Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1984 National League Championship Series. The National League in 1984 was turned upside down. The Cubs had not only not been to the World Series since 1945 – they also hadn’t been particularly good. In the 38 seasons since their last pennant they had averaged 73 wins per 162 games and only had eight seasons above .500. In 1983 they were just 71-91, 19 games out of first. But 1984 was to be different. First, their young second baseman they acquired from Philadelphia blossomed. Ryne Sandberg hit .314/.367/.520 and led the league in triples and runs, stats that would win him the MVP award at season’s end.
The biggest moment for the Cubs came on June 13. That morning they stood in first place in the NL East by a game and a half. General manager Dallas Green made the move that would define their season. That day he traded Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Don Shulze and Darryl Banks to the Cleveland Indians for Geroge Frazier, Ron Hassey and Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe would go 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA and a 2.28 FIP. Green also made a lesser mover two weeks earlier that would have a be an omen of things to come. On May 25, Bill Buckner was sent to the Red Sox for Mike Brumley and Dennis Eckersley. With Eck and Sutcliffe anchoring the rotation and Sandberg leading the lineup, the Cubs battled with the Mets for most of the season. They took over first place for good on August 1 and clinched in Pittsburgh, finishing up with a 96-65 record.
Another surprise was in the other division. In their first 15 years they only had one winning season and the closest they ever came to first place was eight games out. But in 1984 they were the only team in the NL West with a winning record. This was a team where the whole added up to more than the sum of the parts. Their first baseman was the 35-year old Steve Garvey (91 OPS+) and their third baseman was the 39-year old Graig Nettles (108 OPS+). But they also had a 24-year old Tony Gwynn. After proving that he could hit major league pitching in two part-time seasons, Gwynn was the regular rightfielder and won his first batting title with a .351 average and a league-leading 213 hits while making his first All-Star team. The pitching staff featured Eric Show at the top of the rotation. In the bullpen Goose Gossage led the way with 10 wins and 25 saves, posting a 2.90 ERA in 102.1 innings.
Guided by Dick Williams, the Padres took over first place after taking three of four from a weekend series against the Reds. From June 9 to the end of the year San Diego stayed in first. It was bittersweet for the team, as in January team owner Ray Kroc had died.
Another important note to the postseason was that negotiations between the Major League Baseball Umpires Association and the league presidents had broken down and the playoffs were to begin with replacement umpires.
Game 1 of the best-of-five series opened in Chicago on the afternoon of October 2. The game was ugly early. In the bottom of the first inning Bob Dernier launched Eric Show’s second pitch of the game into the bleachers in left. Nine pitches later it was 2-0 as Gary Matthews hit a 3-1 pitch just over the wall in left.
Show would get through the rest of the inning and through the second. But then in the top of the third Rick Sutcliffe hit an 0-1 pitch over the rightfield seats for a 3-0 lead. They would get two more in the third for a 5-0 lead. Then the floodgates opened.
After getting pinch hit for, Show was relieved by Greg Harris in the fifth. Dernier led off with a double. Then Harris walked Sandberg on four pitches. Then the very first pitch Matthews saw was deposited just over the screen in right field. After a groundout Keith Moreland singled and Ron Cey walked. Then catcher Jody Davis singled in a run and a Larry Bowa groundout got another run home. Sutcliffe then singled and Dernier walked. Sandberg singled in another run and the Cubs were up 11-0. They would add to more runs, but they hardly mattered. Sutcliffe struck out eight, walked five, and gave up two hits in seven innings and the Cubs took Game 1 13-0.
In Game 2 again the Cubs jumped on the Padres’ starter early. Dernier led off with a single and scored on a Matthews groundout. Then in the third Cey’s RBI double and Davis’ RBI single gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead. The Padres got a run back in the top of the fourth, but quickly gave it back in the bottom half. That was really about it. Chicago’s Steve Trout kept the Padres at bay, surrendering two runs in 8.1 innings. After a one out walk in the ninth, Lee Smith came in and struck out Carmelo Martinez and got Terry Kennedy to fly out to end the game. The Cubs were one win away from the World Series.
Game 3 came from the land of Sea World, but again the Cubs took the early lead. Moreland led off the second with a double and Cey singled to give the Cubbies an early 1-0 lead. Through the first four innings Dennis Eckersley cruised pretty easily allowing only a one out double to Tony Gwynn in the first and a two out bunt single to Alan Wiggins in the third. But then Terry Kennedy led off the fifth with a single, followed by a single to center by Kevin McReynolds. Then with one out Garry Templeton doubled to center, scoring both Kennedy and McReynolds. Wiggins added a single to score Templeton, but was thrown out trying to get to second.
The Padres added on in the sixth when Gwynn led off with a single and scored on Graig Nettles’ single, chasing Eckersley from the game. George Frazier didn’t fare much better, giving up a single and then a three-run shot off the bat of McReynolds. That was more than enough for starter Ed Whitson, who went eight innings and allowed only one run. The Goose came on in the ninth and set the Cubs down in order, cutting Chicago’s lead to 2-1.
Game 4 became a seesaw affair as the Padres got on the board first when Tony Gwynn’s sac fly made it 1-0 in the third. Steve Garvey followed that up with a double to make the score 2-0. The lead didn’t last long as after Matthews led off the fourth with a walk then after two flyouts Jody Davis homered to tie the game. It remained tied for two pitches as Leon Durham’s homerun made it 3-2. The Cubs chased starter Tim Lollar in the fifth with a pair of one out walks, but couldn’t capitalize on them. The Padres then chased Cubs’ starter Scott Sanderson in the bottom half after Garvey’s two out RBI single scored pinch hitter Tim Flannery to tie the score.
