Wednesday, November 30, 2011

1984 NLCS: Bull and the Billy Goat

How they got here
There were a couple of surprising entrants into the National League playoffs in 1984. Out of the west came the Padres, who jumped out to a quick lead in the division and cruised to the playoffs, winning the division by 12 games as the only team in the West to finish above .500. Facing them was the Cubs, who started the year scuffling a bit in the East before acquiring Rick Sutcliffe from the Indians. Sutcliffe went a shocking 16-1 for Chicago and the Cubs rode his arm to a division championship.

With the matchup, the Cubs were making the postseason for the first time since 1945 while the Padres were making the playoffs for the first time ever, which was somehow a shorter time. But both teams were well-rested down the stretch and had their aces ready to go to start the series. That meant the Padres had to deal with Sutcliffe, and they didn't do a very good job of that. Sutcliffe threw shutout and hit one of the Cubs' five home runs as they romped to a 13-0 Game 1 win.

The Cubs won Game 2 as well, heading out to the West coast needing just one more win to wrap up the series (this was the last year of the best-of-5 LCS). But these were the Cubs, and nothing ever comes easy for the Cubs. San Diego cruised in Game 3, won Game 4 on a 2-run walkoff home run by Steve Garvey to tie the series. It was coming down to a final game. The Padres were bringing back Eric Show, who had gotten pounded in Game 1, while the Cubs were bringing back Sutcliffe, who hadn't lost since the last week of June. It should have been easy for the Cubs. But, it was the Cubs, and things were never easy with the Cubs.

The Game
That Billy Goat is a bitch, huh? While the goat's curse isn't as old as the Curse of the Bambino, it's just as powerful, just as likely to get blamed by an irrational fan base for everything that's wrong with their franchise.

Leon "Bull" Durham's dance with the Billy Goat was frighteningly similar to that of Steve Bartman. Both happened with his team in the lead, sure, but both happened with plenty of time left for the Cubs to recover. Also, both are a convenient excuse to cover up a complete Cubs collapse.

At first, it looked like Durham would be the man to finally break the Billy Goat Curse, as his two-run home run in the first gave the Cubs the lead. Jody Davis hit another home run in the second, and the Cubs handed the best pitcher in the National League a 3-0 lead in the deciding game of the series.

Sutcliffe was cruising, too, until San Diego loaded the bases on him with nobody out in the sixth. Like all good pitchers, though, he wiggled out of it; the Padres hit two straight sacrifice flies to cut the lead to 3-2, but you couldn't help but think they wanted so much more from the inning.

That's when the Billy Goat woke up.

A man was on second with one out in the bottom of the seventh when it happened. Tim Flannery hit a weak ground ball towards Durham at first, one that could have been an easy out. Instead, it went under his glove, and the tying run scored.

That should have been an easy play for the Cubs to overcome. Sure, the game was tied, but it was only tied, and they had plenty of time to recover. But the Billy Goat doesn't allow for recoveries. When he strikes, he sees to it that the Cubs suffer complete, humiliating collapse. The formerly unhittable Sutcliffe gave up three straight hits after Durham's error, and three more runs came home to make it 6-3 Padres.

The Cubs had six more outs to try to come back, but the writing was on the wall. When Gary Mathews struck out with two men on to end the eighth, it was over. San Diego got the last three outs to advance to the World Series, while the Cubs went home, cursing the Billy Goat for the 39th straight season.

It didn't much matter who won the NLCS - they weren't gonna beat the Tigers. If you had combined the Cubs and Padres, you might have had a team that could have beaten the '84 Tigers, but otherwise, no. The only real surprise of the 1984 World Series was that the Padres managed to win even one game against what was the best AL team of the 1980s.

What I'm doing.

The list so far:

11. 1984 NLCS: San Diego 6, Chicago 3
12. 2003 NLCS: Florida 9, Chicago 6
13. 2004 NLCS: St. Louis 5, Houston 2
14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NLCS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1982 ALCS: California vs. Milwaukee
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis
2008 ALCS: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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