(Editor's Note: Twelfth in a series recalling the 30 greatest moments in Cubs history.)
My love affair with the Cubs blossomed during the summer of 1977 and it was a wild 16-15 victory over the two-time defending world champion Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on July 28 that sealed the deal.
Rick Reuschel was among the pitching, hitting and baserunning stars en route to his 15th victory of the season for the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 28, 1977.
I remember, as a 7-year-old, watching that epic 4-hour, 50-minute game on a sticky, overcast Thursday afternoon with my parents in our basement family room. It was so fun to see my parents uncharacteristically get so into a game. They cheered, they groaned, they laughed, and I fed off of their energy.
It was the high point of the memorable '77 season. With the victory, the first-place Cubs took three of four from the Reds, improved to 60-39, and maintained their 2.5-game NL East lead over second-place Pittsburgh while extending their lead to three games over third-place Philadelphia.
The game tied major league records with a total of 11 home runs and five in the first inning. The teams combined for 43 hits and stranded 31 runners on base. Managers Herman Franks and Sparky Anderson used 37 players, including 13 pitchers.
Unexpected developments included Bobby Murcer and Jose Cardenal being forced into middle infield duty, staff ace Reuschel earning his 15th win of the season in relief, and Reuschel scoring the winning run in the 13th inning.
"It's the greatest game I've ever played in," said an exhausted Mitterwald who caught his seventh game in five days.
The afternoon did not get off to a promising start as the Reds hammered Cubs starter Ray Burris for six runs in the top of the first. Pete Rose led off the game with a home run, which was soon followed by a Johnny Bench three-run homer and a Mike Lum two-run shot.
But before Reds starter Dale Murray could record an out, the Cubs scored four runs in the bottom of the first. An Ivan DeJesus double and Larry Biittner walk were followed by back-to-back homers from Buckner and Murcer.
The Cubs took a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the second with three more runs. Mitterwald smacked a leadoff homer. Biittner tied the game with an RBI single and the Cubs jumped in front on an RBI grounder by Murcer.
The advantage was short lived.
The first two hitters in the third, George Foster and Bench, reached base against Burris. Donnie Moore entered, but Foster scored the tying run on a Cesar Geronimo double and Bench the go-ahead run on a Dave Concepcion single.
Geronimo led off the eighth with a home run off Willie Hernandez to put Cincinnati ahead 14-10, and then things got really interesting.
With Manny Sarmiento on the mound for the Reds, the Cubs pulled to within a run of the lead on a two-run homer by Buckner and a solo shot by Jerry Morales. After a walk by Steve Ontiveros, a two-out double by Mitterwald put the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second. Franks elected to pinch hit Greg Gross for second baseman Mick Kelleher (he was intentionally walked) and Cardenal for shortstop DeJesus (he flew out to center). The moves left him with just one middle infielder, Rosello.
Franks' solution? He inserted Rosello at shortstop and Cardenal at second in the ninth. When a left-handed hitter stepped up, Rosello and Cardenal switched positions and when a right-handed hitter followed, they switched again - alternating depending on what side of the plate the batter swung from.
The Cubs batted in the bottom of the ninth, still trailing 14-13. Reliever Joe Hoerner struck out leadoff hitter Biittner and retired Buckner on a fly to center. Two out, nobody on. No problem.
Murcer rolled a single through the right side of the infield and advanced to second on a Morales walk. Anderson replaced Hoerner with former Cubs left-hander Fred Norman. He was promptly greeted by an Ontiveros line-drive RBI single to left.
In the 10th, Cardenal was shifted to right and Murcer took his place in the infield rotation. In his four innings of infield duty, Murcer handled a pair of chances flawlessly, but an error by Rosello allowed the eds to score a go-ahead run in the top of the 12th. Mitterwald, however, saved Rosello from sporting goat horns by launching a one-out homer - his second of the game - off Cincinnati's Jack Billingham in the bottom of the 12th.
The Reds had runners at first and second with one out in the top of the 13th when Franks brought in his ace, Reuschel, to relieve Pete Broberg. Reuschel, who had just pitched a five-hit, complete-game shutout against the Reds three days earlier, retired Bench and Geronimo on infield grounders to escape the jam.
Did Reuschel mind the extra work?
"No, I'm not tired from work," Reuschel said after the game. "I'm tired from being so pumped up."
After Buckner and Murcer were retired by Billingham in the bottom of the 13th, the heavyset Reuschel lined a single to left, exhibited his athleticism by reaching third on an Ontiveros single to right, and crossed the plate with the winning when Rosello rolled a single through the left side of the infield.
"I've never been happier in my life," Rosello said in a jubilant Cubs clubhouse after the game.