Fendley Dives Deep: Houston vs Chicago, September 28, 1995
What’s the record for blown saves in a game by one team? Better question. How can you not know?
Recently, on the Twitter-sphere, a factoid was posted in regard to the most blown saves by a team in a game. On August 9th, the Yankees blew four saves against the Royals, before prevailing in 11 innings. Of course, with Manfred runners, one inning relievers, and home runs being handed out like fries at Five Guys, that seems plausible. Johnathan Loaisiga, Chad Green, Zach Britton, and Clay Holmes each blew a save before Wandy Peralta finally nailed it down in the 11th (even though he gave up a run as well).
This was only the second time a team had blown four saves in a game. The first time was the Houston Astros against the Cubs of Chicago, on September 28, 1995 at a game in Wrigley. Well, you knew that game needed a deep dive, and let me tell you, this game deserved as deep of a dive as one could get. As Bill Hader’s Stefan said on Saturday Night Live, “This game has everything….”
First, some background. This was the 1995 season, which was a short-ish season thanks to baseball stepping on one of its many labor rakes. So it was only a 144 game season. It was the first season with a wild card race (thanks to the idiocy of 1994 and Sideshow Bud Selig). And baseball got what they wanted in the NL – a big ol’ wild card pennant race.
Going into this game, Houston, Chicago, and Colorado were fighting for the wild card. Colorado and the Dodgers were also fighting for the NL West title. Houston was just 1 game behind Colorado (and 1 ½ behind the Dodgers), while the Cubs were a long shot at four games behind Colorado with four to play. But, there’s always hope, especially since the Cubs and Astros were starting a season-ending four game series at Wrigley on September 28th. And the Cubs had won six games in a row to claw back into the race. Colorado was facing the Giants for the final four games, and while San Francisco wasn’t in the race there’s no better motivation for a division rival knocking out a team from the playoffs. So there was hope on the North Side.
Houston was coming off of winning two of three against Pittsburgh at the Astrodome, but the last game was costly for the Astros. In an extra inning loss, they had to use closer Mike Henneman for third straight game since Todd Jones, one of the Astros mid-season pickups, walked four Pirates in the 11th. Doug Brocail had to pitch three innings as well. It was pretty much guaranteed that Brocail and Henneman were out. The rosters had extended, but Houston needed their secondary relief pitchers to get through this game.
The Cubs were seemingly in better shape, though closer Randy Myers appeared in the past two games. But the other Cubs relievers were mostly fresh.
On this Thursday afternoon, 14,075 souls were in Wrigley. A small-ish crowd, but school was back in session and that cut out some of the Cubs attendance base for a game that started at 1:23 in the afternoon. It was a sunny day in the 70’s, but the wind was blowing out to center at 12 MPH.
Hmmmm, wind blowing out…this could be interesting.
The pitching matchup was Donne (no “i” needed) Wall facing Jim Bullinger. Wall was a rookie, making his fifth start of the year. After a rough first go-round in September, he pitched well, and beat the Cubs 3-1 on September 18th, and was coming off of a win against the Cardinals.
Bullinger wasn’t anyone’s idea of a star, but he was a decent rotation pitcher thus far in his first season as a full-time starting pitcher. He had been shaky in September though, with a 7.31 over five starts. Maybe he was wearing down after a short spring training and being a full-time rotation starter for the first time.
As the game begins, Bullinger doesn’t give anyone warm fuzzies. In the 1st inning, with two outs, Jeff Bagwell blasts a double to deep left, and Derrick May plates him with a single. Wall gets the Cubs out in order, so after an inning it was 1-0.
The excitement in the top of the 2nd comes when Brian Hunter (the speedy version) steals two bases, but Bullinger escapes the threat. In the bottom of the second, the Cubs get to Wall a bit. With two out, Shawon Dunston increases the Shawon-o-Meter with a single. Then Scott Servais hits a two-run shot to put the home team up 2-1.
In late June, Servais was involved in a trade between the Astros and the Cubs. Servais and Luis Gonzales (!) (yes, that one – the future Diamondback slugger) went to Chicago for Rick Wilkins. Wilkins had been awful in 1995 (and 1994) after a 30-home-run 1993, but he had enough cache that the Astros gave up two very useful players for him. And it bites them in the butt here.
