Saturday, June 23, 1984 - At Wrigley Field (Ralph Citarella - Starting Pitcher) - Opposition: Chicago Cubs (Steve Trout - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 38,079
The Ryne Sandberg Game. For fans of the Chicago Cubs, it's the closest thing to winning a World Series. For fans of the St Louis Cardinals, it's one of the most irritating regular season losses in the last thirty years; however, what makes it easier to accept is the fact that it wasn't an irritating postseason loss. Also, it happened in a lost season, anyway. Had the Cardinals managed to win that game, it wouldn't have changed their destiny.
Even for Bruce Sutter - who gave up both game tying home runs to Sandberg - he still made it to Cooperstown.
For Ryne Sandberg, however, his exploits in this nationally televised event catapulted him from a relatively obscure player to the odds-on favorite to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Of course, he did win the award - and he deserved it, with a league-best 8.5 WAR as proof.
For optimistic Cardinal fans, looking back thirty years ago - Sandberg's first game tying home run - in the ninth-inning - gave the beloved Willie McGee another chance to hit for the cycle.
McGee's first hit of the game - a bases-loaded second-inning triple - got him started in his elusive quest. It also helped his team establish a 7-1 lead, which would be impossible to protect on this day. The two biggest reasons:
(1) Ralph Citarella was the starting pitcher for St Louis.
His entire big league career consisted of two games started. This was his first - four days later he would start another game and be charged with the loss.
(2) Neil Allen was the next pitcher brought into this game for St Louis.
In the sixth-inning, nursing a comfortable 9-3 lead, Citarella walked Keith Moreland, leading off the inning. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog had Citarella on a short lease and was prepared to bring in Neil Allen to restore order if another Cubs batter reached base. After striking out Jody Davis, Citarella probably had a little too much adrenalin rushing through his veins, hitting the next batter - Ron Cey - with a pitch. That was it, as far as Herzog was concerned. Neil Allen to the rescue.
Not only did Moreland and Cey come in to score in the sixth-inning, Neil Allen also coughed up three more runs of his own, to turn a Cardinal blowout into a nail-biting journey into the abyss. After more trouble ensued in the seventh-inning, Herzog then brought in his closer - Bruce Sutter - to get the final out.
Meanwhile, after his second-inning triple, McGee singled in his next trip to the plate, in an uneventful fourth-inning. Then, after Ozzie Smith singled in the sixth-inning, McGee got his third hit - a two-run home run - which gave the Cardinals that comfortable 9-3 lead to begin with.
McGee still needed a double to complete the cycle - but came up empty as he grounded out in the top of the eighth-inning, with the Cardinals clinging to that way-too-slim 9-8 lead.
Sutter remained in the game to pitch the eighth - and he did his job, keeping it a one-run ballgame. Unfortunately, Ryne Sandberg was the first hitter for Sutter in the bottom of the ninth - and he promptly tied the game with his first legendary home run deep to left.
Sutter still had his work cut out for him to escape the inning, but he got through it with the game still tied.
And that gave Willie McGee one more shot at the elusive cycle - in the tenth-inning.
After Ozzie singled to lead off the inning, McGee drove him in with the two-base hit he needed for the personal milestone. When Willie also scored an insurance run to give St Louis a comfortable 11-9 lead, this game seemed destined to be forever known as The Willie McGee Game.
Not only had the Cardinals' center fielder hit for the cycle, he had also driven in six runs. At this point, Sandberg had only driven in five. It would take a miracle for him to top McGee's performance.
Sutter had already blown a save - which would have earned Ralph Citarella his one and only major league win. Now, he was in line for the win - if he could protect a two-run lead in the bottom of the tenth.
After retiring the first two batters, light-hitting Bob Dernier was Sutter's next challenge - with Ryne Sandberg lurking in the on-deck circle for Chicago. Dernier, who hit three home runs in 1984, was hardly a threat to go deep against Sutter - unlike the guy in the on-deck circle. In this situation, a walk is as good as a home run - and that's precisely what Dernier accomplished.
After Sandberg connected for his second home run in as many innings off the stunned Sutter, Bob Costas - who was calling the game in the NBC broadcast booth - exclaimed, "Do you believe it!?"
No Bob, at the time, I couldn't believe it - and neither could Sutter, whose flinching reaction to the second Sandberg home run was uncharacteristic for the usually stoic Sutter. Alas, The Willie McGee Game suddenly became The Ryne Sandberg Game - just like that.
It was a foregone conclusion that the Cubs would win the game in the eleventh - and they did. The Ryne Sandberg Game was finally over - an eleven-inning 12-11 win over the Cardinals. It was an excruciating loss - no doubt - but revenge was just one year away.
Sunday, June 23, 1985 - At Busch Stadium II (John Tudor-Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: Chicago Cubs (Dick Ruthven- Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 45,881
One year had passed since The Willie McGee/Ryne Sandberg Game. The Cardinals' roster had some noticeable additions in this game - Jack Clark (acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants), rookie sensation Vince Coleman, and of course, John Tudor (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates).
John Tudor did it all tonight - driving in the first run of the game for the Cardinals - the only run he'd need - (although they added six more runs just for fun) shutting out the team that had mauled the Cardinals for 12 runs just one year ago. Shutting them out on two hits, one walk and six strikeouts. Shutting them out to give the first-place Cardinals their second straight three-game series sweep over their bitter rivals - which is exactly what the Cubs did to the Cardinals the previous year.