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The Strike Zone

The 10 greatest baseball games in Wrigley Field history

Kerry Wood, Cubs Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout day in 1998 may have been the best-pitched game in baseball history. (Richard Chapman/AP)

Over the last 100 years, Wrigley Field has hosted five World Series, three National League Championship Series, four Division Series, the 1998 wild-card tiebreaker game, three All-Star Games and seven no-hitters and been the home park of 33 Hall of Famers. It was the site of one of baseball's most enduring legends, some of its greatest individual performances and one of the most controversial moments in postseason history. In its century of use, Wrigley has been a multi-purpose venue -- the NFL's Chicago Bears used it from 1921 to 1970, and college football and soccer have been played there as well -- but it is best known for baseball, the sport which inaugurated the park exactly 100 years ago today. With that in mind, here is a look, in chronological order, at the 10 of the most memorable baseball games in Wrigley Field history.

May 2, 1917: The Double No-hitter

The first landmark game in Wrigley Field history came in the Cubs’ second season at the ballpark before a mere 2,500 spectators on a windy, 38-degree early May day. “Arctic conditions have caused the topsoil dumped on this cow pasture of a playing field to crack and shift,” wrote historian John Thorn in his account of this game, included in his 1981 book Baseball’s 10 Greatest Games.

It is under those conditions that the only dual no-hitter in major league history took place, with Cubs southpaw Hippo Vaughn matching nine hitless innings against Reds righty junkballer (and legal spitballer) Fred Toney. The only baserunners during regulation came on a pair of walks by each starter and an error by Cubs shortstop Rollie Zeider in the fourth. Though neither starter allowed a hit through nine innings, both of the walks Vaughn issued were erased by double plays and the error was negated by a caught-stealing, meaning he faced the minimum 27 batters through nine innings. Vaughn also struck out 10 to Toney’s one and allowed just one ball out of the infield, a shallow pop-out behind second base in the top of the first.

Things fell apart for the Cubs in the top of the 10th, however. Reds shortstop Larry Kopf delivered the first hit of the game with a one-out single to right. Then, with two outs, Cubs centerfielder Cy Williams flubbed a catchable ball, putting runners on the corners for Olympian Jim Thorpe. Thorpe, one of the fastest men in the world at the time, hit a weak dribbler up the third-base line. Knowing he had no play on the speedy Thorpe, Vaughn flipped the ball home to try to get Kopf. The ball ricocheted off Cubs catcher Art Wilson, allowing Kopf to score the go-ahead run.

With one out in the bottom of the 10th, first baseman Fred Merkle, most famous for his “boner” which helped the Cubs to the pennant in 1908 when Merkle was a rookie with the Giants, nearly hit a game-tying home run, but his drive was caught at the leftfield wall. Toney then struck out Williams for the final out of his 10-inning no-hitter. It was the first of seven no-nos that have been thrown at Wrigley Field, the next of which wouldn’t come until 1955. Vaughn’s nine hitless innings are not officially included on that list.

NEWCOMB: Ivy, brick walls and pennant flags: Celebrating 100 years of Wrigley Field

Oct. 1, 1932: Babe Ruth's Called Shot

The 1932 National League pennant marked the Cubs' third first-place finish as tenants at Wrigley, but that year's World Series was just the second played at the ballpark. The Cubs played their home games in the 1918 World Series at the White Sox' Comiskey Park, both because of its larger capacity, which meant increased revenues to owner Charles Weeghman, and, to a smaller but not insignificant degree, because of the team's fear of Boston's young slugger Babe Ruth. Fourteen years later, Ruth would make his Wrigley Field debut in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Ruth had taken offense to the Cubs' decision to vote former Yankees shortstop Mark Koenig, acquired that August by Chicago, a half rather than whole World Series share, initiating a war of words with the Cubs. By the time the Series moved to Wrigley for Game 3, New York was up 2-games-to-0, but Ruth's only hits in nine plate appearances were a pair of singles, and he had made an error in the field in Game 1.

Ruth's first at-bat in Game 3 came with two on and none out in the top of the first inning, and his resulting home run only heightened the tension between him and the Cubs. The Babe then flied out in his second at-bat, and Chicago battled back to tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth. When Ruth came to the plate with one out and the bases empty in the top of the fifth, the Cubs' bench was riding him hard. Ruth took the first four pitches from starting pitcher Charlie Root to run the count to 2-2. What came next has gone down in baseball lore as Ruth's called shot.

Ruth's famous account of the incident is this: "I stepped out of the box, and by that time they were over there going crazy. Well, I looked out at centerfield and I pointed. I said, 'I'm going to hit the next pitched ball right past the flag pole.'" Hit it there, he did, though the best historical detective work, which includes a contradictory account from Ruth himself, suggests strongly that he was gesturing at the Cubs' bench. Nonetheless, the Called Shot is now part of baseball and Wrigley Field history.

