Ryne Sandberg

Friday marks anniversary of the ‘Sandberg Game' ahead of historic Cubs-Cardinals series

NBC Universal, Inc.

Just ahead of what is shaping up to be a riveting and unique weekend for baseball in London as the Cubs prepare to take on the St. Louis Cardinals, Cubs fans can use the unusual Friday off-day to look back on one of the more exciting moments in franchise history.

It was 39 years ago today when the Cubs took center stage against these same Cardinals in a nationally-televised game on NBC as the "Game of the Week."

It had been 39 years since the Cubs had seen the postseason at that point, with October baseball having been absent from the North Side since the Cubs fell to the Detroit Tigers in the 1945 World Series.

The upstart Cubs entered the fateful Saturday afternoon with a 36-31 record, 3.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the National League East, but still trailed the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies in the division while just 1.5 games outside of first place.

After the Cards and Cubs exchanged runs in the first inning, with a Ryne Sandberg RBI single delivering the run for the Cubs, St. Louis exploded for a six-spot in the second inning.

The offensive outburst for St. Louis was anchored by a three-run triple by Cardinals icon Willie McGee, giving the Redbirds a 7-1 advantage after just an inning and a half.

While a Ryne Sandberg RBI groundout and Gary Matthews RBI double brought the Cubs back within four runs in the fifth inning, Willie McGee responded with a two-run shot in the top half of the sixth to bring the Cardinals lead back to six runs.

It was in the bottom of the sixth inning where fans and broadcasters alike began to sense that something special was unfolding at the Friendly Confines.

The North Siders staged a one-out rally in their half of the frame, with a RBI pinch-hit single from Richie Hebner opening the floodgates for the Cubs offense.

Cubs leadoff hitter Bob Dernier then slugged a two-run double, bringing the Cubs back within three runs and reigniting the Wrigley Field crowd and a national audience on a picture-perfect summer day.

The Cubs' 24-year-old second baseman was due up next, having already driven in two of the team's six runs on the afternoon.

Sandberg deposited a base hit with runners on second and third base, bringing the Cubs back within one run before getting thrown out trying to stretch the knock into a double.

Sandberg's offensive explosion was far from typical. In his third full season at the big league level, the infielder quickly developed a reputation as a stellar defender with tremendous speed, but had posted below-average offensive numbers and struggled to get on base at a reliable clip.

1984 was already figuring to be a breakout season for Sandberg, who entered the contest hitting .321, far better than the .271 average he posted in 1982 that stood as his career-high.

Now trailing just 9-8, the Cubs' pitching staff was tasked with holding the Redbirds at bay, hoping to give their offense, particularly the red-hot Ryno, a chance to bring the Cubs all the way back from two six-run deficits.

Taking the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning for St. Louis was none other than former Cubs closer and Cy Young Award winner Bruce Sutter, who promptly blew away Larry Bowa, Richie Hebner and Bob Dernier in order to retain the Cardinals' one-run lead entering the ninth inning.

After Cubs' set-up man George Frazier pitched around a single and an intentional walk, the Cubs were presented one final opportunity in front of the national audience.

Sandberg fatefully led off the inning, just after NBC had already declared Cardinals' star Willie McGee, who had driven in five runs to that point, as the "Player of the Game."

Stepping in against Sutter, who was out for his second inning of work, Sandberg launched a ball deep into the left-center field bleachers, tying the game and leaving a stunned crowd, television audience and broadcast booth in awe.

Despite the drama of the ninth, St. Louis responded against future Hall of Famer Lee Smith in the 10th inning.

Following an Ozzie Smith leadoff single and stolen base, it was fittingly McGee who ripped a double, completing the cycle while restoring the lead for the Cardinals.

Two groundouts following the McGee double brought in another Cardinals run, giving St. Louis an 11-9 lead that seemed to wrap up what would have felt like a teasing, heartbreaking loss for the Cubs.

Sutter returned to the mound for his third inning in the bottom of the 10th, and quickly sent down both Larry Bowa and Richie Hebner on back-to-back groundouts.

After losing leadoff hitter Bob Dernier on a walk, Sutter was then faced with the task of having to retire Sandberg to close out a hectic victory.

Working Ryno into a 1-1 count, Sutter left a hanging slider over the plate that was absolutely obliterated, shocking the NBC broadcast booth of Bob Costas and Tony Kubek as the Cubs had once again, tied the game.

Despite relinquishing two runs in the top of the 10th, Lee Smith went back to the bump for the top of the 11th, retiring the first two hitters of the inning before walking third baseman Andy Van Slyke and allowing a stolen base.

With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Smith got pinch-hitter Mike Ramsey to hit into a groundout, giving the Cubs a chance to win the game in the bottom half of the frame.

After first baseman Leon Durham was issued a free pass from St. Louis lefty Dave Rucker, right-handed reliever Jeff Lahti took the mound.

Durham promptly stole second base with Keith Moreland at the plate, and advanced to third thanks to an errant throw.

Moreland was then intentionally walked, with Jody Davis also being intentionally walked afterwards as the Cardinals hoped to orchestrate a double play ball.

Pinch-hitter Dave Owen, who played just 92 MLB games, drove in Leon Durham with a walk-off single, closing out a 12-11 win for the Cubs in 11 innings in a game that continues to live on in Cubs lore.

Perhaps what has cemented this June 1984 game's legacy the most is the season and career that Sandberg followed his 5-for-6, seven-RBI performance with.

Sandberg went on to be the cornerstone of the Cubs' first playoff team in nearly four decades, winning the NL MVP with 19 HR, 84 RBI and 32 stolen bases while slashing .314/.367/.520.

Sandberg led the majors with 19 triples and was the NL runs champion, scoring 114 times. The Cubs finished the season 96-65 and took a 2-0 lead over the San Diego Padres in the then-best-of-five National League Championship Series before losing three consecutive games to drop the series.

Contact Us