1989: Dawson's Dash

By Chris Rewers on Friday, September 24, 2010

The Cubs entered September of 1989 in first place, but I was still feeling insecure. I was hopeful that the North Siders could win the National League East but had a lingering feeling in the back of my mind that they would somehow blow it.

The Boys of Zimmer featured two Hall of Famers - Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg - on their roster as well as future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. But much of the remainder of the roster was inexperienced and unproven.

The team's young talent was productive - Rookie of the Year Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, Mark Grace, Joe Girardi, Les Lancaster - but on paper, the Cubs were inferior to division rivals Montreal, New York, and St. Louis. The credit for the team's success had to go to manager Don Zimmer.

Zimmer squeezed every ounce of talent from his roster by playing aggressively - squeeze bunt, double steals, triple steals. It seemed that every time that Zimmer took a risk and gambled, it paid off. Zim pressed all the right buttons. It was a fun team to watch.

Despite the team's success for much of the summer, I kept thinking that it was only a matter of time until their luck would run out.

My suspicions seemed to be confirmed when they lost six straight in late August, getting swept in three-game series at Houston and at home against Cincinnati. Still, they entered September in first with a 2.5-game lead.

The Cubs had been focused for much of the season on the Expos and Mets, but as the season's conclusion approached, the Cardinals were making a charge. St. Louis was seven games out entering play on Aug. 3, but passed Montreal and New York and were threatening the Cubs thanks to a stretch in which they won 16 of 24.

The Cubs began September in less-than-inspiring fashion, dropping two of three to Atlanta, and then splitting a pair of two-gamers in New York and Philadelphia.

The Cardinals came to Wrigley Field to open a three-game weekend series on Sept. 8, trailing the Cubs by just 1.5 games.

The Cubs pasted St. Louis starter Joe Magrane for five runs on eight hits in three innings and when Sandberg hit a two-run homer - his second round-tripper of the day - off reliever John Costello in the fourth, the North Siders led 7-1.

But the Cardinals roared back. An error by Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston and RBI hits by Ozzie Smith, Pedro Guerrero, and Jose Oquendo contributed to a four-run St. Louis seventh.

After a 44-minute rain delay, the Cards came to bat in the eighth trailing 8-6. Cubs closer Mitch Williams served up a three-run, go-ahead homer to Guerrero and a two-run shot to Terry Pendleton.

It was a devastating 11-8 loss and the Cubs' lead over the Cardinals was trimmed to a half-game.

First place was on the line the next afternoon under dreary conditions. A steady rain fell throughout the afternoon as the Cubs' Rick Sutcliffe and the Cardinals' Jose DeLeon locked up in a tense pitcher's duel.

Luis Salazar, who was acquired from San Diego in an Aug. 31 deadline trade, delivered a two-out RBI single off St. Louis reliever Dan Quisenberry to tie the game at 2.

The game was still tied with one out in the bottom of the 10th when Dawson drew a one-out walk from Ken Dayley. Salazar followed with an opposite-field double inside the right-field line. As right fielder John Morris chased down the ball in the corner and relayed it to second baseman Oquendo, Dawson, who had gotten a tremendous jump, motored around third on his gimpy knees. He crossed the plate with the winning run just ahead of Oquendo's throw and into the embrace of Dunston. It was a gutty play by Dawson and a demonstration of the tremendous heart that he played with.

The Cubs remained in first and the next day extended their lead to 2.5 games with a 4-1 victory. Cubs starter Steve Wilson struck out 10 in five innings and Smith hit a two-run homer in the sixth that put the North Siders ahead to stay.

The Cubs won 10 of their next 15 and wrapped up an improbable division championship with a 3-2 victory at Montreal on Sept. 26.

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