The Cubs’ ‘Sandberg Game’ started an amazing run

The evening before what became known as the ‘‘Sandberg Game,’’ Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg agreed to go to a concert with his teammates.

‘‘We couldn’t get him to go out much, that’s how serious he was about it,’’ former catcher Jody Davis said.

But on June 22, 1984, Alabama was at the Rosemont Horizon, and pitcher Rick Sutcliffe was friends with lead singer Randy Owen. He estimated about 15 Cubs and their significant others got together for the concert.

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‘‘Ryno was really structured in taking care of himself,’’ Sutcliffe told the Sun-Times recently, ‘‘but he was always available to do stuff with the team.’’

The next day, Sandberg put on an unforgettable performance.

The Cubs were playing the Cardinals at Wrigley Field that weekend in a series that would mark a turning point in their playoff-drought-breaking season.

‘‘St. Louis was always good, and it was always a big rivalry because they’d bring 15,000 or 20,000 from St. Louis up there to the games,’’ Davis said. ‘‘And, likewise, we would take 15,000 or 20,000 to St. Louis. So there was always a bunch of Cardinals fans in the stands.

‘‘And the Cardinals were always a really good team. And it was kind of a statement game that we can play with you guys. I think that’s the day a lot of Cub fans started believing we can compete.’’

By the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs had clawed back from a six-run deficit to trail by one. Sandberg led off the inning against closer Bruce Sutter in a matchup between two future Hall of Famers. Sandberg would win the National League MVP that season, and Sutter would lead the league with 45 saves.

Sandberg hit a solo home run to tie the score and send the game into extra innings.

Cubs closer Lee Smith, another Hall of Famer-in-the-making, came in for the 10th inning and gave up two runs.

‘‘I always give Ryno a hard time about, ‘You wouldn’t have the highlight reel if it wasn’t for me giving up [those runs],’ ’’ Smith said with a chuckle.

With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th, Bobby Dernier stepped up to the plate, knowing he had to find a way to get on base and get Sandberg back into the batter’s box.

‘‘That day was [NBC’s] ‘Game of the Week’; it was kind of our ‘Monday Night Football’ at the time,’’ Dernier said. ‘‘At that time of the game, nobody thought the Cubs were going to win. But there was nothing Ryno loved more than saying, ‘Wait just one minute.’ I’d seen him do it enough.’’

Dernier drew a walk. And Sandberg tied the score again with another homer against Sutter.

‘‘It’s hard to beat coming around the bases in front of Ryno when he tied the game the second time,’’ Dernier said. ‘‘That’s a trip nobody else got to make.’’

The Cubs would go on to win 12-11 in 11 innings, and Sandberg finished with seven RBI, going 5-for-6 at the plate.

‘‘That right there was one of the games that gave the fans — and probably the whole team — a lot of confidence,” Smith said.  “ ‘You know what? We could do something here.’ ’’

Sutcliffe had been traded to the Cubs a week and a half earlier, and he said it was wife Robin’s first game at Wrigley Field.

‘‘She goes, ‘Are all the games here like that?’ ’’ Sutcliffe said. ‘‘And I’m like, ‘No, honey. I think we saw something that we’ll talk about forever.’ ’’

Contributing: Steve Greenberg

1984: Cubs’ postseason of heartbreak
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