Bullinger gives up that lead in the top of the 3rd, when singles by Craig Biggio, Bagwell, and Dave Magadan plate a run. It is a short-lived tie though.
Howard Johnson (YES, he was a Cub) triple to start the 3rd and Brian Hunter was eaten by the ivy and the ball skittered away from him allowing HoJo to coast into third. Mark Grace hit a sac fly to drive him in. Wall then walked Sammy Sosa, and Gonzalez planted a ball into the bleachers to chase the pitcher from the game. (Harry called him Gon-zal-eeez).
Nice trade, Houston.
Darryl Kile comes in to shut the door in the 3rd and the 4th comes and goes quietly. After four, it’s 5-2 Cubs.
Just so you know, this game is on You Tube (broken into two parts for reasons you will see). By the way, Thom Brenneman was the play-by-play man for innings 4, 5, and 6 for the Cubs. It is just jarring to hear him.
Biggio, the pest to end all pests, singles to open up the fifth. After an out, May hits a single, driving Biggio to third. Magadan, Professional Hitter (it said so on his business card) hits a fly ball that Gonzalez misplays into a double, scoring Biggio. Hunter then grounds out to short, scoring May. Wilkins breaks his bat on a bloop to the outfield. Sosa meanders toward…then overruns it. It ends up being another double, making it 5-5. Bullinger gets out of it, finally, by not allowing anyone else to hit it to the outfielders.
Pedro Martinez (NO, not that one…a lefty), retires the Cubs in the 6th. Mike Perez comes in for the Cubs in the bottom of the same inning. After an out, That Pest Biggio walks and steals second on a 2-1 count (though if we had replay he’d be out). Jim Riggelman then changes pitchers with a 3-1 count and puts in Larry Casian. Casian finishes an intentional walk (Why do you bring in a guy to walk a batter?) Casian then throws a wild pitch, which is costly, as Mays subsequent grounder allows That Pest Biggio to score from third. Make it 6-5, Astros.
Jim Dougherty enters the game for Houston. After an out and two singles, Dougherty gets Matt Franco (he came up with the Cubs!) to ground out putting runners on the corners. Enter Dean Hartgraves of the College of Arts and Sciences…er…the Houston bullpen. The lefty faces Brian McRae (Why he didn’t come in to face Franco is beyond me – and then McRae hits better as a righty). McRae hit a single off of the glove of Magadan (Professional Hitter, not Professional Fielder) to tie the game at six.
Blown save #1.
Hartgraves gets out of the inning, and the Cubs put Turk Wendell out on the mound to begin the seventh. Turk, the licorice-chewing, between-inning-tooth-brushing, foul-line-hopping weirdo of all weirdos (I loved him), didn’t do so well. Hunter leads off with a single, steals second, takes third on a fly ball, and scores on a single by Craig Shipley (crikey!). Turk retires the next two batters, but the Astros have a 7-6 lead going to Harry’s song fest in the middle of the 7th.
(BTW, the transition between the ultra-smooth and wooden Brenneman to Harry and back again is a train wreck. Steve Stone, a consummate professional, rolls with whoever).
Jeff Tabaka, another mid-season acquisition, comes on in the seventh. (Harry calls him Tuhbacky after saying his name right the first time). Grace leads off with a single, then, after an out, Gonzalez walks. Astros’ manager Terry Collins goes to the pen again, and comes up with…Craig McMurtry.
McMurtry was back in the bigs for the first time since 1990. If you recall, he came up as a rookie sensation in 1983 for the Braves (on TBS) and then did what the Braves pitchers did back in that era. He started to stink. From a 15-9 record and a 3.08 earned-run average in 1983 to 10-26 and a 4.76 ERA in the three seasons from 1984-86, he eventually pitched himself on to a bus, seeing the bright lights and Motel 6’s of the International League. He then surfaced in Texas. After 1990, he spent four seasons in the Pacific Coast League and one in the American Association before the Astros called him up just a couple weeks before this game to bolster their bullpen. It was quite the reward for a 6-1, 1.42 ERA season in Tucson. (Which in the PCL is like having an ERA of naught).
