Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

Are you ready for some Foote ball?

There is a famous game in Cubs history known as “The Sandberg Game” because of multiple dramatics by Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. It’s the signature win of the 1984 season, when the team won the NL East title. That it came against the Cardinals didn’t hurt its historical significance either.

Less known, but perhaps just as good of a game was the one which took place on April 22 1980 between those same teams. But the 1980 Cubs weren’t particularly memorable. They were just mediocre. And “The Foote Game” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

This was bonkers baseball at its finest, a game played in 22-mile-per-hour winds. That shortstop Ivan DeJesus, he of 21 home runs in more than 4,600 at-bats hit for the cycle within five innings was strange. What Barry Foote did may have been stranger.

Foote had two good seasons as a hitter. With the 1974 Expos, he hit .262 with 11 home runs, but was soon displaced behind the plate by Gary Carter. In 1979, he hit .254 with 16 home runs for the Cubs. In Foote’s eight other seasons, he wasn’t much of a hitter. His career batting average was .230 and he was kept around much more for his glove and arm than anything else. But on this day, he could do no wrong.

First he singled in a run in the second inning, cutting a 3-1 Cardinals lead to 3-2. Then, he doubled in two more runs in the third inning to tie the game, 6-6. The Cardinals went ahead 12-6, but in these conditions, no lead was safe. The Cubs cut the lead to 12-11 by the eighth and Foote tied it with a home run.

The Cardinals didn’t score in the top of the ninth, with Foote throwing out Garry Templeton trying to steal second base. The only way to get Foote up in the bottom of the inning was to load the bases with two outs. Sure enough, that’s what happened. And on the first pitch, Foote obliged, clubbing a grand slam against Cardinals reliever Mark Littell.

Foote was greeted at home plate with a kiss on the helmet from none other than Bill Buckner.

Final score, Cubs 16, Cardinals 12.

Barry Foote Minutiae
Foote finished with eight RBIs. It would be 22 years before another Cubs player would drive in at least eight (Sammy Sosa had nine in 2002).

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The best one man walk-off show there was

Those of us who like sabermetrics tend to like a stat known as Win Probability Added (WPA).

WPA is a storytelling stat. It tells you which player’s actions contributed most to winning and losing the game, based on historical win probabilities. If your down is down by a run with two outs in the ninth inning and has a 5 percent chance of winning, but you hit a home run to up their chance of winning to 50 percent, you get credit for the difference between 50 percent and 5 percent (45 percentage points). Add all your plays together (positive and negative) and you get a number that represents your value to that win.

That brings us to the highest Win Probability Added in a walk-off, per Baseball-Reference.com’s statistical database. It belongs to Hall-of-Famer Kiki (pronounced KYE-KYE) Cuyler of the NL champion 1932 Cubs. He did it against the Giants on August 31 in what was a game worth recapping (for me) and reading about (for you).

It looked like a day that was going to go against the Cubs, who entered having won 11 straight games. Starting pitcher Lon Warneke faced five Giants and retired none before exiting down 3-0. Hall-of-Famers Bill Terry and Mel Ott accounted for the three Giants runs. Terry accounted for another with an RBI hit in the second inning.

Cuyler’s first moment of significant impact came in the third inning when he tripled in Hall-of-Fame teammate Billy Herman, then scored on a double by Riggs Stephenson. The Cubs trailed after three innings, 4-2, with rain briefly halting the contest. Each team scored once in the fourth and the 5-3 Giants edge held through seven innings.

In the eighth inning, Cubs player manager Charlie Grimm doubled in Stephenson, cutting the Giants lead to 5-4, though the rally died when Marv Gudat (pinch-hitting for Hall-of-Famer Gabby Hartnett) grounded out. I’m going to mention something rather innocuous here, but for a reason. Stan Hack pinch-ran for Grimm in the eighth and Zack Taylor filled Grimm’s spot in the lineup, replacing Hartnett behind the plate. I’ll explain why I reference this shortly, but understand that things will get a little kooky (not to be confused with Kiki, pronounced KYE-KYE).

Giants pitcher Freddie Fitzsimmons took that one run lead into the bottom of the ninth and got two outs, sandwiched around a hit by Frank Demaree. Woody English then singled Demaree to third, bringing Cuyler to the plate with the tying run 90 feet from scoring, but one out from defeat.

Cuyler came through with a game-tying single. For those curious, the Cubs’ win probability went from 20 to 61 percent. It dropped back to 50 after they failed to score another run in the home ninth. It was on to extra innings.

The top of the 10th was one wacky half inning. Cubs pitcher Guy Bush hit two batters and wild pitched in a run. The Giants scored four runs and could have had more but for Terry getting thrown out attempting to go to second on his single, and Hughie Critz being thrown out at home plate trying to score on Ott’s fly to left. But even though the Giants led by four runs, the top of the 10th had NOTHING on the bottom of the 10th.

Billy Jurges led off the bottom of the 10th for the Cubs against reliever Sam Gibson. By the way the game had gone, that meant he was hitting for Taylor. Jurges grounded out to third base and Gudat popped to third. Up came Mark Koenig, best known as the shortstop on the 1927 Yankees. He made like a member of Murderer’s Row and kept the game alive with a home run. This brought up pitcher Leroy Herrmann, who relieved Bush.

