the major leagues. The 21-year old struck out the first five batters of the game, squashing the “Killer B’s” in the first (Biggio, Bell, and Bagwell). In the third Ricky Gutierrez hit a ball into the hole between short and third which was fielded by Cubs’ shortstop Jeff Blauser, who couldn’t make a play on the runner. Base hit. But that was it. One other batter got on base (Biggio was hit by a pitch), but mostly it was a swing-and-miss fest as Wood kept sending Houston batters back to the dugout muttering. He struck out the side in the fifth, seventh, and eighth. He opened the ninth by fanning Billy Spiers for #19 to break the NL record. Biggio grounded out meekly, and then with the Wrigley crowd on their feet, Wood struck out Derek Bell swinging to get strikeout #20 and tie the MLB mark. Only two balls were hit out of the infield against Wood, who struck out 13 in his next start at the Friendly Confines.

#5. The Home Run Race Game

September 13, 1998: Cubs vs Brewers

Entering this game Sammy Sosa was in the middle of his great home run race with Mark McGwire, a spectacle that captured the attention of spots fans and non-sports fans across the country. Sosa was two back of Mac entering this contest, with 60. In the fifth, Sammy hit a two-run shot off the law firm of Bronswell Patrick for #61, tying Roger Maris on the single-season list, but still one behind McGwire. The Cubs held a 8-3 lead at that time so it appeared the game would be a laugher. But the Brewers teed off on Cub pitching and led 10-8 entering the bottom of the ninth. Sammy launched a towering homer out of Wrigley off Milwaukee closer Eric Plunk for #62, tying him with McGwire in the race. As Sosa rounded the bases, the WGN cameras cut to shots of fans outside Wrigley chasing after the baseball in the street. A few batters later Gary Gaetti singled in the tying run. Appropriately in extra innings this game was decided by a home run: with Sosa on deck, Mark Grace hit a fastball over the right field wall for a 11-10 walkoff win on an exciting day at Wrigley.

#4. Homer in the Gloamin’

September 28, 1938: Cubs vs Pirates

The most important home run ever hit at Wrigley Field came in this game that was finished under dark skies as the late afternoon started to turn to early evening.

Setting the stage: the Cubs were in a two-team pennant race with the Pirates, who were in town for a three-game set with about a week left in the season. The Bucs were in front of the Cubs by 1/2 game.

The game was knotted at three through six and then the Pirates scored two in the eighth, despite catcher/manager Gabby Hartnett’s best efforts. He brought in two fresh arms that inning but couldn’t squelch the Pirate uprising. But the Cubs showed moxie and in their share of the eighth they tied it up. The crucial blow came when Hartnett asked veteran Tony Lazzeri to pinch-hit. The former Yankee doubled to key the rally. But by this time, as the game moved to the ninth, the Chicago skies were darkening, and of course there were no lights at Wrigley (there wouldn’t be for 50 more years). The rules of that time gave the umpires the authority to call the game a tie if it got too dark. But first the two teams took the field for the top of the ninth.

The Bucs would have had no problem with a tie, since they held the 1/2 game advantage in the standings. Hartnett waved in Charlie Root (he of the Babe Ruth “Called Shot” Homer) to the mound. The veteran got through the inning but by then the light was dim at Wrigley. Still, the umpires hurried the Cubs to the plate for the bottom of the ninth.

Hartnett came up with two outs, the prospects likely that the game would be called a tie at the end of the inning. Gabby was facing Pittsburgh reliever Mace Brown, one of the best bullpen arms in baseball. But on this dark day Hartnett for the best of Brown, hitting a high fly that disappeared into the center field bleachers. The Cubs had a 6-5 walkoff victory and moved 1/2 game ahead of the Pirates. They beat Pittsburgh the next day and went on to snare the pennant by two games.

Hartnett’s homer came to be known as “The Homer in the Gloamin'” because that phrase (which was the title of a popular song in the 1910s) was used by a sportswriter in the game recap the next morning.

#3. The Sandberg Game

June 23, 1984: Cubs vs Cardinals

Two Hall of Famers—Ryne Sandberg and Bruce Sutter—are on record as saying this is the greatest regular season game they ever played in. For Sutter it was a crushing loss, for Sandberg it was a coming-out party.

