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redsmetz
05-17-2009, 02:57 PM
From today's NY Times comes this interesting story of a fabled game.


On a Sunny Day at Wrigley, a Perfect Storm of Offense
By TYLER KEPNER

Thirty years ago, Dennis Lamp woke up at home in Evanston, Ill., and wished his wife a happy birthday. He was pitching for the Chicago Cubs that day, and he said he would win for her. She expected to see him try that afternoon at Wrigley Field.

“By the time she had her ticket and got to her seat, she said, ‘Where is he?’ ” Lamp recalled over the telephone recently, laughing. The marriage did not last, but memories of that day live on.

Lamp had the grim task of throwing the first few pitches of the best game for hitters in the last 87 years. He got one out, allowed two three-run homers and bolted the howling winds for the shelter of the clubhouse.

The Old Style beer was ready, Lamp said, and it was needed. Every few minutes, it seemed, the door would open and another sullen Cubs pitcher would shuffle in, his earned run average bloated and his spirits broken.

“We were all thinking, what’s going on?” Lamp said.

What unfolded was a 23-22 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, less a major league game than a T-ball exhibition. In the decades since, baseball has added teams and umpires have squeezed the strike zone. Cities have built cozier ballparks and players have bulked up on steroids. Yet nothing has matched that day.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one game since 1900 featured more runs — a 26-23 circus on Aug. 25, 1922. In that one, the Cubs defeated the Phillies at Wrigley.

“There’s something about the Phillies and the Cubs,” said Mick Kelleher, a Yankees coach who played for the 1979 Cubs. “Man, I’m telling you.”

Kelleher wore No. 20, just as Mike Schmidt did for the Phillies. In the bottom of the first inning, with the Phillies ahead, 7-0, Schmidt looked at the Cubs’ bench and found Kelleher. He patted the number on his jersey and pointed to Kelleher’s. It might take 20 runs to win the game, Schmidt was saying, but he was off by a few.

So was Richie Ashburn, the former Phillie and Cub who had played and broadcast enough games at Wrigley to know what was coming. With the wind gusting to 18 miles per hour and the temperature warm enough for many fans to go shirtless, Ashburn made a prediction from the Phillies’ radio booth in the first inning.

“You’ve got to hold your breath today because the Cubs can knock the ball out of this ballpark also,” Ashburn said. “I have a feeling this might wind up about 19-12.”

Actually, by the time the Cubs scored their 12th run, in the fifth inning, the Phillies had 21. Ashburn’s scorecard, he said, was “uncipherable — if there is such a word.” The old batting champion was beside himself.

“You have to remember,” said Andy Musser, 71, who was also in the booth that day, “Whitey was the kind of guy that honestly believed he could grab a bat and go down there and get a hit.”

Even 17 years into retirement, Ashburn might have succeeded. With outfielders forced to play back, 27 singles fell in. There were 50 hits over all, the fourth most in baseball since 1900, and a record 97 total bases.

The Phillies’ starter, Randy Lerch, had struggled for wins and begged teammates for run support before the game. Larry Bowa, the Phillies shortstop, who went 5 for 8, remembered trotting to his position in the bottom of the first and snickering to Lerch, “That enough for you?”

It was not. Lerch, who had homered off Donnie Moore for the Phillies’ seventh run, was gone after just one out. It was 7-4 when he left, and 7-6 after Moore tripled in a run off Doug Bird. Four home runs had been hit, and on Waveland Avenue, Rich Buhrke was not surprised.

Buhrke was 32 in 1979, a stay-at-home father who would drop off his son at school in the mornings, grab his transistor radio and head to Wrigleyville. The ballpark had no lights then, and few fans hung out on the streets beyond the outfield walls.

That day, Buhrke guessed, maybe 10 others camped out with him on Waveland, beyond left field, and Sheffield Avenue, beyond right. The art of ball hawking, as he calls it, was not yet widespread. If only more fans had known what would happen that day.

“There were a lot of balls hit out there in batting practice, so you knew the ball was carrying really, really well,” Buhrke said. “I got two in B.P., and there were five home runs in the street during the game. I was in on the first four, but I didn’t get them. I was getting really, really frustrated with that.”

The Wrigley Effect

Phillies Manager Danny Ozark had a different perspective. Ozark, who died on May 7 at age 85, did not care where the home runs landed. He was just happy to have Schmidt hitting them.

Schmidt ripped four in a game at Wrigley three years before. On the bus from the airport before the May series in ’79, he boasted he would hit four more before the Phillies left town. He had two coming into the series finale.

“He had a certain kind of feeling in that ballpark,” Ozark said in an interview last month. “It was just like walking into heaven, I guess, for him: ‘Here I am, I’m right here, shining like a star.’ He took advantage of it.”

Schmidt played the equivalent of a full season at Wrigley Field in his career, with 611 plate appearances. He hit .307 with 50 home runs and 124 runs batted in.