Still, it’s jarring to see the him, a 35-year old journeyman, in a crucial September game trying to hold a one-run lead. Especially since he hadn’t pitched since September 6th and had been absolutely horrific in August. But Collins didn’t have Henneman, and Jones was probably being saved for another situation.
McMurtry immediately throws a wild pitch, then walks Dunston. Servais then hits a scoring fly ball (hat tip, Vin Scully) to tie the score at seven.
Blown save #2.
McMurty escapes after that, and Wendell comes out again for the top of the 8th. That Pest Craig Biggio singles and then Wendell fans Bagwell. Riggelman decides its time to stop this nonsense and brings out his closer, Myers. Mark Parent comes in to catch as part of a double switch (the Cubs going with the all-backup catcher lineup, as their third catcher was Joe Kmak and they also had Todd Pratt and Mike Hubbard on the roster that year as well).
Tony Eusebio hits for May, and Myers retires him. Collins puts in James Mouton to hit for Magadan, and it’s during this at bat that things go to hell for Parent. First, Parent can’t catch a Myers fastball, and then That Pest Craig Biggio steals third. Mouton keeps battling and battling, and on the 8th pitch of the at bat hits a meatball fastball into a yard on Waveland Avenue.
As Mouton crosses the plate to make it 9-7, a fan runs out onto the field. This isn’t a normal attention-seeking fan. This guy’s different. He runs right at Myers, who is now looking right at him. Myers cold-cocks him. There’s a pig-pile on the fan who is then arrested. Turns out he’s a drunken stock broker. He gets a little time in the pokey and a ban from Wrigley for…one year.
They didn’t show it on WGN, but I’d have loved to see Myers giving that guy the what for.
Hunter singles, and Myers is excused in favor of Terry Adams. Hunter steals second and Parent gives up another passed ball, but no other damage is done. (Harry, after pronouncing Mouton’s name correctly for most of the inning, then says it’s “Mow-tun”. That’s Harry. He also has an adventure with Ricky Gutierrez’ name as well).
Greg Swindell, who was pushed out of the rotation earlier in the year, comes in to protect the 9-7 lead in the bottom of the 8th. The Astros make a bunch of changes, moving Shipley to third, Eusebio to catcher. Mouton to right, and Andy Stankiewicz (poor Harry) to short. Parent greets him with a double that causes Hunter to eat more ivy (and allows Harry to say “Another biscuit for breakfast…”). McRae hits a deep fly that moves Parent to third. HoJo then slaps a single to center, scoring Parent. Grace doubles past a diving John Cangelosi in left, plating Johnson.
Blown save number three.
Dave Veres gets out of the inning, and Adams gets the Astros out 1-2-3 in the 9th. Veres gives up a single to Dunston, and Todd Zeile (!) pinch hits and sacrifices Dunston to second. Veres buckles down and fans the next two, and we’re going to extras, tied at 9.
In the top of the 10th, the Cubs put Mike Walker on the mound. This was 1995, and my baseball watching wasn’t as fervent as it used to be. But I kept up. I read the annuals, and USA Today for the stats. I was in a few Rotisserie Leagues. The Cubs used 43 players in 1995. I remembered most all of them, even guys like Dave Swartzbaugh, Tanyon Sturtze, and Roberto Rivera.
I have no memory of Walker.
He pitched in 42 games and 44 2/3 innings.
I don’t recall him at all.
Now, in 2021, I don’t know many of the fringe pitchers. Big league teams use the Designated For Assignment list liberally, and they usually have about three to five guys just waiting to be called up for a day or two. So it’s hard to keep up. But in 1995, it wasn’t. And I still have no idea who this guy is or was.
Anyway…Walker faces That Pest Craig Biggio. He throws a get-em-over fastball and Biggio whacks it off the ivy. Bagwell’s intentionally walked, and Eusebio sacrifices the Killer B’s to second and third. How quaint: an intentional walk, and then bunting with a .300 hitter. Small ball, during a 9-9 game pays off with Mouton hitting a sacrifice fly. With the Astros holding a 10-9 lead, Hunter flies out to left.
