1984 NLCS: An Unforgettable Saturday & Sunday In San Diego

The 1984 NLCS saw two fresh faces arrive on the October stage. The Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres each won their first division titles since advent of divisional play in 1969, and met in the League Championship Series. It was a series that began looking like a rout, before shifting gears and ending with an epic Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in San Diego.

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Chicago and San Diego were franchises who had decidedly different histories—one had a passionate fan base and long history of suffering. The other had an apathetic local base and had only been in existence for sixteen years. Together, they played one of the more memorable League Championship Series and added to the Chicago store of suffering in the final year that the LCS round was a best-of-five.

You can read more about the season-long paths the Cubs and Padres took to their respective division titles at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1984 NLCS.


The series began with two games in Chicago, which became the source of a mini-controversy. Wrigley Field did not yet have lights, and the LCS schedule called for play to open on Tuesday and Wednesday and conclude on the weekend.

Homefield advantage was determined by a rotation rather than merit, so it would have been justifiable if Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had flipped the schedule and had it open in San Diego. It was also rumored the commish might order temporary lights into Wrigley. In the end, Kuhn just left it alone and the 1984 NLCS opened in Wrigley Field on Tuesday afternoon.

It didn’t take long for the Cubs to open up against San Diego starter Eric Show. Chicago centerfielder Bob Dernier opened the home half of the first by homering on the first pitch. Gary Matthews hit another home run that same inning and it was quickly 2-0.

Those were all the runs Sutcliffe would need, as he tossed seven innings of shutout baseball. But plenty more runs were coming. Sutcliffe himself homered in the third. Then Dernier walked, Sandberg singled and both later came around for an early 5-0 lead.

Dernier got more action going in the Chicago fifth, with a double. Sandberg walked, and Matthews went deep for the second time. It was 8-0. Sutcliffe would add another single, third baseman Ron Cey hit a home run and by the time the afternoon was over, it was 13-0. San Diego could be thankful most people were at work rather than watching the game.

Game 2 saw the Cubs again get off to a quick start. Dernier singled and then took two bases on an infield groundout by Sandberg. The speedy centerfielder scored on a sac fly by Matthews for a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the third, Chicago rightfielder Keith Moreland singled, Cey doubled him home and later scored himself. It was 3-0, San Diego starter Mark Thurmond was chased and for the second day in a row, the Padres’ relief corps was at work by the third inning.

San Diego finally scored the first run in their postseason history in the fourth, when Gwynn doubled, took third on a groundout by first baseman Steve Garvey and scored on a sac fly from Kevin McReynolds. But Chicago struck back immediately in their own half of the inning, and once again, a pitcher was helping himself.

Steve Trout was a reliable lefthander and he pitched 8.1 IP of sharp baseball in Game 2. In the fourth, he also hit a one-out single. After Dernier grounded into a forceout, the centerfielder stole second and scored on a double by Sandberg.

The Padres were able to pick up a run in the sixth. Alan Wiggins, their speedy second baseman, drew a walk, took second on a ground ball out and was driven in by Garvey. Trout settled down and not until he walked McReynolds with an out in the ninth, was the Cub bullpen needed. Closer Lee Smith got the final two outs and the Chicago Cubs were a game from a pennant after a 4-2 win.

The teams flew west and got back at it in San Diego with a 5:30 PM local start. Dennis Eckersley would one day become one of the great closers in baseball. At this stage of his career, Eckersley was still a starter and he had the chance to be a Chicago hero, as he faced San Diego’s Ed Whitson in Game 3.

Chicago’s early momentum continued when Moreland doubled in the second and was picked up on a base hit by Cey. But Whitson settled down, went eight strong innings and the Cubs would not score again. It took some time, but the Padres finally broke through offensive in the fifth against Eckersley.

Consecutive singles were hit by catcher Terry Kennedy and McReynolds. Shortstop Garry Templeton drilled a one-out double to score both. He came around on a single by Wiggins and San Diego led 3-1. One inning later, Gwynn singled and later scored on a base hit by third baseman Graig Nettles. Kennedy singled and McReynolds blew the game with a three-run jack. The game ended 7-1 and San Diego had life.

It was the next two games that lifted this National League Championship Series into the category of truly memorable. Game 4 was another 5:30 PM local start and it was a game that would belong to Garvey, a battle-tested veteran who had been a teammate of Cey’s on the excellent Los Angeles Dodger teams of 1977-81, and a nemesis of his current teammate Nettles, who had been on the Yankee championship teams of that same period.

In the bottom of the third, after Gwynn had picked up Templeton with a sac fly that scored the game’s first run, Garvey ripped an RBI double that scored Wiggins and gave the Padres a quick 2-0 lead. Each team had their #4 starters going—Scott Sanderson for Chicago and Tim Lollar for San Diego—so the runs were just starting.

