A Herculean Relief Effort

By Chris Rewers on Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It was great to see Scott Sanderson at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night as the guest conductor for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

The honor of guest conducting should be reserved for fans and for Cubs alumni. I'm interested in hearing what the likes of Sanderson, Keith Moreland, and Bob Dernier are up to these days and enjoy hearing their insights about today's Cubs and the game in general.

Sanderson, a former pitcher who is now a sports agent representing several current major league players, spent six of his 19 big league seasons with the Cubs.

He is one of three players (Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe are the others) who were members of the Cubs National League East championship teams in 1984 and '89. Unfortunately his tenure on the North Side was plagued by a long series of injuries, including a chronic back problem, and he posted an undistinguished 42-42 record.

The Sanderson performance that stands out in my memory occurred on Aug. 6, 1989 when he pitched eight innings of shutout relief in a losing effort against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I heard him interviewed by Pat Hughes and Ron Santo on the radio side in the sixth inning of Tuesday's game and by Len Kasper and Bob Brenly in the seventh, and was disappointed that his heroic effort was not mentioned.

Sanderson was thrust into a pressure-packed situation.

The Cubs entered the day tied for first with the Montreal Expos. A Domingo Ramos RBI double in the top of the ninth gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead. But reliever Calvin Schiraldi walked Pittsburgh's leadoff hitter, Mike LaValierre, in the bottom of the ninth which eventually led to the tying run scoring and forced extra innings.

The Cubs were in the middle of a stretch that saw them play 18 games in 17 days, and a three-game showdown series with Montreal was scheduled to begin the following day at Wrigley Field. Manager Don Zimmer had already depleted his bullpen, having used five pitchers, when he called on Sanderson to take the mound in the bottom of the 10th.

Even before he could get through the 10th, Sanderson endured a 45-minute rain delay. He pitched out of jams in the 10th and 14th, but was otherwise superb.

The Cubs' best scoring opportunity in extra innings was thwarted in the 16th when Mark Grace, attempting to tag up from third on a Shawon Dunston liner, was thrown out at the plate by Pittsburgh right fielder Scott Little.

Sanderson entered the bottom of the 18th having faced 30 batters. He had scattered six hits over eight shutout innings while walking two and striking out five. Unfortunately, his remarkable effort went for naught when he allowed a leadoff home run to Jeff King that ended the 5-hour, 42-minute affair.

Fortunately for the Cubs, Montreal also lost that day, falling to the New York Mets in 14 innings and keeping the first-place tie intact. The Cubs then swept the three-game series from the Expos - as starters Greg Maddux, Mike Bielecki, and Sutcliffe earned wins - and were atop the division to stay.

In terms of endurance, the only relief appearance in Cubs history that eclipses Sanderson's was turned in by Zip Zabel on June 17, 1915. Zabel set a major league record when he pitched the final 18 1/3 innings in the Cubs' 4-3 19-inning victory at Chicago's West Side Grounds. Zabel relieved Cubs starter Bert Humphries with two outs in the first.

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