Then in the bottom of the seventh pinch hitter Bobby Brown drew a one out walk and stole second. After Wiggins flied out, Gwyn was intentionally walked and it backfired as Garvey’s single scored Brown to give the Padres a 4-3 lead. Gwynn scored three pitches later as Davis couldn’t handle Tim Stoddard’s 0-2 delivery and the Padres now had a 5-3 lead. Dick Williams didn’t hesitate to bring in his ace closer. The Cubs had other ideas, though.
Sandberg led off with a single, and stole second as Matthews struck out. Moreland singled to score Sandberg and after Ron Cey popped out it looked like Gossage just might get out of it. But Jody Davis doubled on Gossage’s first pitch, scoring the tying run. Gossage got out of it, but the damage had been done.
Cubs manager Jim Frey also didn’t hesitate bringing in his closer, either. Lee Smith got the first two outs but then an infield single followed by a Sandberg error meant the Padres had the go ahead run in scoring position, but with Gossage’s spot in the order due up. Champ Summers pinch hit but struck out swinging to end the threat. Craig Lefferts came on in the ninth and loaded the bases, but got Ron Cey to ground out to end that threat.
The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough. Alan Wiggins struck out on four pitches. But then Tony Gwynn singled up the middle, bringing up Steve Garvey. Garvey took the first pitch for a ball, then got a high fastball that may have even been off the plate. Garvey drove it deep and just over the wall in rightfield for a game winning two-run homerun, forcing a fifth and deciding game.
Game 5 began with a big announcement that the umpires and management had come to an agreement and therefore would be umpiring the game instead of the replacements. Starting on the mound were the same two from Game 1, Sutcliffe and Show. And again, the Cubs got to Show early. After getting the first two out Show walked Matthews and then Leon Durham hit a 3-1 homerun into the seats in right-center for a 2-0 lead. Then in the top of the second, Jody Davis hit a 2-2 over the leftfield fence just inside the foul pole to make it 3-0. After a one out single by Sutcliffe Show’s day was done.
The Padres’ bullpen was the biggest key to the game. Once Andy Hawkins took the hill in the second, he retired the four hitters he faced, then Dave Dravecky came in and retired all six hitters he faced. Craig Lefferts then came on in the sixth and retired the three he faced. Those three had kept the Padres in it, now the offense would do their part.
Alan Wiggins led off the bottom of the sixth with a bunt single when Durham couldn’t make a throw after he dropped the ball (he will play a bigger part later). Then Tony Gwynn did what made him a Hall of Famer – a single through the 5 ½ hole. Then Sutcliffe walked Garvey on four pitches. With the bases loaded Graig Nettles just missed a grand slam, taking Dernier to the warning track, but scoring Wiggins to make it 3-1. On the next pitch Gary Matthews saved the game for the Cubs when Terry Kennedy lined a ball to left. With the ball tailing away from the left fielder, Matthews reached out and snared it before tumbling to the ground. Gwynn scored to make it 3-2. Lefferts came out in the seventh and retired all three that he faced. For those scoring at home, Hawkins, Dravecky, and Lefferts faced 16 hitters, retired all of them (and got a caught stealing, too) for 5.2 shutdown innings out of the pen.
Carmelo Martinez led off the bottom of the seventh with a four pitch walk. It was pretty clear at this point that Sutcliffe was overthrowing, but Frey stayed with him. After Garry Templeton bunted Martinez over (ugh; 32 point bunt, by the way), Tim Flannery came up to pinch hit for Lefferts. Flannery hit a routine bouncer to first. Leon Durham went down to a knee, but picked his glove up too early. The ball went through his legs, resulting in a tie game. Wiggins blooped a ball into left for a single, moving Flannery to second. Then Tony Gwynn attempted to take Ryne Sandberg’s head off with a rocket through second for a single. Moreland couldn’t get to the ball quick enough and while Flannery scored easily, Wiggins raced all the way from first to make it a 5-3 lead. Garvey then lined a single up the middle to score Gwynn and Sutcliffe’s dream season was over. Steve Trout came in and retired the side, but it was too late.
Gossage came on in the eighth and made it interesting. He beaned Richie Hebner with one out then Sandberg singled with two out. Sandberg stole second to put runners on second and third, but the Goose got Matthews to strike out and end the inning. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Gossage retired the side in the ninth and for the first time in franchise history the San Diego Padres were National League Champions. Steve Garvey was name MVP of the series, hitting .400 with that big game winning homerun in Game 4.
The Padres would go on to lose the World Series to the Tigers in five games. The next few years the Padres moved back to mediocrity and would not win the division again until 1996. The Cubs would get back to the NLCS in 1989, only to run into Will Clark. They would famously suffer through more heartbreak until this past season.
Later on, Gwynn, Gossage, Sandberg, Eckersley, and Williams would all receive plaques in Cooperstown. Steve Garvey would later on go through some post-career struggles, most particularly when it became known that he apparently fathered most of Southern California. Two years later the man Leon Durham replaced at first base – Bill Buckner – would have another famous error at the bag. Dave Dravecky would suffer from a cancerous tumor in his arm in 1988 and by 1991 his arm had deteriorated to the point where it was amputated. He has since become a motivational speaker.
But the most tragic of figures from this series was Eric Show. Besides the rough postseason performance (8 IP, 12.38 ERA, 7 HR in three postseason games), he battled drug problems throughout his life, and on March 16, 1994 he was found dead in his room at a rehab center in Dulzura, California.