When a Jody Davis sacrifice fly in the ninth inning finished off a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field on Aug. 1, 1984, the Cubs moved into first place to stay. But even by the time the North Siders had fattened their NL East lead to seven games over the second-place New York Mets in early September, I still was waiting for bad things to happen.
I sensed an impending collapse on Sept. 7, when rookie Dwight Gooden one-hit the Cubs in a nationally televised 10-0 New York Mets victory. But the following night, Rick Sutcliffe answered with a four-hit, 12-strikeout performance to improve to 14-1 as a Cub in a 6-0 win over the Mets.
And the Cubs pretty much put the Mets away the following weekend at Wrigley Field. A Davis grand slam and nother complete-game performance from Sutcliffe highlighted a 7-1 Cubs triumph on Sept. 14. The following afternoon, a game I attended, the Cubs scored four times in the first inning and held on for a 5-4 victory. It was Scarf Day at the Friendly Confines and most in the crowd of 38,653 on that sunny but chilly fall-like afternoon were twirling their white scarfs above their heads as New York's Mike Fitzgerald drounded out to second baseman Ryne Sandberg for the final out. That win put the North Siders 9.5 games ahead - their biggest lead of the season - with just 14 to play. The feeling was no longer if the Cubs would win the division, but when.
The Cubs lost their next five games, but halted the skid and reduced their magic number to one with a doubleheader sweep at St. Louis on Sept. 23.
The end of the 39-year championship drought was finally at hand on Sept. 24. I was only 14 and had recently started my freshman year of high school, so I suppose I had not suffered enough to truly appreciate the magnitude of the impending event. But it was obvious that it was a special night for older Cubs fans.
Although it was a school night, my father took me and my younger brother to my grandfather's house to watch the game. He wanted us to be together when the historical moment occurred.
There was a Monday night football game between the Raiders and the Seahawks that night, be we paid no attention to it. My grandparents' TV remained on Channel 9 throughout the evening.
A paid crowd of just 5,472 turned out at Three Rivers Stadium and it included so many Cubs fans that I wondered if there would have been anyone there at all if it were not for the many followers of the visiting team who had spontaneously made the trip to Pittsburgh.
Sutcliffe was given the starting assignment by manager Jim Frey and he was aiming to complete his magical first half-season with the Cubs with a 16-1 mark.
"As I walked to the bullpen to warm up, I'll never forget looking over and seeing about 30 people holding this big banner that said, '39 Years of Suffering is Enough,' " Sutcliffe told Peter Golenbock in Wrigleyville (St. Martin's Press, 1996). "I just remember the look in those people's eyes, the little kids. You could tell they had come a long ways to watch that game. In the back of my mind, I thought, 'We can end that tonight.' "
As the Cubs batted in the top of the first, Harry Caray made sure that the fans at home appreciated how much of the Three Rivers crowd was behind the visiting Cubs.
"Arne's going to show you this crowd and then I'm going to read you some notes," Caray said. "Then you could decide for yourself how big a percentage of this crowd is Chicago fans."
Caray read the notes throughout the rest of the contest as only he could, often times giving them precedence over the action on the field. (Editor's note: I'll take my best stab at spelling the names correctly).
"They're here from Racine, Wisconsin, the Externs and Alfreda Paski."
The Cubs scored single runs in four of the first five innings. In the first inning, Gary Matthews followed up a Sandberg double with an RBI single.
"They're here from Illinois State University, drove up last night. Lee Finter, Brent Moore, Carl Peters, Jim McCann, and Rob Chavis."
"They're here - the Singing Waiters of Glenview are here. They drove all the way out to see the ballgame here. They signed that message as the Singing Waiters of Glenview as a queue for who they are. I don't know who they are myself, but I guess when they said the Singing Waiters of Glenview, whomever they want to know that they're here, will know."
The lead increased to 3-0 in the third after Sandberg smacked his second double of the game and scored on a throwing error by Pittsburgh third baseman Jim Morrison.
"Mike Murphy is here from Chicago. Joe Jublowski, John Mays, and Keith Kawasni are here from Northern Illinois University."
A Joe Orsulak leadoff triple in the bottom of the fourth led to a Pittsburgh run, but the Cubs got their three-run lead back in the fifth when Matthews led off with a walk, advanced to third after singles by Keith Moreland and Ron Cey, and scored on a Davis double play grounder.
"Laura Rhinedack, a friend of Yosh Kowano, is here from Chicago."
Sutcliffe allowed just one more hit - an Orsulak single in the sixth. He picked Orsulak off first to end the sixth and then set down the next six Pirates hitters to set the stage for the dramatic bottom of the ninth.
I was so nervous that I could longer sit on the couch. I watched the game's final three outs while standing.
"As I went out to take the mound in the ninth, all I could think of was, 'Three outs.' " Sutcliffe told Golenbock. "I remember Jody Davis running up to me and he said, 'I want to catch the last out. I want the ball on the last out.'
"As I was warming up, it hit me what he meant. We got the first two out, and i thought, 'Golly, he not only wants me to get him out, he wants me to strike this guy out. The batter's name was Joe Orsulak. He was really tough to strike out. The funny part was I threw a two-hitter and Joe had both hits and actually scored the run."
Caray took it from there.
"One more and it's over! The Chicago Cubs will be the new Eastern Division champs! They're getting security on the field. These Cubs fans are going to explode. ... Who's excited? Listen to this crowd! Might as well join 'em. ... Hey, it's in there! Cubs are the champions! Cubs are the champions! The Cubs win! Look at the mob scene. ... The fans are getting on the field! Now our lives are complete! The Cubs are number one!"
How wonderful it was to hear those words. I must have jumped 10 feet it the air. I remember us four Rewers men from three generations, like it was yesterday, laughing, hugging, and whooping it up.
"Bring on the Padres!" I said.
"Jody came running out, and everybody was hugging, and Jody handed me the baseball, and he said, 'Here, man, you deserve this more than anybody.' I said, 'I don't know who deserves it, but I want you to have it.' And he still has it today. I imagine he could retire on that baseball if he ever wanted to sell it."