This story has 10 updates
* With their victory last night, the Pirates are off to their best start in the last 11 seasons (and tied for the team’s best in the last 25 seasons) at 5-2.
* Jason Hammel made his return to the National League a triumphant one with a win over the Pirates last Thursday – a team he has had great success against since 2010 when he was with the Rockies (3-0 in 3 starts with a 2.39 ERA).
*Emilio Bonifacio’s 17 hits in the first 7 games are a team record going back to 1914.
*With a double last night, Starling Marte now has at least one hit in nine straight games vs. the Cubs at Wrigley.
After Opening Day in 1969, there was no doubt that it was going to be the Cubs’ year. They had posted back-to-back winning seasons in 1967 and 1968 and were poised for a breakthrough as they took the field against Philadelphia on April 8 to open the season. What followed that day set the stage for a Wrigley Field summer of love like no other.
The love-in started for Ernie Banks when he received a standing ovation during the pregame introductions. Banks then celebrated his 17th Cubs Opening Day with a home run in the first followed by his second standing O of the day. The crowd rose again for Banks as he came to the plate in the fourth, then stayed on its feet after Banks launched another homer. By the day’s end, the Tribune’s George Langford counted nine standing ovations for Mr. Cub to go with his two home runs.
On the strength of Banks’ heroics, the Cubs held a 5-2 lead going into the 9th inning. However, rookie Don Money’s second home run of the game (and second of his career) wiped that out and chased starting pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as the first game of the year went into extra innings.
The Phillies broke through in the top of the 11th as Money, who had five RBIs on the day, drove in a run against Cub reliever Phil Regan and it appeared that the Cubs might have let one slip away. In the bottom half of the inning, Randy Hundley picked up a one-out single off another Phillies rookie, reliever Barry Lersch, to keep hope alive at Wrigley.
Enter Willie Smith. The Cubs backup outfielder and right-handed pinch- hitter went to the plate so jacked up that he got a stitch in his side after a vicious warm-up swing. Smith winced a bit, then laced a 1-0 pitch from Lersch into the right field bleachers to set off the first of many post-game celebrations at Wrigley Field that season. As Willie was joyously rounding the bases, a familiar voice was hitting a new octave overhead where Jack Brickhouse was nearly falling out of the booth. His call was one of his finest, sheer exultation on the Cubs’ dramatic win.
“Well-hit, deep to right. Back…..back….back, It’s all over!!!! Willie Smith just homered!! The Cubs win the game!!”
Hundley was relieved the ball carried out. “I can still see that ball going over my head at first base,” he said. “It was kind of like a knuckleball. It didn’t have a lot of spin on it and I didn’t know if it was going to carry enough to get out, so immediately I’m hauling fanny to try and score from first base if the ball was off the wall. Luckily he got the ball out of the ballpark and what a thrill!”
A mob of twenty-four teammates and several fans met Smith at the plate. He managed to fight his way in to step on the plate and for his efforts, one of the Cubs accidentally spiked Willie’s right big toe.
Billy Williams would win the game on Opening Day 1971 with a 10th inning home run of his own, but he still maintains 1969 was his favorite opener. “I don’t think Leo or Mr. Wrigley or anybody on the ball club realized what was going to happen that particular year. It just started when Willie Smith hit that home run on Opening Day and I think things just took off from there. I can still see him now, he was running around the bases proud as a peacock. All of a sudden we won that game and from then on, it was a beautiful summer.”
For Glenn Beckert, Smith’s blast couldn’t have come at a better time. “I was in the dugout trying to keep warm and I wanted to give Willie a big kiss for doing it, because I was freezing. That was a big ballgame. To get a win on Opening Day you could just see the momentum starting.”
The home run jump started the Cubs in a big way. “Being down and hitting that home run in the 10th inning was unbelievable,” said Ron Santo. “It just inspired us and then we went on to win, I think we were 11-1 to start the season. I think we all knew this was our year.”
Excerpted from “Cubs Forever” – Triumph Books.
* The Pirates took two of the three games from the Cubs in their season-opening series last week. Pittsburgh improved to 14-8 versus Chicago since the beginning of 2013.
* With the exception of a 12-run explosion against the Cardinals on Friday, the Pirates have totaled just 10 runs in their other five games combined. Pittsburgh has been limited to six hits or fewer in four of the six games overall.
* Similarly, the Cubs matched their previous output through their first five games by hanging eight runs on the scoreboard Sunday. It was just the fifth time in the past 100 years (since 1914) that Chicago scored at least eight runs despite being limited to six hits or fewer.
* After permitting no runs in 6.0 innings against the Cubs last week, Charlie Morton has surrendered just seven hits, two walks and no runs over 13.0 innings in his last two starts versus Chicago. He’s also allowed just one home run in 14 starts overall dating back to last July 27.
* Edwin Jackson has allowed exactly one earned run in each of his last three starts against the Pirates. He’s gone 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a .169 average allowed over the three outings.
* Emilio Bonifacio is still batting .500 after going 3-for-9 over his last two games. His 14 hits are the most by any Cub through six team games since Randy Jackson (16) in 1954.
