Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs bats during a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
In 2005, Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame after a stellar 15-season career with the team.
But on June 23, 1984, 27 years ago today, Sandberg was a third-year second baseman just beginning to find his groove, as were the Cubs, which hadn't made the postseason in 39 years. Unexpectedly in first place early in the 1984 season, they had lost six of their last seven and dropped to third in the NL East as their division rivals, the Cardinals, arrived at Wrigley Field for a weekend series.
The Cubs won the first game of the set 9-3 and the second game was scheduled for a Saturday-afternoon national TV date on NBC, who then did the "Game of the Week" in an era when cable and satellite delivery was new and many baseball fans still hadn't seen Sandberg play.
The Cardinals raced out to a 7-1 lead against Cubs starter Steve Trout, who didn't make it out of the second inning. It was 9-3 by the bottom of the sixth when the Cubs scored five and chased St. Louis starter Ralph Citarella. And there it stayed until the bottom of the ninth, when Sandberg, who had driven in four runs already in the game, led off the inning with a home run off former Cub Bruce Sutter, then the game's premier closer. The Cubs got the winning run into scoring position with one out but couldn't get him in, and the game went into extra innings.
St. Louis promptly took an 11-9 lead off Cubs reliever Lee Smith, and Sutter got the first two outs easily in the last of the 10th. It appeared the Cardinals had won the game when Sutter looked like he slipped a third strike past leadoff man Bob Dernier.
But plate umpire Doug Harvey ruled the close pitch ball four, and Sandberg came to the plate.
Sandberg homered again. If you have ever seen video of this, the angry look on Sutter's face as he took the ball for the next hitter is priceless.
In the last of the 11th, the Cubs loaded the bases on a walk, a steal and then a pair of intentional passes. Dave Owen, a utility infielder who batted only 93 times that year, became the instant answer to a trivia question by lining a single to right to win it for the Cubs 12-11. (Another bit of trivia: Willie McGee hit for the cycle for the Cardinals that day in a losing effort; he is the last visiting player to cycle in Wrigley Field.)
Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog called Sandberg's performance one of the greatest he had ever seen and dubbed Sandberg "Baby Ruth". Sandberg went on to win the MVP Award.
But most important, it was a game that put the Cubs on the national scene as a serious playoff contender, after years of failure, and Sandberg on the map as a superstar. Sandberg, now in exile of sorts as a Triple-A manager in the Phillies organization, will be beloved by Cubs fans forever for his stellar career ... and for his seven-RBI, five-hit, two-homer performance on June 23, 1984.