The Cubs’ Ten Greatest Games
November 2, 2016: Cubs Win! Cubs Win!
It took 108 years—the longest gap between world titles in baseball history—for the Cubs to finally end the Billy Goat Curse as a riveting Game Seven against the Cleveland Indians, finalized after ten innings with the Cubs on top, 8-7, brought them to the long-sought promised land of championship glory.
A well-rounded, highly talented and still rather youthful team, the Cubs breezed through the regular season with 101 victories and spirited postseason triumphs over San Francisco and Los Angeles in the NLDS and NLCS, respectively. But they appeared to meet their match at the Fall Classic in the Indians, whose stellar relief pitching was bailing out a rotation thinned by injury. Down three games to one, the Cubs rebounded to win the next two contests, tie the series and carry newfound momentum into the decisive seventh game.
Cubs fans, starved for a title, weren’t content with watching the game on TV 350 miles away from Cleveland; they used third-party ticket sources to descend upon Progressive Field and make up anywhere from 30-50% of the 38,000-plus in attendance. And they were heard loud and often early on, from Dexter Fowler’s home run to lead off the game to the top of the fifth when they extended the lead to 5-1. A half-inning later, a wild pitch from Jon Lester—having just replaced Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks—brought in two runs and cut the lead to two, but 39-year-old greybeard catcher David Ross (playing his final game) muted the Indians’ revived vibe with a solo shot in the sixth to make it 6-3. The score held until the bottom of the eighth when Cleveland rallied to tie the game off exhausted closer Aroldis Chapman, whose energetic fastball had been sapped of power a day after what many considered a superfluous appearance in Game Six when the Cubs were well ahead.
After both teams came up empty in the ninth, a pocket of rain moved over Cleveland, bringing out the tarps for a 17-minute delay. The Cubs needed the break more than the Indians, and outfielder Jason Heyward took advantage by assembling his teammates under the stands for a players-only meeting and gave a rally cry worthy of Henry V at Agincourt. The tarps removed, the Cubs didn’t waste any time; they placed two men on base, and both scored on separate hits from Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero. The Indians desperately tried to respond in kind, but their tenth-inning rally fell a run short; as third baseman Kris Bryant charged Michael Martinez’s slow roller toward him with two outs, the smile on his face was authentic as could be, happy acknowledgment that his throw to first would end eons of lovable losing in Wrigleyville.
September 23, 1908: The Merkle Boner
One of baseball’s most legendary gaffes greatly benefited the Cubs and ultimately allowed them to advance toward their last World Series title to date. At New York’s Polo Grounds, the Cubs were trying to force overtime in the ninth against the Giants, who were threatening with runners at the corners and two outs. Al Birdwell next singled and knocked in what appeared to be the winning run—except that Fred Merkle, the runner on first, never advanced to second on the play. Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers, a glutton for the rulebook, noted this and shouted for the ball, which was lost within the criss-crossing pandemonium of players and celebrating fans. But he eventually retrieved “a” ball and tagged second base to technically force out Merkle and cancel out the run—too late for Merkle, who was desperately sought out by a handful of Giant teammates who had caught onto what was happening. Fortunately for Evers, umpire Hank O’Day witnessed the whole event and ruled Merkle out to void the run.
The ensuing controversy became daily headline fodder for the next few weeks; the New York press howled, the Giants protested, Christy Mathewson threatened never to pitch again, and even the Cubs were left unhappy after the game was officially ruled a tie on account of darkness, believing they should have been given a forfeit win because the on-field rush of Giant fans made continuing the game impossible. NL president Harry Pulliam ruled that the game would only be made up if the two teams finished the season tied. Two weeks after the Merkle Boner, they would be.