Interleague play in Chicago in 1994 was still a thing of the future save for a yearly Crosstown Classic exhibition between the Cubs and White Sox. The real novelty on April 7, 1994 wasn’t seeing the town’s two teams hook up, it was seeing basketball’s greatest player standing in Wrigley’s right field wearing a Chicago White Sox road uniform.
Michael Jordan surprised the nation by retiring from baseball just five months before and had opted to chase his childhood dream of becoming a major league baseball player. Sox/Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf game him the chance and after spring training, Jordan was ticketed for AA Birmingham, but first, there was the chance to taste the big leagues by playing in the Crosstown exhibition.
An exuberant Harry Caray talked to MJ for the WGN “Lead-off Man” show and asked him if he had any doubts. “It really gives credibility to baseball as a whole, said Jordan. “A lot of people view me as a decent athlete, yet I’m trying to come out here and I found out that these professionals are athletes and it takes a really good talent, an exceptionally talented player to come out and do this. I’m really having a good time trying. Hopefully I can get better at it. If I don’t succeed, at least I learned a lot about the game and I can watch it with better interest.”
Jordan made the most of his day at the park, getting two hits, including an RBI double that bounced just inside third base, delighting a crowd of more than 38,000 fans. He spent one season in the Sox minor league system at Birmingham. MJ may not have made his big league dream come true, but his minor league manager did in a big way. Terry Francona went on to multiple big league managing jobs and won two World Series with the Red Sox.
- Bob Vorwald
On April 6, 1971, fans attending a chilly Wrigley Field Opening Day were treated to a true Hall of Fame exhibition. For nine innings, the Cardinals Bob Gibson matched Fergie Jenkins allowing only one run through regulation play. Fergie allowed only three hits all day and set the Cards down in order in the 10th. After a Glenn Beckert ground-out, Billy Williams let loose with one of the sweetest swings of his career, driving a Gibson pitch into the right-centerfield bleachers and sending the crowd into delirium.
For Billy, it was a moment he never gets tired of talking about. “We were playing the Cardinals on Opening Day and two guys who were always real competitors, Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins, got into a duel out here. It was like those guys were really working. They didn’t throw too many pitches and even though we went to 10 innings, the game barely lasted two hours. It was cold out there and the temperature started to drop. Bob Gibson threw me a slider inside and I made good contact with it. I didn’t know the ball was going out of the ballpark. I was running down to first base saying ‘get up, get up, get up!’ This is what you say when you hit a ball. The ball went into the stands and we won it. That was some kind of exciting.”
What a game – what a moment. Time of game – one hour and 58 minutes.
41 years ago today was a triumphant Opening Day on the North Side with a special twist. The Cubs man of the hour that day was none other than later-to-be-nemesis-as-Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who scored the winning run on what was truly a walk-off win.
Tony laughed when he told me the story last year. “To me it’s a great example of what a lousy career I had. One of my highlights is that I scored the winning run for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day in my last major league appearance. That’s the kind of thing they make movies about except that highlight takes about two minutes and then what do you do for the other? I pinch-ran for Ron Santo, I didn’t get on base myself.”
To fill in a few details, a crowd of 40,273 packed Wrigley Field for Opening Day on Friday, April 6, 1973 and those that braved the chilly weather were treated to a comeback win. The Cubs trailed 2-1 going into the 9th. Neither team had scored since the first inning, but Joe Pepitone got the Cubs started in the 9th with a leadoff single. Montreal manager Gene Mauch went to a five-man infield only to see second baseman Ron Hunt make an error on a Ron Santo ground ball. Enter our hero for the day as LaRussa, who had made the club as a utility infielder, came in to run for Santo. Glenn Beckert walked to load the bases and Mauch summoned Mike Marshall from the bullpen to try and escape the jam. Marshall promptly walked Randy Hundley to force in a run and tie the game at 2, sending LaRussa to third base. Don Kessinger flied out, Jim Hickman struck out, but Rick Monday coaxed a walk and Tony trotted home with the winning run.
LaRussa remembers the day with a sense of humor. “I can remember it was really cold,” he said. “It was the bottom of the 9th and I would have had to play third base without warming up and my arm was always hurting. The whole time I’m on base I’m thinking ‘oh man if I don’t score, how am I going to get loose?’ I can’t get the ball to first base. So it got down to third base with two outs and Marshall is facing Rick Monday. I think the fans were happy when Monday walked. I was ecstatic because I didn’t have to get this ugly arm thrown’.”
So there you have it Cub fans – one reason to cheer Tony LaRussa. That’s him scoring the winning run below. For the record, it was his only appearance for the Cubs and his last appearance in the majors.
*The Cubs are tied for the fewest runs in the majors with 8 runs in 5 games.
*Through 5 games, Cub starting pitchers have combined for a 1.95 ERA, 5th best in baseball.
*Cub reliever Hector Rondon has an 11.0 inning scoreless streak that dates back to September 3 of last year.
*Through 5 games, Emilio Bonifacio is second in the NL with a .542 batting average.
*Chicago has a .294 batting average with none on and none out, 194 points higher than its .100 BA (4-for-40) with runners in scoring position.