The Chicago Cubs took 39 years to put the ball into postseason play, but then the ball took two tricky hops, and suddenly they were out of it. That's the way the ball bounces, you say. Try telling that to Chicago.
The San Diego Padres did the seemingly impossible last week, overcoming losses in the first two games of the National League Championship Series and coming back from a 3-0 deficit in Sunday's fifth and deciding game to beat the best pitcher in baseball. Tell them, way to go and good luck against the Tigers. They probably can't hear over the noise, though.
On a bright, sunny afternoon in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, agony and ecstasy exchanged lineup cards, and the Padres defeated the Cubs and Rick Sutcliffe 6-3. With two down in the ninth, San Diego's Rich Gossage got Jody Davis to ground to third baseman Graig Nettles, who threw over to second for a force, and, instantaneously, the Padres swarmed at the foot of the mound while hundreds of their fans skipped gleefully around them. Fireworks went off in center, and as the smell of burned cordite filled the air, the stadium speakers blared yet again the No. 1 song in San Diego, Cub-Busters. Heart-busters.
The celebration in the Padre clubhouse wasn't much different from other such champagne parties, but right in the middle of it the players took off, running through a tunnel underneath the stadium outside to the parking lot. There, through a chain link fence, they thanked the fans they kept referring to as their "10th man." Steve Garvey, ever the hero and a playoff MVP for the third time in his career, touched thousands of hands, high-fived hundreds more and kissed a few dozen babies. All the while, the people outside the fences and the throngs hanging over the stadium walls chanted, "Gar-vey! Gar-vey!"
Their joy was well-earned. No National League team had ever come back from an 0-2 deficit in a Championship Series, and San Diego had to rally in each of its victories. This was the first time that the 16-year-old Padres had ever been in a playoff. San Diego has not had a major champion since the Chargers won the AFL title in 1963.
But the Padres are babes in wasteland compared to the Cubbies. This team was going to make Chicago forget the collapse of '69, and it will, because now the fans can forever beat their breasts over '84. For years to come, they'll talk about the day Sutcliffe got beat, the tragic seventh inning, the infamous grounder through first baseman Leon Durham's legs, the double-play ball that became a double.
All of which is too bad, because this was a good Cub club. As a disconsolate Jim Frey, the Chicago manager, said, "Our team deserves to be in a World Series, our organization deserves a championship, our fans deserve to win a Series. I just feel so bad for everybody."
Padre manager Dick Williams came to the Cub clubhouse to pay his respects. He and Frey hugged one another, and Williams said, "You've got your pick, first or third base coach in the All-Star Game next year."
"We'll talk about that later," said Frey.
"It was a helluva series," said Williams, exiting clubhouse right.
It sure was. These playoffs had everything: love, hate, heroes, goats, suspense and a few scenes from The Natural. Nobody thought they could top Act IV, but they did in Act V.
The fifth game should have been over in the first inning. Gary Matthews of the Cubs drew a walk, and Durham clocked Eric Show's 3-1 fastball into the seats in right center. Pitching for Chicago was Sutcliffe, 16-1 since joining the Cubs in June and the 13-0 winner of Game 1.
Chicago added another run in the second on Davis's homer inside the foul pole in left. Sutcliffe breezed through the first five innings, allowing only two infield hits. But in the bottom of the sixth inning, as the William Tell Overture blared from the loudspeakers, the Padre fans got into the act. They cheered as Alan Wiggins opened San Diego's turn at bat with a perfect bunt and roared with every subsequent development. Tony Gwynn singled to left. Garvey walked on four pitches. With the bases loaded and none out, Nettles hit a sacrifice fly deep to center. Terry Kennedy hit a line drive to left that Matthews had to backhand and dive for. It was a terrific catch, but it didn't prevent Gwynn from tagging up at third and coming home. The score was now 3-2.
In the meantime, the Padre middle relievers, the unsung heroes of the playoffs, held down the Cubs. Then came the seventh-inning wretch. Sutcliffe walked lead-off hitter Carmelo Martinez on four pitches. Garry Templeton sacrificed him to second, bringing pinch hitter Tim Flannery to the plate. Flannery hit a ground ball that skipped off the lip of the grass and scooted under Durham's glove and between his legs into right to tie the score. "It was my first error all year with the glove," said Durham.
Wiggins followed with a chip shot single to left. Then Gwynn ripped a scorcher at the feet of second baseman Ryne Sandberg. "I played it down, and it went straight up," said Sandberg. "If I catch the ball, it's a double play. No question about that." But the ball went into right center for a double, scoring two runs. Garvey then singled off the mound, bringing in Gwynn. For Garvey, it was his seventh RBI of the series. Frey finally relieved Sutcliffe with Steve Trout. "He had good stuff, he was the best pitcher in the league the last three months, and he wasn't being hit hard," said Frey, explaining his decision to keep him in there. "I thought he'd pitch out of the inning."
After the game, Sutcliffe, a stand-up guy, was very hard on himself. "I just didn't do the job, and I blame nobody but myself," he said. "It doesn't matter what I did during the regular season. There'll be a loss beside my name in the box score tomorrow, and that's where it belongs."