This game started as a rout, the Cardinals forging a 7-1 lead as they battered Chicago starter Steve Trout. But the Cubs fought back, and after six they were down by just one run, 9-8. That’s when St. Louis skipper Whitey Herzog turned to the most lethal weapon in baseball.

At that time, former Cub Sutter was the best reliever in baseball, using a wicked split-finger pitch that dropped almost a foot in the strike zone and was nearly impossible to hit with a baseball bat. Some people didn’t think you could hit it with a boat paddle. The Bearded Bruce came in and set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the eighth, inducing three grounders. Sandberg led off the ninth for the Cubs. The second baseman was enjoying a storied season, on his way to the MVP Award and leading the Cubs to the top of the division, though at this time they were still in third place,  1 1/2 games back. Sutter was sure his patented splitter would take care of Sandberg, but the right-handed batter hit one into left field that traveled over the ivy for a solo homer to tie the game. The ballpark shook with emotion as Ryno circled the bases and the WGN on-screen caption read “Blown Save” under Sutter’s name.

In the top of the tenth the Cardinals smacked around the Cubs’ ace closer Lee Smith, with Willie McGee at the center of the rally. The center fielder who looked like ET was having an incredible game, and in the tenth he doubled to complete the cycle. The hit broke the tie and a few batters later Willie glided home with a run that gave the Cards an 11-9 advantage. Now Sutter would have a second chance to save the game for Herzog.

The St. Louis reliever got the first two batters of the 10th inning but then he walked Bob Dernier, one half of Chicago’s famed “Daily Double.” The other half was Sandberg, and he followed with a two-run homer to tie the game at 11. It was his second game-tying blast off Sutter in two innings and this time the ballpark practically fell down from the reaction of the Chicago fans.

The rest of the action is postscript: the Cards failed to score in the 11th; Bull Durham walks, steals a base and advances to third for the Cubs in their 11th; after two intentional walks little Dave Owen singled to score the winning run in a crazy 12-11 walkoff. Oh, and then it was Harry’s turn: “CUBS WIN!!! WUBS WIN!!! CUBS WIN!!!”

#2. Cubs win first pennant in 71 years

October 22, 2016: Cubs vs Dodgers, NL Championship Series Game Six

Kyle Hendricks was not going to be beaten. The rail-thin righthander allowed one hit and faced the minimum through seven innings and the Cubs scored five runs off Clayton Kershaw in a game that was basically a nine-inning party.

Ironically, the win to claim the first pennant in 71 years came on the anniversary of the death of Bill Sianis, the man who put the Billy Goat Curse on the Cubs in 1945 when they wouldn’t let him bring his favorite furry animal into the ballpark.

#1. The Bartman Game

October 14, 2003: Cubs vs Marlins, NL Championship Series Game Six

Sure, the #1 game on this list could have been a Cub victory, maybe the Sandberg Game or the Hartnett Homer in the Gloamin’, but these are the “lovable losers.”

What happened in the eighth inning of Game Six of the 2003 NL Championship Series is still almost impossible to believe. It’s like some lunatic screenwriter sat down at his keyboard and decided to write a film titled “Cubs Suicide Pact.” It’s too bizarre to be real, right?

Wrong. Yes, the Cubs did lead the Marlins 3-0 after seven innings in Game Six. Yes, the Cubs were really five outs away from securing their first pennant since Harry Truman was president. Yes, after a fan interfered with a foul fly ball in the left field corner at Wrigley, five consecutive Florida batters reached base and the three-run Cub lead was erased. Yes, the fan in question was a mild-mannered looking geek with a green turtle neck and earmuff-like headphones whose life was later threatened. Yes, three relief pitchers followed a rattled Mark Prior in that inning which saw eight runs score for the Marlins. Yes, the Cubs went down passively in order the next two innings and lost Game Six. And of course, YES the Cubs lost the next night in Game Seven when they blew a two-run lead with their hard-throwing ace on the mound.

Sorry, Cubs fans, the Bartman Game was the greatest game ever played at Wrigley.

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