Except that it didn’t. For some reason unbeknownst to anyone, Taylor came to bat (the Baseball-Reference box score lists him in 2 spots!) And somehow, Terry, the Giants manager, didn’t notice. The Chicago Tribune devoted an entire article to this, sans quotes (funny that below an article largely about umps and rules was a story about a pro roller skater named Joe West!)

Taylor’s single extended the game a little longer. Singles by Herman and English followed, and suddenly the Cubs had their man Cuyler up, down by two runs with two on and two outs in the 10th.

And Cuyler came through! His three-run home run won the game for the Cubs. It upped the Cubs chance of winning from 9 percent to 100 percent. Cuyler tormented the Giants all season, driving in 25 runs in 21 games. There are a few postscripts from this game. One is that Gibson and Cuyler would meet again in the 11th inning on September 15 and Cuyler would hit a game-winning home run. It was the next-to-last game of Gibson’s career.

Edward Burns wrote the game story in the Tribune, and I’ll close with his open. He described it as “as ferocious a rampage as baseball fans ever beheld” and noted that Cuyler was mobbed by fans after the game. “He was rescued by ushers with some difficulty.”

Celebrating Ernie Banks’ Hall of Fame walk-offs

It’s a beautiful day for a ball game. Let’s play two.

If we’re going to talk Ernie Banks and walk-offs, we have to talk about two of them. And the best pair I’ve got is that he hit two walk-off home runs against Hall-of-Fame pitchers.

The first came on August 18 1960 against the Dodgers. The Dodgers finished fourth in the NL. The Cubs finished seventh, so this game wasn’t particularly consequential. However, it was a pretty good game.

It was a pitcher’s duel between Don Drysdale of the Dodgers and Glen Hobbie of the Cubs. Give Hobbie, who led the NL with 20 losses that season, credit for going toe-to-toe with Drysdale for just under two hours. The Dodgers had a few scoring chances, but three of them were killed by double plays.

The score was even until the bottom of the ninth. Right fielder Bob Will led off for the Cubs with a wicked line drive. Edward Prell of the Chicago Tribune described it as hitting Drysdale’s hand and head before caroming right to first baseman Norm Larker, who caught it on the fly for the out.

Banks was up next. Drysdale was not injured, but perhaps dazed. And Banks ended his day with a walk-off home run on Drysdale’s first pitch.

The other came on September 4, 1967 and we’re glad to report it was on a day in which Banks played two. This was part of a crazy stretch in which the Cubs (and Banks) played four doubleheaders in four days at Wrigley Field. This one was another pitcher’s duel – Rich Nye of the Cubs against Claude Osteen of the Dodgers. The teams were even at one run apiece through nine innings because Lou Johnson hit a game-tying home run off Nye with two outs in the ninth (the end was Nye jokes go here).

By the 11th inning Nye was out and Osteen and Ron Perranoski had been relieved by Don Sutton. The Cubs were in need of an ending and Banks provided it, hitting a home run on a 2-2 pitch to win the game.

Minutiae

– Banks only hit four walk-off home runs in his career. Those two are half of them.

– Banks twice played in doubleheaders in which the Cubs won both games by walk-off. One was in 1958. The other was in 1968. The 1958 one is cool because the game was won by Walt Moryn’s two-run home run off Sandy Koufax. Banks was on base when the home run was hit. It was Moryn’s third home run of the game.

Remember when Alex Gonzalez was Mr. Walk-Off?

The <em>Effectively Wild</em> podcast did a Secret Santa this winter and having never participated in one, I signed up. The person who got me did their homework, for which I’m greatly appreciative. They got me something that I, a self-declared walk-off aficionado greatly appreciated — a signed photo from former Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

Those familiar with Gonzalez know him as a) a guy who played at a time when there were two Alex Gonzalez’s playing shortstop and b) the guy who made the oft-overlooked but still very important error during the Marlins comeback against the Cubs in the Bartman game – Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.

What is forgotten as a result of both the former and latter is this: Within the span of one calendar year and four days, the Cubs’ Alex Gonzalez hit five walk-off home runs.

Five walk-off home runs in one year is a LOT. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, hit 512 home runs, but hit only four walk-off home runs  in his entire <em>career.</em>. Also odd – Gonzalez played 331 games for the Cubs. He played 1,065 for other teams (Blue Jays, Expos, Padres, Rays, and Phillies). He didn’t hit a walk-off home run for anybody else.  All five came before Gonzalez’s big error <em>and</em> before the other Alex Gonzalez hit a walk-off home run in the 2003 World Series for the Marlins against the Yankees.

The impact of the home runs was a bit different depending on when they were hit. Gonzalez the Cub hit three in 2002 for the 67-95 team that finished last in the NL Central. The other two came in 2003 for the Cubs team that won the division title.

Cubs fans can appreciate that the bookend walk-offs were home runs to beat the Cardinals, the first on May 6, 2003 against Mike Timlin and the second on May 10, 2003 against Cal Eldred.

Give Gonzalez credit for consistency. After the first one, he said “I wasn’t thinking about a home run at all.”

And after the last one, he said “I’m not going up there trying to hit home runs.”

Perhaps those are the keys to hitting one. If anyone should know, it’s him.