The Padres left it up to Gossage to save the victory, and he barely held the Cubs at bay. In the eighth, Matthews came to the plate, representing the tying run. He struck out. In the Chicago ninth, Durham hit a slicing liner that Gwynn caught in the Cub bullpen in right. Keith Moreland singled, but Ron Cey popped up to his old Dodger teammate, Garvey, and Davis hit a fielder's-choice grounder to Nettles. Cubs busted.
"These were the greatest playoffs I've ever seen," said Garvey. "We were hoping to create history, and we did."
"I know one thing," said Kennedy. "We took the '69 Cubs off the hook."
"Nobody gave us a chance but the fans," said Gwynn. "They believed in us, and we started to believe in us."
Earlier in the series everyone seemed to believe that the Cubs had pulled off the unprecedented feat of winning a best-of-five series in two games. But then, the Padres, returning home to an unexpected outpouring of affection from their fans, said, "Let's play five." And so they did.
Although the official venues were the Friendly Confines and Jack Murphy Stadium, this series seemed to be played on a somewhat higher plane, up above what centerfielder Bob Dernier called "the little white puffies." Outside the House of the Good Shepherd, a shelter for women and children a block from Wrigley Field, vendors sold A TICKET TO HEAVEN T shirts, each of which featured a drawing of a Cub World Series ticket. During Game 3 in San Diego, one banner implored the late Padre owner Ray Kroc, DEAR RAY, HELP! Another banner in Game 4 pointed to his "sky box."
After the first game of the series, Frey said, "Some people believe we have a strange force in the sky who wants the Cubs to win. Actually, we have a 6'7" guy who throws the hell out of the ball and who can put it where he wants to. That's our strange force."
With both sides laying claim to being Destiny's Darlings, Fate's Favorites, Kismet's Kids, this was bound to be a special series. The weather for the first game in Chicago was certainly something special, bright and blue and breezy. The breeze, out of the southwest at as much as 20 mph, had the Cub hitters salivating in batting practice. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, who had been designated a special coach for the playoffs, came up to Keith Moreland at the cage and said, "Keith Moreland, how do you feel?"
"Let's play two," said Moreland, borrowing Banks' immortal line.
"Let's play two," agreed Banks.
Banks had the honor of throwing out the first ball, and after a touching ovation, he delivered a magical flip pitch to catcher Davis, throwing the ball with his right arm over his left shoulder, a trick he'd learned from Satchel Paige.
Sutcliffe, that 6'7" guy Frey was talking about, retired the Padres in order in the first. Then in the bottom of the first, Dernier, leading off, hit Eric Show's second pitch into the leftfield bleachers, thanks in some small part to the wind. Over the air, Harry Caray screamed, "It might be...it could be...it is! Holy cow!"
The Cubs' third batter, Matthews, lined Show's 3-1 pitch over the fence in left, a drive that needed no assistance, and just like that, Chicago led 2-0. "Show spelled backwards is wohs, and that's what he's having today," said Caray. In the bottom of the third, Sutcliffe got into the act with a towering home run that landed on Sheffield Avenue out beyond the rightfield bleachers.
The Padres' only threat came in the top of the fourth, when they loaded the bases with two outs. Martinez hit a sinking line drive to right, and Moreland made a shoestring catch. "Just before the play," said Moreland, "I looked at the scoreboard and thought, 'Don't do nothing crazy.' So I go and do something crazy. The ball went in my glove and stuck, thank you."
Sutcliffe let Frey take him out after seven innings, even though he had given up only two hits and struck out eight. Sutcliffe had a wonderful day, but he had spent a miserable, sleepless night. "I was seeing everybody in the lineup, even Eric Show, hitting me out of the park."
The 13-0 score represented the biggest rout since the advent of the Championship Series, and the largest in postseason play since 1960. "Actually," said Garvey, "I thought our fourth-quarter offense was pretty good, and we blocked that extra point, so a lot of positive things came together for us at the end."
But Game 2 was still negative for San Diego. Although the Cubs won by the more traditional score of 4-2, they did it not with the long ball—there wasn't much wind—but with derring-do. Again, it was Dernier who got them rolling. He singled to left to lead off the Chicago first, and when Padre third baseman Luis Salazar fielded Sandberg's grounder and threw to first, Dernier kept right on going around second and slid safely into third, just ahead of Garvey's throw. Dernier then scored on Matthews' ground ball to short.
In the Cubs' half of the third Moreland singled with one out and Cey doubled to the wall in left center. Third base coach Don Zimmer sent Moreland, not the fastest runner in the world, home, and the gamble paid off as shortstop Templeton's relay throw skipped by Kennedy. A good throw would've nailed Moreland. Zimmer, a former San Diego manager, said, "When I was a manager, what I looked for in a third base coach was someone who drank a little beer and bet a little on the horses." The gamble resulted in two runs because Cey moved up to third on the throw and scored on a sacrifice fly by Davis.