Veres comes back to the mound in the 10th. Remember, Henneman and Brocail are probably out, and Jones absolutely stunk the night before. So Veres it is.
McRae leads off with a single. Johnson hits a liner near the wall, but Cangelosi makes a great catch that saves a double or triple. Grace hits a single through the infield, moving McRae to third. Sosa follows with a sac fly to center after a long at bat. McRae scores. Gonzalez fans (and Harry says his name backwards) and it’s tied again at 10 after 10.
That’s not a blown save, though, since Veres was the pitcher of record. He blew his own lead and we’re just counting blown saves here.
Walker goes out to the mound again to start the 11th. Collins pinch-hits for Veres, who had thrown 46 pitches. Enter Mike Brumley.
Brumley came up with the Cubs in the late 80s, and had bounced around the both leagues as a utility guy, either the 25th man or a player stashed at AAA for an emergency. After the Cubs, he had played for Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Houston, Oakland, and Houston again. Brumley was up in June, and then came up with the roster expansion. He was 0-16 on the year, with no walks. A perfect slash of .000/.000/.000.
Walker again throws a get-em-over fastball, and Brumley puts one into the bleachers in left.
That was Brumley’s third big league home run. His last one was in September 1989 against Charlie Liebrandt. Harry can’t find Brumley’s info in the Astros’ guide book. Oh, the pre-internet days.
Walker fans Shipley and walks Stankiewicz, and Riggelman brings out Anthony Young. That Anthony Young. He of the long losing streak with the Mets. Young was a decent enough pitcher, but that losing streak tarred him for life.
Young strikes out Cangelosi, who, despite all of the offensive madness in this game, was 0 for 7. Young then gets That Pest Craig Biggio to fly out, but Houston is ahead, again, 11-10.
Now, they’ve blown four one-run leads, with three blown saves, but the odds are they won’t again, right? Right?
Todd Jones was thrown into the fray. He was the 10th pitcher Collins had to use (Riggleman had used eight). Jones took over as closer for Houston when John Hudek was injured, but ceded his closer role when the Astros got Henneman. Jones had a rocky July and August. But he did well in September as the main set-up guy until the game against the Pirates the game before. Harry mentions that right away: that Rich Aude, of all people, beat him with a home run.
Dunston rings up the Shawon-o-Meter to begin the 11th with a single. That brings up Scott Bullitt (a great name for a meh player). Eusebio commits a passed ball, the third by catchers on the day. (Not a single error, just those PBs – go figure).
(An aside – a drinking game could be to drink anytime Harry says, “Now Ready!” I think that’s a verbal tic. And another aside by Harry, “Boy, this seems longer than the OJ Simpson trial. Timely content from Harry!)
Bullitt works Jones on a 12-pitch at-bat and singles to right, scoring Dunston.
Blown save #4. Blown lead #5.
And we have a Yosh Kawano sighting with his fishing hat.
Jose Hernandez sacrificed Bullitt to second, and then Jones had to face Mark Parent.
Parent fought off pitches, and then finally squeaked a single up the middle, scoring Bullitt for the win. Cubs Win! Cubs Win!
It was 12-11. The Cubs wild card hopes were still alive, as the Rockies lost as well.
The next day Chicago won again, and the Rockies lost, keeping the dream alive and vexing the Astros who could not make up any ground. But it was all over the next day, as the Astros throttled Frank Castillo and Wendell despite scoring eight off Shane Reynolds. With the Rockies winning their game, 10-9 over San Francisco (despite Bret Saberhagen getting blasted in the 3rd inning. Yes, he was on the Rockies), Colorado clinched the wild card the last game of the year.
This game had so many twists, turns, and weird stuff that it could be it’s own book, just like the famous 23-22 game back in 1979. And except for That Pest Craig Biggio, the stars were guys like Servais, Parent, Brumley, and Mouton. Guys that were always card 684 in the Topps pack that you only kept if you were collecting the set.
It took 26 years to tie that ‘record’ the Astros didn’t want to have. But that’s baseball. It could be broken tomorrow…especially with the Manfred Runner lurking on second.