On April 15, 1976 the Cubs hosted the Mets at Wrigley Field. That game would end with 17 runs allowed, just one of a crazy week of games at the ballpark in Chicago’s North Side.
This week’s entry is unusual for a few reasons. For one, I will be cheating a bit, and reaching back to April 14, which actually falls in last week. That is necessary because I am doing not one event, but rather a series of events (games, in this case) that took place over the course of the week. Finally, this week’s entry is unusual in that the idea for the entry did not come from me, but rather from Chris Jaffe, a longtime reader.
Getting first to our “cheating” game, we come to April 14. The Mets were in town. They still featured their Miracle aces, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman (the latter would win 21 games and finish second in the Cy Young race), but the true star on this day was Dave Kingman.
In his second season in New York after arriving from the Giants, Kong was in the midst of a season that still ranks ninth all-time in single season Mets homers. (He came to the plate just over 2,500 times for the Mets, but is still their fourth leading home run hitter.)
In the sixth, with the Mets holding a 3-2 lead, Kingman came to the plate with Wayne Garrett on first. Cubs pitcher Tom Dettore, newly in the game, delivered an apparent meatball and Kingman absolutely unloaded. No one knows exactly how far the home run went, but it is generally estimated at 530-550 feet.
The ball easily cleared the Friendly Confines; legend has it that had Kingman’s ball traveled just a bit farther it would have crashed through the apartment window of a woman watching the game on television. The Cubs shook off Kingman’s blast, however, and rallied to take the game, 6-5.
The next day, evidently frustrated by his team’s inability to capitalize on one monster home run, Kingman—a practical sort, apparently—took the distance of one mighty blast and divided it into two home runs. The first came in the second inning and gave the New Yorkers a two-run lead. That evaporated and the Mets found themselves down 8-7 entering the ninth. With one out, two runners were on and Kingman came to the plate. Kingman chose this moment to hit his second home run of the game, hanging the eventual Cubs loss on Dettore, whom Kingman treated like batting practice.
The Cubs had the 16th off, but on the 17th the Phillies arrived. This game is one of the most famous in the history of Wrigley Field, arguably the most famous non-playoff game. Those fans tuning into the game after three innings would never have thought so, as the Cubs jumped to a 12-1 lead on the strength of a seven-run second and five-run third. Incredibly, the pitcher the Cubs so battered in the early innings was Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, whose seven runs in an inning and a third managed to raise his year-end ERA by nearly a quarter of a run.
The Cubs had an 11-run lead, but the Phillies began to chip away. They scored a run in the fourth, but the Cubs got that back, giving them a 13-2 lead entering the fifth. At this point, the wheels came completely off. The Phillies scored two in the fifth, none in the sixth and then three, five and three in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Incredibly, the Cubs found themselves losing by a pair of runs, 15-13, entering their half of the ninth. Not willing to admit defeat so easily, they rallied for two off Tug McGraw, sending the game to the 10th.
In the 10th, Dick Allen took a leadoff walk, bringing up Mike Schmidt. He was having a great day, going 4-for-5 with three home runs, six RBIs and three runs scored. Surely, the Cubs must have thought, he’s due to make an out. As it turned out, Schmidt was not yet due. He crushed his fourth home run of the day, giving the Phils a two-run lead, and they tacked on an insurance run.
But the Cubs began to mount a rally of their own and would send the tying run to the plate in the form of Jerry Morales. Morales was unable to play hero and the Cubs lost, twice setting the record for the largest blown lead in NL history.
After the madness of that, the next game could barely hope to compare, and indeed fell short as the two teams combined for “just” 13 runs, with the Cubs on the losing end of an 8-5 score. Things appeared to be settling down even more as the Cubs dropped a routine 4-3 game to the Expos on the 19th. The Cubs had the 20th off and just one more game to get through before completing their wacky week.
Perhaps well-rested from the days off and inspired by the feats of scoring from the days before, the Expos got off to a roaring start with a 6-2 lead after three innings. The ‘Spos would continue to pile on the (by now almost surely demoralized) Cubs pitching staff, having an 11-3 lead after six innings. The only thing that had managed to stop the Expos’ offense throughout the game was the Chicago rain, which had accounted for various delays totaling nearly two hours.
All those delays, combined with the Expos’ offensive explosion, meant that darkness was beginning to fall on Wrigley. This being those days before the injection of modern technology into the old ballpark, that meant the game had to be suspended. It resumed the next day and the Expos held on to a 12-6 victory in the only darkness-delayed game of the 1976 season.
Counting the bookends of the 14th and 22nd, the Cubs played six games in this week. They went 1-5 over those six games, allowed one of the longest home runs in park history, recorded the largest blown lead in National League history (twice!) and had to complete the only darkness-suspended game of the entire season. I think it is safe to say the Cubs (and their fans) were not sorry to see this week go.