Chicago added another run in the fourth on an RBI double by Sandberg, which was followed by a chorus of "MVP! MVP! MVP!" In the meantime, Trout had the Padres beating the ball into the ground with his sinker.
After the game, the delirious Chicago fans chanted "We want Trout!" and then the more generic, "We want Cubs!" They left the park thinking they had the pennant in hand. As Gwynn said, "It's like we're in 'The National League playoffs, starring the Chicago Cubs. Also with the San Diego Padres.' "
But the San Diego fans had something to say about that when the Padres returned home. "On the plane to San Diego," said Gwynn, "you could see in everybody's face that we were down. But when we got home, two hours late, there were about 3,000 people screaming and yelling, pressing their faces against the window of the bus. They had signs and posters and Cub-Buster T shirts, and it lifted our spirits. It was unbelievable and it moved everybody."
In the Jack Murphy Stadium parking lot before Game 3, the fans were giddily lynching teddy bears and singing, "We ain't 'fraid o' no Cubs," lyrics borrowed from the song Ghostbusters. When the Padres were introduced, the fans were already exuberant, but then Templeton, a man otherwise known for his cool, started waving his cap and whipping the crowd into a frenzy. "They were on a mission to make noise," said Frey.
Again Chicago scored first, on a double by Moreland and a single by Cey with none out in the second, but San Diego got out of the inning without allowing another run. In the fifth, the Padres took the lead for the first time in the series. Kennedy and Kevin McReynolds singled off Dennis Eckersley, and Templeton drove both of them in with a double to left center. Had Templeton not come through, Williams would have pinch-hit for pitcher Ed Whitson, the next batter, but now with a 2-1 lead, Whitson stayed in the game.
In the sixth, McReynolds hit a three-run homer just over the fence in left off reliever George Frazier, and the Padres coasted to a 7-1 victory. Whitson allowed five hits in eight innings before giving way to Gossage.
Another hero was Templeton, who drove in the tying and go-ahead runs and also made a run-saving grab of a line drive in the first inning. There's a certain irony in the fact that the low point of his career came in August 1981, when as a Cardinal he made obscene gestures at St. Louis fans who were booing him, and that the high point came in Game 3, when he again gestured to a crowd, this time for support. "I wanted to get the fans going and motivate the team," he said. Templeton isn't as good a shortstop or hitter as he once was, but as Garvey says, "He can play on my team anytime. And I'm picky."
The Padre fans carried their ardor over into Game 4, the best game of the series, and one of the best games in memory. Each Cub introduction was greeted with a thunderous "Who cares?" and each Padre with pandemonium. The national anthem, by the way, was played by a drum and bugle corps and conducted by Ray Kroc's favorite, Lawrence Welk, who didn't say before the game, but should have, "The key is keeping their uh-one and uh-two hitters off the bases."
The Padres took a 2-0 lead off Scott Sanderson in the third on a sacrifice fly by Gwynn and an RBI double by Garvey, who would be heard from again. The Cubs moved ahead 3-2 in the fourth on a two-run homer by Davis and Durham's solo shot off Tim Lollar.
In the fifth Garvey tied the score with a single, and the crowd intoned a Garvey, Garvey mantra. In the seventh, after Gwynn was intentionally walked with two outs, a runner on second and first base open, Garvey drove in the go-ahead run with a single into left, and as delirium washed over San Diego he uncharacteristically punched the air twice. Another run scored on a passed ball.
So now the Cubs, trailing 5-3 in the eighth, had to face Gossage. The Goose, however, is human these days, and he gave up a run-scoring single to Moreland and an RBI double off the wall to Davis. With the score tied 5-5 in the ninth, Chicago filled the bases with two outs, before Craig Lefferts got Cey to ground out.
The Padres now had to beat Lee Smith, Chicago's bullpen stopper. With one out, Gwynn singled up the middle, bringing you-know-who to the plate. Smith got a fastball up and out over the plate, and Garvey got his bat on the ball. "Time stopped," said Garvey later. "Sound stopped." The ball carried out over the 370 sign in right center, and as Jerry Coleman, the San Diego broadcaster, called it, "It's gone! The Padres win!...Oh, doctor!"
Garvey was met halfway up the third base line by his teammates and, as if this were a football game or something, they carried him away from home plate on their shoulders. "I think our future senator picked up a few votes tonight," said teammate Champ Summers. Added Flannery, "The last person I saw do something like this was Roy Hobbs."
Said Garvey, "Wonderboy, it wasn't. Just good, solid ash."
He finished the night with five RBIs, giving him a record 20 in NLCS play. It was also Garvey's first homer since Aug. 15. He hit only eight during the regular season. "I love the situation," said Garvey. "I love the challenge. And it's my pleasure to come through." Over his locker, the name tag reads MISTEROGERS. Indeed, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
The next day was even better. Far into the night, Padre fans stayed in the parking lot, transforming themselves from Cub-Busters into Tiger-Tamers.
As for Cub fans everywhere, as Caray might say, "They might be...they could be...they're not." Holy cow!