Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Best Game, Ever

Thirty years ago I was lucky enough to be at Wrigley Field for one of the best Cubs games, ever. On May 17, 1979, the Cubs lost to the Phillies in ten innings by the score of 23-22. Yep, you read that right, 23-22. It was an amazing game.

Photo of the scoreboard from the New York Times website

My story...

I was a senior in high school in 1979 and we picked May 17 as our senior ditch day. Several of us planned an outing to the bleachers at Wrigley Field. Getting tickets to a game was so much easier back then. This was before Wrigley had lights, so tickets to weekday games in April and May were a snap to get. The bleacher tickets were $1.50 and sold only on the day of the game (today they are $60 and sell out the first day they are available in February). We arrived at the park around 11:30 and got right in. We settled in the right field bleachers in about the fifth row.

I don't remember it being that windy, but the wind definitely was blowing out. The game saw a total of eleven home runs, which tied the record for most home runs in a game. Mike Schmidt hit two and Dave Kingman hit three!

Mike Schmidt, two dingers, Dave Kingman, three

The first inning set the stage for the entire day. Cubs starter Dennis Lamp lasted only 1/3 of an inning was was tagged for six runs. His relief Donnie Moore gave up a home run to Phillies starter Randy Lerch and before the Cubs even came to the plate they were down 7-0.

Lerch's home run was the highlight of his day, because he too lasted only 1/3 of an inning. Kingman hit his first homer of the day in the first as the Cubs scored 6 runs and trailed 7-6.

The two starting pitchers, each lasting on 1/3 of an inning.

The second inning was a rarity, one in which both teams failed to score. But the Phillies put an 8 spot on the Cubs in the top of the third and just like that the Cubs were behind by nine runs! The Cubs did not answer the Phillies like they did in the first, going scoreless in the third.

The Phillies kept their run parade going in the fourth as they added two more runs, but the Cubs answered with three in the bottom of the inning as Kingman and Steve Ontiveros hit back to back homers. But the score was 17-9 and Cubs were still down by 8.

The top of the fifth saw four more Phillies cross the plate and when the Cubs came up in the bottom of the fifth, they trailed 21-9. Usually when your team scores nine runs in the first four innings you feel pretty good. We didn't feel good. We were trying to decide how much longer to stick around at the park.

Well, the bottom of the fifth helped us decide to stay awhile longer. The Cubs put a seven spot on the board and narrowed the gap to five, 21-16 The highlights of the inning were a two run shot by Kingman (his second of the day) and a grand slam by Bill Buckner. Buckner's shot landed close to where we were sitting. I've watched replays of the game, looking for myself, but there was never a good enough shot to see me.

And when the Cubs scored three more in the bottom of the sixth as Kingman hit his third home run, they were within two runs. Wrigley Field went crazy. The Phillies added one in the top of the seventh and when the Cubs came up in the bottom of the eighth, they trailed 22-19. Five singles later, the game was tied! The Cubs had come back from a 12 run deficit to tie the game. It was absolutely the craziest thing I have ever seen.

Bullpen ace Bruce Sutter came in to pitch the ninth and got the Phillies out pretty easily. It was on to the bottom of the ninth, and as announcer Jack Brickhouse would say, "Any old kind of a run wins." Unfortunately. the Cubs went 1-2-3. It was on to extra innings. This was the first time since the second inning that an inning was scoreless.

Sutter again was on the hill in the tenth and got three easy outs. But squeezed between the outs was a monster home run by Mike Schmidt to give the Phillies the lead. Now when the Cubs batted in the bottom of the tenth, it was score or go home. And Dave Kingman was going to be up second in the inning. We were sure good things would happen. We were wrong! Kingman struck out as the Cubs again went down 1-2-3. The game was over and the Phillies won, 23-22.

Rawly Eastwick picked up the win, Sutter took the loss

Wow! What a game, what a day. Even though the Cubs lost, it felt like they won. How can you not feel good about a game in which you wipe out a 12 run deficit. The game tied the record for most home runs in a game and the 97 total bases set a record.

My very messy scorecard ended up looking like this:

The attendance for the game was 14,952. I've got the ticket stub, the scorecard, and the memories and I proudly say that I was one of the 14,952 to witness history!


  1. what a way to spend "senior ditch day" great times, great memories, great game !

  2. Great game to be at. This game stands in my mind as my brothers and I received a subscription to Sports Illustrated at the time and that game (featuring Schmidt) was on the cover of the first SI we received in the mail.

  3. That's a truly great story. One day I hope to attend such a game.

  4. channel 17 with harry kalas and it feels like yesterday. the wind was blowing out and you knew the sky was the limit for runs scored. michael jack was a cub killer and made his mark on this memorable afternoon. the cubs only purpose back then was to help the visiting teams' batting average. they did wonders for the phillies 30 years ago today.

  5. thisisitflyfishingMay 17, 2009 at 8:06 PM

    Clearly some loser Philly fan above.

  6. I remember being completely distracted from studying for finals my junior year of college. I guess I had to pull an all-nighter instead.

    Ironic that you skipped school to go to the ballgame and yet in keeping that detailed scorecard, you probably did a week's worth of math homework. The teachers always win in the end. LOL Great story.

  7. The Cubs may have helped the Phillies batting averages that day, but the pitcher's ERA's took a serious hit.

  8. I add this only because of Anonymous' comment above and the mention of SI earlier. It may have helped their batting averages, but the point of the SI story (or maybe a later article) was that the game devastated the Phillies' pitching staff.

  9. Winning the battle but losing the war...May 17 was the Phillies high point of season, 14 games over .500. They were 60-68 after that (the Cubs were 64-66).

  10. That is the fantastic thing about sport and particular baseball. You could have been to thousands of other games but you never know what the next game has in store for you when you go. Thanks for sharing your memories.