Standout Moments: How the Best Rivalry in Baseball Never Disappoints

Ryne Sandberg hitting a home run during what becvame known as 'The Sandberg Game'.

Once the Cubs became cursed, the rivalry became defined by particular moments and characters rather than season-long contests for the pennant.

There have, however, been individual games or series, which have defined not only the rivalry, but also a whole season.

This article will look at one such instance for each side in depth to illustrate legendary moments between the two ballclubs. We will look at The Sandberg Game first, before considering the September 2019 series, which not only had late dramatics in every game, but also had the postseason on the line.

The Sandberg Game

When you ask the elders about memorable Cardinals vs Cubs games, ‘The Sandberg Game’, as it is known, in 1984 is one of the most common answers from Cubs fans.

The game is still a source of joy for them, as it was one of the defining moments in a 1984 season that ended in a Cubs postseason run (which was very rare at the time) and a Hall of Fame-defining season for Cubbie Ryne Sandberg.  The Cubs were coming off a 91-loss season in 1983, but had a new manager in Dallas Green who rebuilt the team with a number of big acquisitions. 

The Cardinals jumped ahead during the game at Wrigley Field on 23 June 1984, holding a 9-3 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Cubs clawed their way back into the game, scoring five in the sixth to make the score 9-8. It remained 9-8 all the way to the bottom of the ninth inning when Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter entered the game for the save. 

To be honest, I can imagine that Cardinal fans were not particularly worried at this point – Sutter was in the middle of an outstanding 1984 season, ultimately ending the season with a 1.54 ERA and 45 saves.

However, Sandberg was not having it and was determined to ruin Sutter’s day. He walked up to the plate to lead off the inning and promptly hit a homerun to tie the game and send it to extra innings. ‘No worries’ thought the Cardinals, who added two more runs in the top of the tenth to retake the lead.

Sandberg wasn’t finished though – after getting two outs, Sutter issued a walk to Bob Dernier, which meant Sandberg came up to the plate as the tying run. Once again, he hit another home run to tie the game.  Legendary Cubs announcer Harry Caray described it as:

There’s a drive, way back! Might be outta here! It is! It is! He did it again! He did it again! The game is tied! The game is tied! Holy Cow! Listen to this crowd, everybody’s gone bananas!

The rest of the Cubs lineup then stepped up, with Dave Owen hitting the winning run in the eleventh inning to seal the win for the Cubs.

The Sandberg Game is so iconic, the Cubs produced a 46-minute documentary about it!

Many Cubs fans see this game as a pivotal moment in the 1984 season, which ended with the Cubs winning the National League (NL) East and making their first postseason appearance in 39 years.

It was also important for Sandberg, who finished the season with a .314 BA, 19 triples, 19 home runs and as the NL leader in runs scored with 114. Sandberg was also elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

To put this into the context of Sutter’s season, it was the only time he gave up two homers to the same player in the same game and this represented 22% of all home runs that Sutter would give up that season. Sutter also entered the Hall of Fame and represented both the Cubs and the Cardinals during his career. As well as being induced into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he is also in both club’s Halls of Fame and had his number 42 jersey retired by the Cardinals.

I should also point out that Cardinals player Willie McGee achieved one of the rarest feats in baseball during this game – hitting for the cycle – but, for some reason, that’s not what anyone ever remembers! 

The September 2019 Series

Twenty-five years later, there was another late inning comeback that went on to the define the season.

The Cubs’ resurgence in the 2010s (including ending the curse and winning the World Series in 2016) meant the two clubs were once again regularly battling it out for the division title, with the 2019 NL Central division race coming down to the wire for not only the Cardinals and Cubs, but also the Milwaukee Brewers.

In September 2019, the St Louis Cardinals arrived at Wrigley Field for a four-game series that would essentially decide which of the two teams would reach the playoffs.

The Cardinals were three games ahead of both the Cubs and Brewers (who were tied for second) with ten games left to go. This meant there were three potential outcomes from this series;

  1. If the Cardinals won the series, they would knock the Cubs out of contention.
  1. If the Cubs won, they would put themselves right back in contention.
  1. If they split the series, it opened everything up for the Brewers (who, by the way, went undefeated during this series).

