Friday, September 27, 2013

The Cubs win the NL East (for the Pirates)

As the season enters the final weekend, all but one divisional race remains.  The last two teams standing in the National League Central are the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  These two former National League East combatants found themselves tied for the top spot just over a week ago.  It was a back and forth three team race reminiscent of another season the Pirates and Cardinals came down to the wire.

In 1974, the NL East saw a season long race between three teams: the Cardinals, Phillies and Pirates.  For most of the season, the Phillies led the division with the Cardinals chasing them and towing the Pirates along behind. At the end of July, the Cardinals finally caught the Phillies to move into first place.  In the last week in August, the Pirates nudged back ahead, only to find themselves tied with the Cardinals on September 29th at 85-74 a piece.

Going into the final series of the season, the Cubs were in dead last in the division and had just closed up their Wrigley season by dropping 2 of 3 to the Cardinals. They now took on the Pirates while the Cardinals traveled to Montreal.  Both division leaders won their games on the 30th, remaining tied going onto October 1st.

The Cardinals would send Bob Gibson to the mound against former Cardinal Mike Torrez.  Gibson would give the Cardinals a chance with 7 innings of 1 run ball, only to relinquish a 2-run HR to Mike Jorgensen in the 8th putting the Expos ahead 3-2.  The Pirates would win 6-5 vs the Cubs at Three Rivers, giving the Pirates a 1 game lead with 1 game to play.

On October 2nd, the Cardinals were rained out in Montreal so the Pirates took the field only needing a win to force the end of the season and a trip for them to the NLCS.  Down to their last strike, it looked like they weren't going to get that win.

Going into the 9th inning, the Cubs lead 4-2 thanks to a 4 run first inning.  Rick Reuschel started the inning with back to back walks, getting 1 out on a sacrafice bunt.  He followed by getting Dave Parker to ground out, trading a run for an out.  Bob Robertson stepped to the plate with the tying run at third and 2 outs.  Unfortunately for the Pirates, he would strike out swinging.  Fortunately for the Pirates, the Cubs are still the Cubs.

The third strike actually resulted in a passed ball, the ball getting away from catcher Steve Swisher.  Swisher would retrieve the ball, only to throw it down the RF line allowing Robertson to go to third.  Reuschel would regroup, the horse already out of the barn, getting Rennie Stennett to ground back to the pitcher for the 4th 3rd out.


The Cubs would go quietly in the 10th while the Pirates would load the bases on two intentional walks following a 1 out triple from Al Oliver.  This would set the stage for Manny Sanguillen to win the division for the Pirates.


Sanguillen, with a panache for swinging at every apple hurled in his direction, barely hit a ball toward the 3B.  On a do or die play, Cubs third basemen Bill Madlock tried to barehand the ball and throw out Al Oliver at the plate.  The ball would skip past his outstreached barehand and the Pirates would score the division winning run.

As was custom in that day, the Pirates fans mobbed the Three Rivers field.  Engulfing Willie Stargell as he made his way to the dugout, the playing surface quickly filled up with fans.  The Pirates then stood 1.5 games ahead of the Cardinals, making a potential makeup game in Montreal pointless.  

The Cardinals would finish the season with only 161 games and they wouldn't contend again for the playoffs until the strike shortened 1981 season.  This would be Gibson's last full season as a starter and last chance at postseason glory.  In 1975, he was ineffective as a starter, eventually being moved to the bullpen to poor results. 

This game is a WGN color broadcast, the clips coming from the same source as the Simmons-Cubs brawl from before.  Like the previous clip, this too can be seen in the footage provided by MediaBurn.

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