History repeats itself for Cubs

If I'd had anywhere to go, I'd have gone there because the game looked over.

I didn't, so instead I watched the most shocking inning I've ever seen.

There is a precedent, of sorts.

It happened in the 1929 World Series (they didn't have LCS's back then).

It happened in Philadelphia rather than Chicago.

It happened in Game 4 rather than Game 6, and the Cubs were not on the verge of clinching a championship.

But this isn't the first time the Cubs have given up a bushel of runs to blow a lead in the late innings of a postseason game.

It was Oct. 12, 1929. Seventy-four years and three days ago. The Cubs' opponent in the World Series was the Philadelphia Athletics. The A's won the first two games, at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs came back to win Game 3 in Philadelphia, 3-1.

And for 6½ innings of Game 4, it looked for all the world like the Cubs would even up the Series at two games apiece. In the fourth, first baseman Charlie Grimm hit a two-run homer, the Cubs tacked on five more runs in the sixth, and another in the seventh.

Meanwhile, when the A's came up in the bottom of the seventh, Cubs starter Charlie Root was working on a three-hit shutout.

Philadelphia's ace was Lefty Grove, but in one of the all-time strangest World Series moves, A's manager Connie Mack sent Grove to the bullpen for the entire Series. And here's how Grove remembered the bottom of that seventh inning:

"So I was down in the bullpen when that seventh-inning merry-go-round started. Simmons started it off with a home run, and before it was over, 15 men had batted and we'd scored 10 runs. 'Course three or four were due to misjudged fly balls. Poor Hack Wilson was blinded by the sun a few times. It was tough out there, what with the sun coming just over the edge of the stands."

After the A's went ahead, Grove trotted in from the bullpen and retired all six batters he faced, striking out four of them, to seal the victory. Losing Game 4 put the Cubs in a deep hole, and in Game 5 the A's buried them with three runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Joe McCarthy -- who, like Mack, Grove, Simmons, and Hack Wilson, would wind up in the Hall of Fame -- managed the Cubs in 1929, and here's how he remembered that fateful seventh inning in Game 4:

"We were leading them 8-0 going into the last half of the seventh inning, and they came up with 10 runs. Hard to believe, isn't it? But it happened. I'll say it did. Actually, they shouldn't have got more than three. Hack Wilson missed two fly balls in the sun, and there was an easy chance in left field that (Riggs) Stephenson should have caught. Everything went wrong at the same time."

When you give up that many runs, everything has to go wrong at the same time, and everything went wrong for the Cubs at the same time. You wouldn't think eight runs could be scored that quickly, but I know it happened because I saw it.

The goat in Tuesday night's game will always be that poor sod who didn't have the good sense to make way for the left fielder. The goat in 1929 will always be Hack Wilson. The next spring in training camp, his teammates called him by his new nickname, "Sunny Boy." According to Wilson's biographer, Clifton Blue Parker, that spring a boy asked McCarthy for a baseball. McCarthy pointed to Wilson and told the boy, "Son, see that fat fella out there in the outfield? Well, you just stand behind him and you'll get more baseballs than you know what to do with."

Don't blame this one on the fan
But should the goat in Tuesday night's game be that poor sod?

Well, he'll do. But I'm reminded of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Every Cardinals fan still blames umpire Don Denkinger for blowing the call at first base, but Denkinger's call merely unlocked the door. The Cardinals opened the door with two defensive mistakes, then stood idly by while the Royals walked through it.

Yeah, that fan shouldn't have interfered with Moises Alou. But it's worth pointing out that 1) at least one other fan was trying to do exactly the same thing, 2) a lot of the people in Wrigley Field on Tuesday night would have done exactly the same thing, and 3) he didn't open the door; he only unlocked it.

Mark Prior couldn't put Luis Castillo away, or finish off Ivan Rodriguez. Alex Gonzalez booted a Sunday-hop grounder. Dusty Baker ordered a couple of intentional walks. Sammy Sosa made a terrible throw that allowed a couple of runners to advance.

Yes, the goat's already been given his horns and he's stuck with them. But a fan didn't lose this game. The Chicago Cubs did.

Red Sox with limited options
Regarding the burning question of who should start for the Red Sox in Game 6, about all we know for sure is that Grady Little doesn't have a lot of attractive choices.

  • Pedro Martinez would be pitching on three days' rest after throwing 98 pitches in his last start. Red Sox management has already said that Martinez's performance suffers when he pitches on short rest.

  • Tim Wakefield would be pitching on one day of rest. You might think that throwing the knuckleball doesn't take a toll on a pitcher, but if it didn't take any toll, Phil Niekro would have started 162 games every season. Standing on the mound and making pitches is taxing, even if most of those pitches couldn't break a sheet of two-ply bath tissue.

  • John Burkett is John Burkett, and Jeff Suppan is Jeff Suppan. Both are decent major-league pitchers, but you don't want to see either of them on a Bronx mound in a game you absolutely, positively have to win.

    This might be the time to try something creative. Ask Suppan to give you his three best innings, ask Burkett for the same, and see if your bullpen can get you through the last three. Yes, it's radical. But losing conventionally isn't any better than losing radically.

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.