Milner Rains on Rainey's Parade

By Chris Rewers on Thursday, August 26, 2010

"C'mon Chris, give it up!" has been the constant refrain of family members and friends in recent weeks.

So many people don't seem to understand why anyone in his right mind would take the time to watch a Cubs game as this wretchedly awful season winds down.

But even if hopes of a division title evaporated many weeks ago, there remain reasons to watch and reasons to care. To wit:

* The Cubs, particularly in recent weeks, have games against contenders. Their ability to beat the Cardinals - and their inability to beat the Reds, Braves, Padres, and Giants has had quite a bearing on the National League's divisional races.

* A chance to evaluate interim manager Mike Quade and the Cubs' many young players.

In The Game is Never Over (Icarus Press, 1980), Jim Langford wrote about Bert Wilson, the radio voice of the Cubs in the 1940s and 50s, telling his listners, "The game is never over until the last man is out."

It didn't matter that the Cubs were trailing 16-0 with two outs in the ninth. They still had a chance.

The same is true in a larger sense. There may be no hope left this year, but next year has already begun.

* Cheering for individual achievement. It's a privilege watching a pros pro like Ryan Dempster soldier on through the shambles that are all around him.

* The opportunity to witness a milestone or see something I've never seen before. Every game contains a seed of greatness.

Those were some of the same reasons why I turned the TV on a plopped down on the couch with my father to watch the Cubs host the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 1983 - a beautiful, sunny day on my final week of summer vacation before starting eighth grade. To many, it probably seemed like a meaningless game between fifth- and sixth-place teams. But it turned out to be a riveting game that I remember fondly over 27 years later.

School was about to start, the Cubs were lousy, and worst of all the first-place White Sox were nine games in front and running away with the AL West. I was surrounded by Sox fans in my Southwest Side neighborhood. The South Side team's success was emboldening those Sox fans to kick a poor Cubs fan when he was down. I was depressed.

I had endured 100-degree temperatures five days earlier to see the Cubs lose to the Atlanta Braves, 5-3, at Wrigley Field. Rookie Gerald Perry hit his first major league homer, doubled, and drove in three runs for the Braves and manager Lee Elia admitted that he and his coaching staff knew nothing about Perry. Elia, who earlier in the season was the source of the most famous rant against fans in franchise history, was fired on Aug.21. The Cubs had been just two games out of first as recently as July 4 but proceded to lose 30 of Elia's 46 games as skipper.

Charlie Fox, an adviser to general manager Dallas Green, was named the interim manager and grabbed the reins of a 54-69 team as the Cubs opened a three-game series against the last-place Reds on Aug. 22.

In Fox's debut, Carmelo Martinez homered in his first major league game and starter Dickie Noles and reliever Lee Smith (with a three-inning save) combined on a five-hitter in the Cubs' 2-0 victory.

The Reds rebounded in the second game of the series as rookie Jeff Russell (the father of current Cubs rookie hurler James Russell) pitched seven strong innings and hit a two-run homer off Fergie Jenkins in Cincinnati's 4-2 victory.

There was no prior indication that Cubs starting pitcher Chuck Rainey would nearly make history on Aug. 24. Rainey, who had been acquired from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Doug Bird the previous offseason, was 12-10. The 29-year-old right-hander had lost his previous two starts, and had failed to make it through six innings in four of his previous five outings.

With just 17,955 fans on hand, Rainey set down the first 18 batters he faced before surrendering a leadoff walk to Eddie Milner in the seventh inning. Milner stole second but Rainey set down Duane Walker on an infield popout, Dave Concepcion on a groundout to shortstop Larry Bowa, and Dan Driessen on a flyout tom left fielder Thad Bosley.

The Cubs took the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Leon Durham blasted a leadoff triple into the right-center gap off Cincinnati starter Mario Soto and Keith Moreland broke a scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly. They added two more runs in the seventh when Mel Hall lined a two-out, two-run double to the left-field corner.

Johnny Bench, making the final Wrigley Field plate appearance of his career, walked to lead off the eighth. But Ron Oester hit into a fielder's choice and Paul Householder rolled into a Ryne Sandberg-to Bowa-to Durham double play. Three outs to go!

I had never witnessed a no-hitter before and never even saw a pitcher take one to the ninth. This was exciting stuff.

Pinch hitter Tom Foley stepped to the plate to lead off the ninth.

"Get on the phone," Harry Caray instructed TV viewers. "Call everybody. Tell them to turn the TV on!"

Foley tapped a roller to the left of second base that Bowa flawlessly fielded and threw to first baseman Durham. One out!

Up stepped another pinch hitter, Alan Knicely. Knicely hit a smash to the mound that Rainey blocked with his body and deflected to his right. He located the ball, bent over, picked it up, and threw out Knicely by a step. Two out!

The next batter was Milner and he promptly lined Rainey's first pitch into shallow center for a single.

"Ohhhhhhh!" Caray moaned. "How close can you come?"

I was still dealing with the disappointment when the next batter, Walker, popped out to Bowa in shallow left.

The thrills that day brought me paled in comparison to the excitement of the Cubs' division championship season in 1984, but for a little over two hours, Rainey made me forget all of my worries.

Meaningless game? Hardly.

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