On a Saturday afternoon with Bob Costas calling the game for NBC, Ryne Sandberg cemented himself in the storied history of the Chicago Cubs with one of the greatest games in franchise history. That unbelievable afternoon has since been nicknamed ‘The Sandberg Game’ and for many reasons June 23, 1984 will be forever etched in the memory of generations of Cubs fans.
Ryne Sandberg went on to win the NL MVP that season and the Cubs made it to the post-season for the first time since 1945. A new generation of the Faithful was born that wonderful summer.
But leading up to that Saturday afternoon, the Cubs had put together a good season but nothing prepared those in attendance or watching at home for what they were about to witness.
The Cubs were primed to make a run at the NL East title. They were 36-31 entering play (a half game behind the Phillies) and ten days earlier had acquired Rick Sutcliffe from the Cleveland Indians for Mel Hall, Joe Carter, Don Schulze and Darryl Banks.
Steve Trout started the game and could not make it out of the second inning. ‘Rainbow’ gave up seven runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings. The Cubs trailed 7-1 as late as the fourth inning and the game appeared to be over.
The Cubs began chipping away in the fifth, they closed the deficit to 7-3 with a RBI groundout by Ryne Sandberg that plated Jay Johnstone. Gary Matthews doubled in Bobby Dernier with two outs for the Cubs third run of the game.
The Cardinals tacked on two runs in the top of the sixth off of Dickie Noles. Willie McGee, who was named the Player of the Game prematurely, knocked a two-run homer that increased the Cardinals lead to 9-3. (A little fact that is often forgotten, Willie McGee hit for the cycle: 4-for-6 with six RBI and three runs scored)
The Cubs plated five in the bottom of the sixth to make it a game again. Neal Allen, one of the best relievers in the game at the time, replaced Ralph Citarella. In fact, the NBC crew had nicknamed the game ‘The Citarella Story’ because of his performance leading up to being removed in the sixth.
Keith Moreland walked and advanced to second after Ron Cey was hit by a pitch. Larry Bowa walked to load the bases and pinch hitter Richie Hebner singled. With the bases still loaded, Bobby Dernier doubled in Cey and Bowa. Ryne Sandberg followed with a two-run single that plated Dernier and Hebner.
Both teams went quietly in the seventh and eighth innings. The Cardinals managed a hit in the ninth but could not add to their lead.
With the Cardinals up by a score of 9-8 and Bruce Sutter on the mound, Ryne Sandberg led off the ninth. Sandberg tied the game with one swing of the bat.
The Cardinals took a comfortable two-run lead off of Lee Smith in the tenth … and to this day Smith tells the story that if he had not given up the two runs in the tenth then the ‘game’ would have never happened.
With the Cubs down by a pair in the bottom of the tenth, Bruce Sutter retired Larry Bowa on a groundout to second and Richie Hebner on a groundout to first. Bobby Dernier walked, or did he? It was a very close call on a check swing that went the Cubs way that afternoon. Ryne Sandberg got another chance against Bruce Sutter and delivered. On a 1-1 pitch from Bruce Sutter, Sandberg launched a ball into the bleachers into left center that tied the game at 11 in the tenth with his second homer of the day.
Leon Durham lead off the 11th with a walk, stole second and after a throwing error by Darrell Porter advanced Durham to third, Whitey Herzog walked both Keith Moreland and Jody Davis to load the bases. Dave Owen delivered the game winner, a single to right that plated Leon Durham.
Ryne Sandberg finished the afternoon 5-for-6 with two home runs and seven RBI. The five hits and seven RBI set career highs at the time for the future Hall of Famer … before the ninth inning, Ryne Sandberg was 2-for-12 in his career against Bruce Sutter.
The game has changed significantly over the last 30 years in that Bruce Sutter would not have been in to face Ryne Sandberg again in the tenth inning after blowing a save in the ninth. In those days, closers would pitch multiple innings and Bruce Sutter was the best in the game at the time. While baseball is filled with magical moments, the one Ryne Sandberg provided 30 years ago will never be forgotten.