“It was one of those things where do you go for the extra point or the two-point conversion.? It was just an unbelievable game.” Ken Holtzman – Cubs pitcher
The notion of Wrigley Field as a hitters’ paradise doesn’t take into account that the wind actually blows in about 60-70% of the time. What sticks in the mind of baseball fans are the days when that wind is howling out and any pop fly up into the breeze has a chance to be a souvenir in the bleachers. Days like May 17, 1979, when the Cubs and Phillies hooked up in a 23-22 donnybrook at the Windy Confines.
A game time glance at the jet stream headed toward the bleachers served notice that the pitchers were in for a long day. “I remember going out that day and the wind was howling. It was howling!” said Larry Bowa, who was playing shortshop for the Phillies. “Any time you go to Wrigley Field, the first thing you do is look up at the flags, because if it’s blowing in, it’s gonna be real quick 3-2, 2-1, but if it’s blowing out you’ve got a chance of missing your dinner reservations downtown. I remember the flag was at attention just blowing straight out and I said, ‘this could be a long game.’”
Not for Cubs starter Dennis Lamp, who had been injured and expected to miss his start that day. Mike Krukow was set to take the ball for the Cubs, but Lamp said he felt good enough to go, a decision that didn’t exactly leave Krukow up in arms. “As soon as we come down Irving Park, take a right, come down Clark and check out the flags and it was like howling, Jack!” laughed Krukow. “I charted pitches that day. I had to go on the disabled list, because I had carpal tunnel syndrome or whatever they call it, but I had it. It was bad. 50 hits, the chart was like four pages. I went through three pens and I had the ink all over my uniform. It was unbelievable.”
The Phillies set the tone from the get-go, scoring a touchdown in the first inning off Lamp and Donnie Moore, capped by a home run from their starter Randy Lerch, who had a 7-0 lead to work with before he stepped to the mound. “This game is four days old and we haven’t even batted yet,” said Jack Brickhouse, emitting a rare gripe in the booth after watching the carnage in the first.
Lerch didn’t get a chance to hit again, because like his counterpart Lamp, he was showering in the first inning. Cub hitters wasted no time getting in their hacks against him, opening the game with four straight hits culminating in a Dave Kingman home run. Two more runs followed and at the end of one wild inning, the Phillies led by an extra point, 7-6.
Both starters had lasted only 1/3 of an inning and the fun was just beginning, especially for the Phils, who bashed about Moore and Willie Hernandez to go up 15-6 after three. With all the offense on both sides, anybody who wasn’t hitting homers got lost in the shuffle. “The thing I remember is that everybody was hitting home runs, but I got five hits that day!” said Bowa. “It was a big game for me.” Bowa and Pete Rose scored runs 20 and 21 in the top of the 5th and the Phillies extended the lead to 21-9.
At that point, the winds of change began to blow the Cubs way. After the Phils walked Ivan DeJesus to force in a run, momentum shifted to the Cub dugout. “Tug McGraw threw a 3-2 curveball, whoop, ball four and we score,” remembered Krukow. “I turned to Bruce Sutter and I said ‘we’re going to win this game’. We all felt we were. I’ll never forget that game.”
Bill Buckner, who had a huge day with four hits and seven RBI, continued McGraw’s woes when he drilled a grand slam to right. Two batters later, Jerry Martin followed with a two-run shot and the crowd was going crazy as the Cubs pulled within five. Buckner can still remember the offense coming to life. “I had 4 hits, 7 RBI and a grand slam and I didn’t even have our best game,” he said. “Kingman had three home runs!” After five innings, it was Phillies 21, Cubs 16.
In the sixth, two Cub RBI groundouts cut the lead to three, before Kingman unloaded again. His third homer of the day pulled the Cubs within 21-19, a titanic blast that carried over Waveland and landed three houses down Kenmore. The Phils added a run in the top of the 7th, but the Cubs weren’t finished. In the 8th, Buckner and Martin each drove in a run with a single. Barry Foote followed with another single that plated Steve Ontiveros and the Cubs comeback was complete at 22-22. Bobby Murcer had a chance to put the Cubs on top, but his roller to second left two men on and sent the teams to the 9th.
At this point, Brickhouse felt the need to inform the audience the unfathomable score on the screen was indeed correct. “If you’ve just gotten home and you are looking at your television set and you see the superimposition of the score, you are probably saying to yourself, I have to call the television repairman because of the ghosting on your screen, I see a two and a two and a two and a two. Ladies and gentleman, forget it. That happens to be the score.” After a day of offensive fireworks, the bats on both sides took a well- deserved breather and neither team scored in the last frame.
Both clubs were at the back of their bullpen and the Cubs looked to have the advantage with Bruce Sutter over Philadelphia’s struggling Rawly Eastwick as the game went to extra innings. Schmidt had started the scoring for the Phils with a homer in the first, and in the 10th, he added a bookend as he yanked a Sutter splitter that didn’t drop over the left field wall to put the Phillies on top. Maybe the biggest surprise of the day was that Schmidt had only two home runs, since he hit 50 in his career at Wrigley Field. “When people ask me about Wrigley, that one is right at the top of the list,” said Schmidt. “We got way ahead and then they came back and they tied it up, then we got ahead and they tied it up again and we ended up winning 23-22.”
Kingman had a chance to match Schmidt’s 1976 Wrigley feat of four homers in a game and send the contest to the 11th, but he struck out wildly for the second out. Steve Ontiveros followed with a weaker grounder to Schmidt to end it, making the final 23-22 Phillies and adding another ignominious notch on the Cub franchise belt. “I remember coming all the way back to tie it up,” Buckner said. “We had the best relief pitcher in baseball available and they had used everyone up. We thought we were going to win, but we ended up losing on that Schmidt home run. We lost, but it was quite a game. It was fun, but it was still a tough game.”
Included in the final stats were 24 hits and six homers for the Phillies who were also the beneficiaries of 12 Cub walks. The Cubs tallied 26 hits and five homers in the seemingly endless display of offense. “I think maybe that game is still going on” said WGN sports editor Jack Rosenberg, who saw the whole thing. “I may have to check.”