“Nice, small ballpark,” Schmidt said in March at the World Baseball Classic. “We all got to be better hitters when we went to Wrigley Field.”

Schmidt said he did not remember many specifics about the game, except that he hit two home runs and Dave Kingman of the Cubs hit three. Twice in the 1970s, Schmidt won the National League home run crown with Kingman finishing second.

Lamp said the presence of Schmidt motivated Kingman, who homered in the first, fourth and sixth innings with blasts that still resonate.

“The wind was like a hurricane, and Kingman hit one that went up so far, I’ve never seen a ball like that,” Bowa said. “Usually I’d just put my head down, but it was up so high I said, I’ve got to watch this.”

Kingman’s first two homers flew so far, Ashburn said, that if you added them together, they would stretch to Milwaukee. But the third was even more impressive, a towering drive off Ron Reed that touched down on Kenmore Avenue, three buildings in.

“It went over our heads by a mile,” Buhrke said.

The Cubs, who trailed by 21-9 an inning before, pulled two runs behind, foiling Reed and Tug McGraw. Ozark called for McGraw, his closer, in the fifth inning. The cocksure McGraw was certain he would succeed where others had failed.

“It’s funny,” McGraw said in the next day’s Chicago Tribune. “I mean, when you’re sitting out there in the ’pen and you see the way things are going, you don’t exactly beg to come in the game. And yet all the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘Well, I know I could stop all of this foolishness.’ So what happens? I get my chance to stop it and — blowie!”

McGraw served up a grand slam to Bill Buckner and three other runs before Reed took over. When Reed was done, after the eighth, the Cubs had come all the way back to tie it, 22-22.

“Woooo-boy, look at that score!” the Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse said from the television booth. “Look at it and blink your eyes. And if you don’t believe it, we can understand.”

A Final Blast

Cubs Manager Herman Franks knew what to do. In a tie game at home, he summoned closer Bruce Sutter, the future Hall of Famer who would win the National League Cy Young Award that season. Ozark countered in the bottom of the inning with Rawly Eastwick, a premier reliever for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-’70s.

“It was kind of a screwy thing, because no pitcher in the game could get three consecutive outs,” Ozark said. “He was the only one, and he was not having a good year for us like he’d had in Cincinnati.”

By then, though, shadows crossed the infield, and Eastwick’s pitches were moving effectively, tailing down and in to right-handers. He worked a 1-2-3 ninth — the first time all day a pitcher retired the side in order — and with two out and the bases empty in the 10th, Schmidt came up for the Phillies.

On Waveland Avenue, Buhrke got into position. Foiled on the other homers, he guessed that Schmidt would pull Sutter to left-center and stationed himself at the corner of Waveland and Kenmore. When Schmidt connected on a flat, full-count splitter, Buhrke picked up its flight and dashed off.

“I’m not fast anymore, but I got a pretty good jump on that ball,” Buhrke said. “He hit the ball a good half-block down, and I had to run toward center field. It landed in the street and took a humungous bounce into an alley. It went down about two houses, and I tracked it down in the alley. It was an amazing shot; it was really hit.”

Kingman had one more chance to deliver, with one out and the bases empty in the 10th. Eastwick struck him out swinging on a changeup, bringing Steve Ontiveros to the plate.

On the first pitch, he checked his swing for a two-hopper to third. Schmidt charged and fired to first baseman Pete Rose, who snatched the ball and raised it in his fist. Game over, at last.

“Oh boy, a pretty flat finish,” Brickhouse said on the air. “No runs, no hits, no errors, nobody left, and a very sad finish to one of the greatest games anybody has ever seen anywhere.”

On the Phillies’ broadcast, Harry Kalas noted that Eastwick, as the winning pitcher, received a case of TastyKakes. Ashburn, he joked, would somehow try to condense all the highlights into 10 minutes for the postgame show.

“They can mark the date down, May 17, as an unusual ballgame,” Ashburn said in the bottom of the 10th, before pausing. It was unusual, to be sure, but Ashburn seemed to want a better adjective.

“Unbelievable ballgame,” he added.

Thirty years later, it still is.

jojo
05-17-2009, 03:09 PM
WGN used to replay that game during the cold winter months for several years.

westofyou
05-17-2009, 03:12 PM
I remember that game when they played it, it was baseball fodder for days after, covered in TSN, SI and the like. 1979 was also Dave Kingman's best year and he and Schmidt were lauded for their power through out the season as well.

redsmetz
05-17-2009, 03:24 PM
Here's the link to the boxscore on baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN197905170.shtml

jojo
05-17-2009, 03:31 PM
Here's the link to the boxscore on baseball-reference.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHN/CHN197905170.shtml

How would the mood be in the clubhouse just after ya score 22 runs in a game and still fall to 7 games back in the standings?