COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It was the day Cubs fans knew 1984 would be a very special year. It was a day former Cub Bruce Sutter would rather forget.
But mostly, it was the day Ryne Sandberg began his march to Cooperstown.
Twenty-six years ago this week, June 23, 1984, Sandberg – en route to a season that would win him the National League Most Valuable Player Award – went 5-for-6 with game-tying home runs against Cardinals’ closer Bruce Sutter in both the ninth and 10th innings to lead Chicago past St. Louis 12-11 in 11 innings on a sun-splashed Saturday at Wrigley Field.
Sandberg, in just his third full big league season, drove in seven runs to rally the Cubs from an early 7-1 deficit – with one coming in the first inning, another in the fifth (on his only non-hit of the day, an RBI ground out) and two more in the sixth. But entering the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs trailed 9-8 – with Sutter, a pitcher who finished the 1984 season with a 1.54 earned-run average and 45 saves, on the mound.
Sandberg, however, sent the Wrigley faithful into a frenzy with a homer to lead off the inning. The Cubs would get no more runs, however, and St. Louis scored twice in the top of the 10th to take an 11-9 lead.
Time for more Sandberg heroics. With two out and no one on, Bob Dernier worked Sutter for a walk. Sandberg then followed with another home run, tying the game at 11. It marked the first time Sutter had surrendered two home runs to the same batter in the same game, and represented 22 percent of all the home runs Sutter would allow that season.
“You really don’t go into at-bats thinking about hitting a home run against a pitcher like Bruce Sutter,” Sandberg said. “You go up there just thinking about making contact.”
The Cubs would need no further help from Sandberg, scoring in the bottom of the 11th on an RBI single by Dave Owen off Jeff Lahti. The Cubs would go on to win the National League East that year, making their first postseason appearance in 39 years.
The June 23 contest would quickly become known as “The Sandberg Game.”
Sandberg finished the season with a .314 batting average, 19 triples, 19 home runs, 84 runs batted in and an NL-best 114 runs scored. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005.
The following year, Sutter was enshrined in Cooperstown following his stellar big league career.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum