The Game Is Never Over

By Chris Rewers on Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Cubs were in first place entering play on Aug. 29, 1989, but I was feeling uneasy.

With 31 games to play, the Cubs led St. Louis by 2.5 games, Montreal by three, and New York by 3.5 games. The Cubs had lost seven of their previous 10 games while the Cardinals had won 11 of their last 15. The Cards were making a move and we were hearing footsteps.

Mike Bielecki started for the Cubs that afternoon and was seeking his 15th victory of the season, but the 30-year-old right-hander struggled with his control from the outset and lasted just four-plus innings. Bielecki allowed six runs on three hits and five walks.

With the Cubs trailing 4-0, Bielecki was removed after walking Bill Doran and Kevin Bass to start the fifth. Don Zimmer called upon rookie right-hander Dean Wilkins, but he walked two more and gave up a grand slam to Rafael Ramirez that capped a five-run inning and gave Houston a 9-0 lead.

It was around this time that I arrived back to my dorm room after a two o'clock class at St. Ambrose University. I turned the game on, reacted with dismay after seeing the score, laid down on the couch and promptly fell asleep. Apparently, I was exhausted after just two days of class.

As I snoozed, the Cubs finally got on the board with a pair of runs in the sixth inning. Mark Grace scored from second on a throwing error by Houston pitcher Mark Portugal and Domingo Ramos added an RBI single. The Cubs trailed 9-2.

But Zimmer apparently was not a believer. As the Cubs took the field in the top of the seventh, Dwight Smith jogged out to right field in place of Andre Dawson.

The Cubs tacked on three more in the bottom of the seventh. Lloyd McClendon hit a two-run homer to knock out Portugal and Smith's RBI single off reliever Brian Meyer made it 9-5.

As Joe Girardi led off the bottom of the eighth with a single, I began to perk up. I sat up when Jerome Walton reached on a one-out error. Ryne Sandberg singled in Girardi to make it 9-6. Things were beginning to get interesting, and with the tying stepping to the plate, Houston manager Art Howe replaced Meyer with Danny Darwin. Back-to-back singles by McClendon and Grace pulled the Cubs within a run. I was now standing. And when Smith capped the four-run inning with a sacrifice fly to center, I was jumping for joy.

It was still tied in the bottom of the 10th when Walton coaxed a leadoff walk from Houston closer Dave Smith. Walton moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Sandberg and to third on a McClendon single. Grace was intentionally walked and Dwight Smith completed a comeback for the ages with a line-drive single to right.

Cubs win! Cubs win!

The Cubs scored 10 runs on 13 hits in the game's final five innings, but the monumental comeback was made possible by relievers Calvin Schiraldi, Scott Sanderson, Les Lancaster, and Paul Assenmacher who shut down the Astros on four hits over the final five innings.

It was a complete team effort with many heroes.

There was still much work that needed to be done before the Cubs would clinch the NL East title and there were still some stressful times ahead in September, but I remember that 10-9 victory over the Astros fondly. It was proof that, to borrow a phrase from author Jim Langford, the game is never over until the last man is out.

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