October 8, 1908: The Replay
In the wake of the Merkle Boner, the Cubs returned to the unfriendly confines of the Polo Grounds and New York ace Mathewson for the replay that would decide the NL pennant. Chicago starter Jack Pfiester, perhaps rattled by the raucous crowd, hit the first batter and showed little control, tipping off manager Frank Chance that a change was needed, and fast. To the rescue came the Cubs’ own ace, Three Finger Brown, who took over before the first inning was done and limited the damage to a single run. Unlike Pfiester, Brown—used exhaustively down the stretch—was in top form, and Mathewson, equally spent, ultimately showed that he was not; the Cubs ripped him for four runs in the fourth inning, a rally begun when Cy Seymour misjudged Joe Tinker’s liner which ended as a triple. The Giants’ best shot at Brown occurred in the seventh when they loaded the bases with nobody out—and could only settle for a run.
The Cubs endured no more threats from the Giants, but real danger awaited as soon as the final out was recorded; the hostile crowd turned mob-like, invading the field and attacking Cubs players with anything they had—including knives and sharp shards of bottled glass—and the team needed several layers of armed escorts to leave the ballpark and catch a train back to Chicago.
October 14, 2003: The Bartman Game
The Cubs were three runs up and five outs away from clinching their first National League pennant in 58 years and taking a big step toward exorcising the famed Billy Goat Curse; instead, the wild events that followed only gave it a more notorious life.
The Florida Marlins had a runner on and one out when Luis Castillo lofted a fly ball down the left-field line. Chicago outfielder Moises Alou ran over to the edge of the Wrigley Field stands and straightened up to make the catch—but it got swiped away from above by Cubs fan Steve Bartman, sitting in the front row. Because Bartman didn’t reach out over the wall, it was not considered interference and Castillo, taking advantage of a second life at the plate, walked. After an Ivan Rodriguez single, Miguel Cabrera hit a double play ball that resulted in no outs when Chicago shortstop Alex Gonzalez couldn’t handle the grounder. That error truly opened the floodgates; seven batters later, the inning finally ended with the Marlins turning a 3-0 deficit into an 8-3 lead they would not relinquish to force a seventh game—which they won over an emotionally deflated Cubs team.
Although Gonzalez’ error provided the true killer moment that ignited the Marlins rally, it was Bartman’s unfortunate contribution that Chicago fans focused on, turning him into an unwilling symbol for all that hexed the Cubs over a century of championship drought. So rankled was Cubs Nation after the series defeat, a local restaurant bought the ball muffed by Bartman (who remains a recluse) for over $100,000—and blew it up.
August 8, 1988: Let There Be Lights
For 40 years, Wrigley Field remained the only major league ballpark without lights; it nearly got lit up in the 1940s, but light standards literally ready to be raised were instead used as materials for the war effort. After years of tense negotiations with residents surrounding Wrigley, the Cubs finally put up the lights, switched on and played ball at night for the first time on a warm summer evening in Chicago. But look for a box score on this date and you likely won’t find it; the Cubs led Philadelphia, 3-1, in the fourth inning when a massive thunderstorm with heavy rain struck. The game was called and, because it was shy of the fifth inning, didn’t count. They tried it again a night later, and this time the skies stayed dry as the Cubs defeated the New York Mets, 6-4, in what is officially the first night game in Wrigley Field history.
September 28, 1938: Homer in the Gloamin’
Trailing first-Place Pittsburgh by 6.5 games at the start of September, the Cubs rallied and delivered the knockout blow that few were barely able to see thanks to descending darkness at unlit Wrigley Field. It was a seesaw affair much of the way, and after the Cubs scored two in the eighth to tie the game at 5-5, umpires decided to let the game continue despite the diminishing daylight, owing to the game’s importance to the pennant race. Charlie Root held the Bucs scoreless in the ninth, and it appeared that Pittsburgh reliever Mace Brown would do the same to the Cubs in the bottom half of the inning when, with two outs, Chicago catcher-manager Gabby Hartnett—who had taken over for a stressed-out Charlie Grimm midway through the season and ignited the Cubs’ second-half rally—lifted a deep fly that barely cleared the left-field wall; because it had become so dark, most players and fans didn’t know for sure it was a home run until the umpires confirmed it. The shot famously remembered as the Homer in the Gloamin’ left the Pirates demoralized in the regular season’s final week, and the Cubs captured the NL flag by two games.