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Sept. 28, 1938: The Homer in the Gloamin'

The 1938 Cubs spent most of the regular season playing from behind in the National League standings; when the Pirates arrived at Wrigley for the Cubs' final home series of the season, Pittsburgh had been in first place since mid-July. However, Chicago caught fire in September while the Pirates flat-lined, bringing the Cubs within a game and a half of the Bucs heading into the series. Chicago won the first game behind Dizzy Dean, making his first start in more than a month, to get within a half-game.

The second game was the one in which the season turned for both clubs. Tied 5-5 after eight innings, dusk came over the ballpark in the ninth. Both teams were certain that if the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the frame, the game would end in a tie. The first two Cubs made quick outs, feeling fortunate just to make contact with a ball they could barely see. That left the outcome to veteran catcher Gabby Hartnett, who took two strikes, then squared up a fastball down the middle from reliever Mace Brown and sent it over the leftfield wall for a game-winning homer that vaulted Chicago into first place.

The Cubs trounced the Pirates the next day, 10-1, and took the pennant during the final series of the season, only to be swept by the Yankees in the World Series, just as they were in 1932.

VERDUCCI: Wrigley Field is a national treasure

Oct. 8, 1945: The Cubs' last World Series victory

The Cubs' last pennant came in 1945, and it was during Game 5 of that year's World Series that tavern owner Bill Sianis supposedly placed the infamous Billy Goat Curse on the team for ejecting him and his goat from Wrigley. But while the Tigers would win that game and eventually take the Series, Chicago would have one more flash of Fall Classic glory before bidding farewell to the World Series for the next 70 years.

Facing elimination in Game 6, the Cubs took a 7-3 lead into the eighth only to have the Tigers battle back and tie the game with four runs in that frame, capped by a solo home run by Hank Greenberg off reliever Ray Prim. Detroit's Dizzy Trout and Chicago's Hank Borowy exchanged scoreless frames until the bottom of the 12th. With one out, Cubs pinch-hitter Frank Secory singled and was replaced on the bases by Bill Schuster. Borowy struck out, bringing up veteran third baseman Stan Hack, who hit .367/.441/.467 on the series but had made two errors earlier in the game, costing Chicago the chance to win in regulation. Hack hit a sharp single to leftfield, where the ball hit a sprinkler in the grass and skipped past Greenberg, allowing Schuster score all the way from first on what was scored a game-winning double.

That hit forced Game 7, but Cubs manager Charlie Grimm, having used all four of his World Series starters in Game 6, was in a bind to find a starter for Game 7. Borowy, who had started Game 5 and thrown four innings of relief in Game 6, eyed the offday before Game 7 and volunteered. Given that Borowy had shut out the Tigers in Game 1 and for the final four innings of Game 6, Grimm accepted. But Borowy got a quick hook after giving up singles to the first three men he faced, and his replacement, Paul Derringer, failed to stop the bleeding. The Cubs lost Game 7, 9-3, and haven't been back to the World Series since.

Sept. 2, 1972: Milt Pappas' near-perfect game

Only 11 pitchers in major league history have been perfect for 26 outs in a game only to let the 27th man reach base. Of those 11, only two -- Cubs righty Milt Pappas and 1908 Giants lefty Hooks Wiltse -- recovered to complete the no-hitter. In Pappas' case, he ran the count full on his 27th batter, Padres pinch-hitter Larry Stahl, then appeared to miss low and away for ball four. That's what second-year umpire Bruce Froemming saw, awarding Stahl first base and sending Pappas into a rage. Froemming was prepared to toss Pappas from the game, no-hitter still intact, but, to Pappas' credit, the pitcher calmed down and got the next man, pinch-hitter Garry Jestadt, to pop out to second baseman Carmen Fanzone to complete the 28-batter no-hitter. Froemming, who would go on to have the second-longest umpiring career in major league history, would call balls and strikes for three subsequent no-hitters, but Pappas would never forgive him for his refusal to expand his strike zone with Stahl at the plate.

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Pappas' no-hitter remains the last to take place at Wrigley Field. Five other no-hitters were thrown there between the Toney-Vaughn game and this one:

  • May 12, 1955 - Sam Jones, Cubs 4, Pirates 0, Jones becomes first African-American to throw no-hitter in major leagues
  • May 15, 1960 - Don Cardwell, Cubs 4, Cardinals 0
  • Aug. 19, 1965 - Jim Maloney, Reds 1, Cubs 0, 10 innings
  • Aug. 19, 1969 - Ken Holtzman, Cubs 3, Braves 0, Holtzman didn't strike out a single batter
  • April 16, 1972 - Burt Hooton, Cubs 4, Phillies 0, Hooton's fourth career start, second game of the regular season

NEXT: Four home runs, 45 runs, 20 strikeouts and the Bartman Game

April 17, 1976: Mike Schmidt's four homers

Just 16 men have hit four home runs in a single major league game, and only six did it in four consecutive at-bats. The Wrigley faithful got to see Phillies star Mike Schmidt turn both tricks in a 10-inning, 18-16 Philadelphia win that saw a total of nine home runs, including two by Cubs centerfielder and leadoff man Rick Monday.

