Merkle, Will and Trachsel: A look back at Cubs-Giants playoff moments
CHICAGO – Whenever they have a team that threatens one of longest championship droughts in sports, connections are immediately made to one season.
As many of you know that was the year the Cubs last won the World Series. Since then the team has appeared in seven MLB championship series and lost them all. The last time they made the Fall Classic was 1945.
These numbers are as synonymous with the team as Wrigley Field, Ernie Banks or the Billy Goat. Yet one important connection to 2016 cannot be overlooked: The Cubs had to get through the Giants to win the World Series.
That is the case as Joe Maddon’s team faces San Francisco starting Friday in the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. It is the first of three series they must win to end the 108-year drought, needing three victories against the Giants to advance to the National League Championship Series.
But back in 1908 the Cubs only needed one victory over their NL rival to get to there. You might wonder why that is the case since there was no league playoff series at all back then, but 108 years ago one was needed because of some bizarre circumstances.
On September 23rd of that year the Giants and the Cubs met at New York’s Polo Grounds for a critical National League match-up. Both teams were in the thick of the pennant race and entered the bottom of the ninth inning tied at 1 with two out.
Fred Merkle of the Giants (Pictured Above) was on first base and another runner was on third when Al Bridwell hit a single to bring home the winning run.
There was one problem. Instead of running to second, Merkle took off for the Giants clubhouse in center field because a number of fans rushed the field to celebrate the victory. Somehow Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers found the ball, got it to second base.
Umpire Hank O’Day called Merkle out but due to the fans and darkness, the game was declared a 1-1 tie. When the Giants and Cubs finished the season with identical records a one-game playoff was held at the Polo Grounds as a make-up for the tied game.
The Cubs won the game 4-2 and went onto win the World Series against the Tigers the following week. Dubbed by the media back then as “Merkle’s Boner,” the play remains the most historic moment of the franchise’s last world title.
The Giants would have to wait 81 years to get the Cubs back. Will Clark was happy to provide a bit of revenge.
That was in 1989 when the two teams played for the only time in the official postseason. Led by Don Zimmer the Cubs surprised many with a 93-win season and an Eastern Division Championship. The best record gave the Cubs homefield advantage in the NLCS.
Clark took that away with one of the best offensive performances in Wrigley Field postseason history in Game 1. He went 4-for-4 with six RBIs including a pair of homers – the last of which was a grand slam off future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
The offensive show put on by Clark in an 11-3 win in Game 1 was just the beginning for the first baseman who finished the series with a .650 average and eight RBIs. In Game 5 his eighth inning single with the bases loaded drove in the winning runs as the Giants eliminated the Cubs with a 3-2 win at Candlestick Park.
Clark’s performance overshadowed an incredible series for Cubs first baseman Mark Grace who like Clark drove in eight RBIs and batted .647. He drove in four runs on three hits in the Cubs only win of the series in Game 2 at Wrigley Field.
As they had back in 1908, the Cubs and Giants needed an extra regular season game to determined a playoff spot in 1998.
Both teams lost on the final day of the season to necessitate the game at Wrigley Field for the National League Wild Card.
While Sammy Sosa’s home run chase put a lot of attention on him during the contest it was Cubs starter Steve Trachsel that stole the show. He had a no-hitter into the seventh inning and shutdown a potent Giants offense that included Barry Bonds – who went 0-for-4 and left the bases loaded twice.
Gary Gaetti’s two-run homer and Matt Mieske’s two-run single provided the bulk of the Cubs offense in a 5-3 victory that sent the Cubs to the postseason for the first time in nine years.
The fun didn’t last long as a stronger Atlanta Braves team made quick work of the Cubs in the NLDS, outscoring them 15-4 in a quick three-game sweep.