It is also important to remember that, while the Cubs had some rough times, this was still a healthy rivalry. The Cardinals had not swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field since 1921 and hadn’t even swept the Cubs at Busch Stadium in 19 years. Therefore, if you were putting a bet on, it would have been unlikely you would pick a sweep.

Game One – Thursday 19 September 2019 

Cardinals’ pitcher Jack Flaherty was in the middle of a hot streak with an ERA of 0.90 in his last nine games coming into the series and he did not let the side down. He went eight innings and only gave up one run –a homerun to Antony Rizzo in the eighth.

The Cubs came into the bottom of the ninth inning 4-1 down with Carlos Martinez on the mound for the Cardinals, who promptly gave up a walk, two singles and a double to tie up the game and force extra innings.

Then, in the top of the tenth, Matt Carpenter comes to the plate and hits a 431ft home run into Lake Michigan (ok, left centre field) to give the Cardinals the win.

Game Two – Friday 20 September 2019 

Even though both starting pitchers (Michael Wacha for the Cardinals and Alec Mills for the Cubs) had an almost faultless five innings, David Bote managed to score on an error to give the Cubs the lead.

However, things fell apart for the Cubs once Mills was pulled for David Phelps. He walked two, including future NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt, causing the Cubs’ World Series-winning manager Joe Madden to replace him before he could record an out.

His replacement, Steve Cishek, immediately walked Matt Carpenter before legendary Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina hit a single to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

To be fair to the Cubs, they tried to rally in the seventh and did manage to load the bases, but Marcell Ozuna made a catch right at the ivy wall with the bases loaded to preserve the Cardinal lead.

Game Three – Saturday 21 September 2019 

Fresh from another defeat the night before, the Cubs came out swinging.

They put pressure on Cardinals starting pitcher Dakota Hudson, who only managed to last three innings and left with the Cubs leading 3-2. The Cardinals scored three runs in the top of the fourth to take the lead, but immediately surrendered it when Ian Happ came up in the bottom of the fourth to hit a two-run homer to tie the game. Happ clearly enjoys hitting against the Cardinals, given he hit two home runs in the first London Series game this season.

The Cardinals took the lead at the top of the seventh with a Marcel Ozuna two-run home run only to again let the Cubs take the lead in the bottom half of the inning with Tony Kemp hitting a two-run blast to make it 8-7 Cubs.

The Cardinals wouldn’t do it again, would they? Yup, they did. This time, it was a home run in the ninth from Paul DeJong. Scoring two, they were able to hold onto the lead to claim the series, but could they break the almost hundred-year-long record and take the sweep?

Game Four – Sunday 22 September 2019 

This game was really an old-fashioned duel between two determined starting pitchers.

The Cardinals put Miles Mikolas on the mound to face Yu Darvish, and they were both exceptional – Mikolas gave up 2 runs (one earned) in 7.2 innings. Darvish pitched eight innings, conceding only one earned run (a DeJong home run, of course) and started the ninth looking to record a complete game with the Cubs leading 2-1.

However, despite an incredible pitching performance by Darvish, these Cardinals would not go away. Jose Martinez led off the inning with a triple and was brought home by a sac-fly from former World Series-winning Cub Dexter Fowler. Darvish then gave up a Tommy Edman single, who then stole second to get into a prime spot for Paul Goldschmidt. Goldie hit a beautiful line drive down the third baseline, which brought Tommy Edman home, as well as the sweep and the postseason for the Cardinals.

Oh, and they knocked the Cubs out of contention as well. Does it get any better for St Louis?

Next time

Stay tuned for the next instalment of this MLB Rivalries series as we look at some of the characters in the modern period who have kept this feisty rivalry alive.

Jennifer Annely is Bat Flips & Nerds’ St Louis Cardinals contributor, and can be found on Twitter @jenniferbarnes8.

Featured image – Courtesy of The National Baseball Hall of Fame

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