Schmidt didn't hit his first home run of the game until the fifth inning, by which point the Cubs were up 13-2. Schmidt made it 13-4 with a two-run shot off Chicago starter Rick Reuschel in the top of the fifth, followed that with a solo shot off Reuschel in the seventh to make it 13-7, then hit a three-run shot in the eighth off reliever Mike Garman to pull the Phillies within one at 13-12. Philadelphia took a two-run lead in the top of the ninth, but the Cubs rallied to tie in the bottom of the inning. That allowed Schmidt to come to the plate one more time in the top of the 10th.

Following a leadoff walk to Dick Allen, Cubs manager Jim Marshall brought in Reuschel's big brother Paul to face Schmidt. Schmidt put the elder Reuschel's very first pitch into the screen over the 368 mark in the leftfield gap to give the Phillies a 17-15 lead. Two more runs would score after that to set the final, but even that football-like score was overshadowed by Schmidt's four home runs in four at-bats and eight RBIs.

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May 17, 1979: 45 Runs

The wind was obviously blowing out on the day that Schmidt hit his four home runs, but not as hard as it was on May 17, 1979 when the Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22 in 10 innings. Only twice in modern history have both teams in a game scored more than 20 runs, and both times it happened in a Phillies-Cubs game at Wrigley Field. (On Aug. 25, 1922, Chicago beat Philadelphia 26-23.)

Three-run home runs by Schmidt and Bob Boone, and a solo shot by pitcher Randy Lerch, who had yet to take the mound, gave the Phillies a 7-0 lead in the top of the first, but the Cubs answered with six runs of their own, keyed by a three-run Dave Kingman homer. The Phils then added eight in the top of the third, capped by a three-run Garry Maddox homer, followed by two in the fourth to go up 17-6. Chicago got three back in the bottom of the fourth, with Kingman hitting a two-run shot, but Philadelphia added four in the top of the fifth to make it 21-9.

Refusing to go quietly, the Cubs scored seven in the bottom of the fifth around a Bill Buckner grand slam off Phillies relief ace Tug McGraw and three more in the sixth off Kingman's third and longest home run. Their lead down to 21-19, the Phils added an insurance run (seriously) in the top of the seventh, but in the bottom of the eighth, Chicago finally tied it up, doing so via a series of singles.

With Bruce Sutter and Rawly Eastwick on in the ninth, the game remained tied 22-22 heading into the top of the 10th when, with two outs, Schmidt hit a solo shot off Sutter that would prove to be the difference. Eastwick retired the Cubs in order, including Kingman, who failed in two chances to hit his fourth home run, to bring an end to a game that clocked in at 4:03.

Though not a good game, it was certainly a memorable one and would have been for Kingman's third home run alone. That homer (seen at the 19:40 mark in the video above) didn't just leave the ballpark; it went down North Kenmore Avenue, bouncing beyond the third house down that street. Measured at somewhere between 530 and 540 feet, that shot, wind-aided though it may have been, ranks among the longest home runs ever hit in a major league baseball game.

By way of comparison, the homer Glenallen Hill hit onto the roof of a building across Waveland Avenue in 2000 was measured at "just" 500 feet.

June 23, 1984: The Sandberg Game

The Cubs made the playoffs in 1984 for the first time in 39 years, yet the most memorable home game of that season came not against the Padres in the NLCS but against a Cardinals team with a losing record on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of what proved to be Chicago's worst month of the season.

Thing started out innocently enough, with each team scoring a run in the first, the Cubs' tally driven in by their 24-year-old second baseman, an emerging young star named Ryne Sandberg. In the top of the second, however, the Cardinals scored six more, bouncing Chicago starter Steve Trout from the game and forcing the home team to play catch-up for the rest of the game. The score remained frozen at 7-1 St. Louis until a Sandberg groundout drove in the first of two Cubs runs in the bottom of the fifth.

Willie McGee got both runs back for St. Louis with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth to make it 9-3, but the Cubs returned serve with five runs in the bottom of the sixth, the last two scoring on another Sandberg single. However, Sandberg was thrown out trying to get to second base and Gary Matthews struck out, stopping the rally one run short of a tie. Bruce Sutter, the former Cub and current Cardinal relief ace, came in to get the final out of the seventh and then recorded four straight groundouts to send the game to the bottom of the ninth with Chicago still trailing 9-8.