May 2, 1917: The Double No-Hitter
Only one time in major league history has both starting pitchers dueled nine innings against one another without allowing a hit; it happened between the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn and Cincinnati’s Fred Toney before 3,500 at Wrigley Field (then known as Cubs Park) on what was described as a miserable day for baseball—something the hitters must have ultimately agreed with. Cy Williams accounted for the only two on-base opportunities for the Cubs, walking twice against Toney—who was otherwise perfect. Vaughn, meanwhile, walked two batters of his own and another Red reached via an error.
After no runs and no hits through nine innings, Vaughn finally succumbed in the tenth; Larry Kopf ended the no-hitter with a one-out single, and after he moved to third on an outfield error by Williams (a dropped fly which would have been the third out), Jim Thorpe—a baseball commoner nevertheless declared the greatest multi-sport athlete of the 20th Century's first 50 years—hit a dribbler down the third base line that Vaughn could have easily tagged Kopf, coming down the line, out with. But Vaughn instead chose to shovel the ball to catcher Art Wilson, and the toss bounced off his chest protector, scoring Kopf. Toney went to work in the bottom of the tenth and retired the Cubs’ side, completing his no-hit bid in ten innings.
September 27, 1935: Streakin’ to the Pennant
The Cubs clinched the NL pennant with a doubleheader sweep at defending NL champion St. Louis to extend their winning streak to 21 games—the second longest in major league history, and the longest pure streak ever (the 26-game run by the 1916 Giants included a tie along the way). Everything went Chicago’s way on this day against the Cardinals; in the first game, Bill Lee won his 20th game by easily outdueling Dizzy Dean, 6-2, as the Cubs racked up 15 hits and prevented Dean from winning his 29th game a year after reaching 30. In the nightcap, the Cubs overcame a 3-0 deficit by scoring three in the seventh and two in the ninth to notch their 100th victory of the season. The streak ended the next day as the Cubs, after another ninth-inning comeback, fell to the Cardinals in 11 innings, 7-5.
May 6, 1998: Striking Out His Age
Just as Roger Clemens came out of nowhere 12 years earlier when he became the first pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game, fellow Texan Kerry Wood—all 20 years of him—became the first player to match Clemens. Wood entered the game having made just four prior major league appearances—all starts, leading to a 5.89 ERA—and completely overwhelmed the Houston Astros, allowing just two baserunners: An infield hit by Ricky Gutierrez in the third inning, and a hit batsman to Craig Biggio in the sixth. Wood was so focused on trying to complete a tight contest—Houston pitcher Shane Reynolds did his best to stay close, allowing two runs, one earned, in eight innings—that he didn’t realize he had tied the record until told after the game by a reporter. Wood tied the mark on the last batter he faced, striking out Derek Bell with two outs in the ninth.
August 25, 1922: One of Those Days at Wrigley
Before mile-high Coors Field came along in Denver, the sure bet for a high-scoring game in the majors belonged to Wrigley Field—when the famous Chicago winds blew straight out to center field. There is no historical weather data we could find for the wildest game ever played at Wrigley, but chances are a healthy jet stream was in effect that day when the Cubs outlasted the Phillies, 26-23, setting a major league record for the most runs (49) notched in one game; the 51 combined hits clinched another mark for a nine-inning affair. The Cubs scored ten runs in the second and 14 more in the fourth, making it the only time a team has gone double-digits in an inning twice during one game.
With the Cubs ahead 25-6 after just four innings, the rout was on—but not for long. The Phillies, down 26-9 after seven, rallied for eight runs in the eighth and another six in the ninth; they left the bases loaded and the go-ahead run at the plate as Chicago pitcher Tiny Osborne picked up the save and preserved the win. The game featured 12 doubles, two triples, only three home runs, 21 walks and nine errors (leading to 19 unearned runs); Cubs leadoff batter Cliff Heathcote reached base all seven times he came to bat, with five hits and two walks.
Chicago Cubs Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Cubs, decade by decade.
The Cubs' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Cubs' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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