Chicago didn’t waste time countering in the top of the fourth. After Matthews drew a walk, Jody Davis and Leon Durham hit consecutive home runs for a 3-2 lead. The bottom of the fifth saw San Diego infielder Tim Flannery beat out an infield hit and take second on a sac bunt. Sanderson was able to get Gwynn, but Garvey delivered the big two-out RBI to tie the game 3-3.

San Diego got back out in front in the seventh. Outfielder Bobby Brown drew a one-out walk and swiped second. Chicago reliever Tim Stoddard was now in the game, and with two outs, was ordered to intentionally walk Gwynn to face Garvey.

While Gwynn’s overall season was substantially better than Garvey’s, who was in the twilight of his career, the way this game was unfolding should have made it clear that this wasn’t the smartest of moves. Garvey delivered another RBI single. What’s more, because Gwynn was now on base, he was able to take third and score on a passed ball. It was 5-3, and one of those runs was at the courtesy of Cub manager Jim Frey.

San Diego skipper Dick Williams had gotten two valuable shutout innings from lefthander Dave Dravecky, and now Williams brought on his closer, Gosse Gossage. But the Cubs got to the Goose.

Sandberg singled to lead off the inning, stole second and scored on a base hit by Moreland. Frey made a good managerial decision to pinch-run speedy Henry Cotto for Moreland and was rewarded when Jody Davis hit a two-out double that Cotto was able to come around on and tie the game.

The Cubs had Smith, one of the game’s top closers in for the ninth. Gwynn singled, and brought up Garvey. The game appropriately ended when Garvey hit an opposite-field home run to right center for a 7-5 win. We were going to Game 5.
Sunday afternoon dawned bright and sunny in San Diego, as the Cubs and Padre settled the pennant. It was a pitching rematch of Game 1, Sutcliffe and Show, and to the dismay of San Diego fans, it had a similar start.

With two outs in the first, Matthews drew a walk, and Durham homered. Then in the second, Davis went deep. It was 3-0 and Williams had seen enough. He went to his deep bullpen.

The San Diego bullpen delivered. Andy Hawkins stopped the bleeding. Dravecky delivered another valuable two innings of shutout work. Craig Lefferts came on in the sixth. The Cubs seemed to be stuck on “3” and now it was a question of whether the Padres could finally hit Sutcliffe.

In the bottom of the sixth, the first cracks in the Cy Young winner’s armor appeared. Wigging bunted for a hit, Gwynn singled and Garvey walked. To his credit, Sutcliffe bore down and got three consecutive outs. Two were sac flies, from Kennedy and Nettles, but the Cubs still had a 3-2 lead.

San Diego’s Carmelo Martinez drew a leadoff walk and was bunted over. Flannery came up to pinch hit for Lefferts and hit a ground ball directly at first base. Durham went down for it—and it skipped through his legs. The game was tied.

By a coincidence that would appear nothing short of bizarre two years later, Durham had taken the place of Bill Buckner, who had been traded to the Boston Red Sox in May, and would of course make an even more famous error exactly the same way in 1986.

Durham might be on the hook for the tying run, but he’s not to blame for the meltdown that happened. It was still a 3-3 game and there was just a runner on first. But the top of the Padre order attacked Sutcliffe. Wiggins singled. Gwynn cleared the bases with a double for a 5-3 lead. Garvey finished it off with a single that scored Gwynn.

It was 6-3, and the game was all but over. The Cubs got two on with two outs in the eight against Gossage, but the San Diego closer struck out Matthews. The ninth inning passed without incident and San Diego was going to the World Series.

Garvey was appropriately named 1984 NLCS MVP. He batted .400 for the five games, had dominated Game 4, and had been one of the few Padre hitters contributing as early as Games 1 & 2. Gwynn had a good series, batting .368 and McReynolds swung a good bat. A contributor not to overlook is Dravecky—San Diego had to empty its bullpen each of the last two games and the lefty gave four innings of spotless work.

On the Chicago side, Sandberg matched Gywyn’s .368 series average. Dernier had dominated the first two games, while Davis hit two home runs. History would, of course, be cruelest to Durham. He had hit two home runs, but still hit just .150 for the series and made the big error in Game 5.

The 1984 NLCS was the high point of the baseball season, at least in terms of pure excitement. There was no dramatic pennant race, and the Detroit Tigers rolled through both the ALCS and later dispatched the Padres four games to one in the World Series. But the dramatic Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in San Diego kept everyone on the edge of their seat and produced memories (or nightmares, for Cubbie loyalists) that would forever be a part of baseball lore.