Sandberg, though, struck again leading off the bottom of the ninth, with a home run to left that tied the game. With McGee doubling to complete the cycle, the Cardinals went back ahead by scoring two in the top of the 10th against Cubs closer Lee Smith. Sutter, who stranded two runners after the Sandberg homer in the ninth, came back out for his third full inning of work in the bottom half. Veterans Larry Bowa and Richie Hebner quickly grounded out, but with Chicago down to its last out, Bob Dernier worked a walk to bring Sandberg to the plate one last time. On Sutter's 1-1 pitch, Sandberg again hit a game-tying home run.

Smith worked around a walk in the top of the 11th, and Dave Owen plated Leon Durham with the winning run in the bottom of the 11th to give the Cubs a 12-11 win. Sandberg finished the game 5-for-6 with two home runs and seven RBIs and went on to make the first of 10 consecutive All-Star teams and win the National League MVP award in the first great season in what proved to be a Hall of Fame career.

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May 6, 1998: Kerry Wood's 20 strikeouts

Kerry Wood's fifth major league start may have been the most dominant nine-inning game by a pitcher in major league history. He became just the second pitcher ever to strike out 20 men in nine innings, a feat matched just once since, and allowed just two Astros to reach base: Ricky Gutierrez on a single leading off the third (he was later balked to second base) and Craig Biggio on a hit by pitch with two outs in the sixth. Wood struck out the first five men he faced, reached just five three-ball counts all game and struck out eight of the final nine Houston hitters.

According to Game Score, Wood's performance registered a 105, making it the best nine-inning start of the last 100 years. It beats out the 101 posted in perfect games by Sandy Koufax and Matt Cain, each of which included 14 strikeouts, and Nolan Ryan's last no-hitter, which saw him strike out 16 Blue Jays.

As with the Sandberg game, Wood's performance proved to be a flashpoint for a special season on the North Side. In June, Sammy Sosa would hit 20 home runs, which remains a record for any calendar month, thrusting himself into the home run record chase that would culminate with both Sosa and the Cardinals' Mark McGwire surpassing Roger Maris' single-season record of 61. The Cubs, who hadn't been to the playoffs since 1989 when they lost the NLCS to the Giants, would finish the season tied with San Francisco for the NL wild card and would host and win a resulting one-game tiebreaker at Wrigley Field, and Sosa would ultimately be named the NL's Most Valuable Player. Of course, legendary broadcaster Harry Caray had died before that season even began, Wood missed the entire 1999 season with Tommy John surgery and Sosa and McGwire's seasons were later exposed as drug-aided frauds, but it wouldn't be a Cubs story if it didn't end on a sour note, would it?

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Oct. 14, 2003: The Bartman Game

The Cubs finished in first place in 2003 for the first time since 1989 and just the third time since 1945. Thanks to Wood and 22-year-old sophomore ace Mark Prior, they beat the Braves in the Division Series, their first postseaon series win since 1908. They then jumped out to a 3-games-to-1 lead on the Marlins in the NLCS to get within one win of their first pennant since 1945, but were two-hit by a 23-year-old Josh Beckett in Game 5. That pushed things to Game 6, which Prior, who had won Game 3 of the Division Series and Game 2 of the NLCS, was scheduled to start.

Once again, Prior was excellent, and Chicago chipped away to build a 3-0 lead heading into the top of the eighth. However, after getting the first out in that frame, Prior appeared to run out of gas. That wasn't surprising. The 22-year-old was worked heavily in September as the Cubs battled the Astros for the NL Central title and had thrown more than 130 pitches in three consecutive starts, concluding with his Division Series outing.

With a man on second and one out, Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo hit a foul popup that came down near the retaining down the leftfield line, but a fan in a green turtleneck and headphones deflected the ball rather than electing to pull back to let leftfielder Moises Alou make the catch. After that missed opportunity, Prior walked Castillo and Ivan Rodriguez singled to make it 3-1. Then the real tipping point occurred: Rookie Miguel Cabrera hit a chopper to shortstop that Alex Gonzalez flubbed, failing to get any outs on what might have been an inning-ending double play ball.

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From there the floodgates opened. Florida's Derek Lee doubled home Castillo and Rodriguez to tie the game. Manager Dusty Baker belatedly pulled Prior in favor of Kyle Farnsworth, but two intentional walks, a sacrifice fly and a bases-clearing double later, the Cubs' season was effectively over. They went down in order in the bottom of the eighth and ninth and coughed up an early lead in Game 7 to fall short of the World Series once again. They haven't been back to the NLCS since.

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