Home News Phillies beat Cubs 23-22 on May 17 1979

Phillies beat Cubs 23-22 on May 17 1979

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There’s an old joke in Chicago — told pre-2016 — that goes like this: A guy walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey, Cubs scored 20 today!” And the guy replies, “Did they win?”

On May 17, 1979, they didn’t. They actually scored 22 that day, powered by Dave “King Kong” Kingman’s three homers, but it wasn’t enough thanks to an in-his-prime Mike Schmidt and the wind blowing straight out of Wrigley at nearly 20 mph.

Dennis Lamp started for the Cubs, and he didn’t make it out of the first inning, recording just one out while giving up six runs on six hits, including two homers — and the first of Schmidt’s two dingers. Donnie Moore relieved Lamp and promptly gave up the third Philly homer of the frame, and just like that Chicago was looking up at a seven-run deficit.

After the game, Philly shortstop Larry Bowa (5 hits, 4 runs scored on the day) told reporters, “Whenever [Phils starter Randy] Lerch pitched, we never scored any runs for him. We got those early ones and I said to him, ‘Okay, there’s your runs.’”

The North Side bats erupted for six in the bottom of the inning with Lerch, who had hit that third Phils homer in the first, suffering the same fate as Lamp: pulled after recording only one out.

A scoreless second inning was a brief respite in the storm’s eye, as Philadelphia posted an eight-run third. Thirteen Philly hitters came to the plate, with southpaw Willie Hernandez, the first of two future Cy Young Award winners to pitch in the game, coming on for Chicago after four runs had scored in the frame. Hernandez, who later won the 1984 AL MVP with the Tigers, pitched the fourth and fifth as well, yielding six more runs before exiting.

“I figured we could win if we could hold them under two touchdowns and could block a couple of extra points,” Bowa said.

But then, the Cubs’ bats went to work.

Chicago plated seven in the bottom of the fifth, highlighted by Bill Buckner’s grand slam off Phils closer Tug McGraw.

“I mean, when you’re sitting out there in the ’pen and you see the way things are going, you don’t exactly beg to come in the game,” McGraw told the Chicago Tribune. “And yet all the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘Well, I know I could stop all of this foolishness.’ So what happens? I get my chance to stop it and blowie!”

McGraw was charged with all seven runs in the inning — four of them earned — and didn’t even finish the frame, getting pulled after recording only two outs.

The Cubs plated three more in the next inning, highlighted by Kingman’s third homer of the game, a monster shot that went over the left-field bleachers, cleared Waveland Avenue and landed a couple houses down Kenmore Street.

The Phils got an “insurance run” in the seventh, but the Cubs played small ball to plate three in the eighth on three RBI singles, including Buckner’s seventh RBI of the game. And just like that, the game was tied … at 22.

“We were so far behind it was crazy,” Buckner told The Athletic in 2019. “And then we had the best reliever in baseball in to pitch the last inning.”

The reliever was Bruce Sutter, who would go on to win the NL Cy Young that season. He got through the ninth unscathed, but the Cubs also failed to score in their half, sending the game into extra innings. Sutter went back out to the mound and quickly retired Bowa and Pete Rose. One out away from giving the Cubs another shot at an epic walk-off win, Sutter had one last obstacle: fellow future Hall of Famer Schmidt.

Sutter worked the count to 3-2, but with the bases empty and facing one of the most feared sluggers in the league, he hung one of his famous splitters, and Schmidt didn’t miss it.

“I didn’t even turn around to look at it,” Sutter said after the game. “I knew exactly where it was going.”

Where it went was over the left-field bleachers, putting the Phils in front for good.

“Ballplayers often will say that you never can get enough runs to win in this park, but they always say it sarcastically,” Schmidt said postgame. “After today, they can forget the sarcasm.”

Philly right-hander Rawley Eastwick, who had worked a scoreless ninth, did the same in the bottom of the 10th — the only pitcher to retire the side in order — and that was that: Phillies 23, Cubs 22.

“We knew it was one of those games that you’d look back on when you’re retired and say, ‘That’s an unbelievable game,’” said Bowa on MLB Network in 2011. “Anytime you get a W, it doesn’t matter if you win 23-22 or 2-1. A win’s a win.”

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