Pennant Droughts Collide At The 1989 NLCS

The San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs met in the 1989 NLCS with each in pursuit of a long-sought pennant. The Cubs’ chase of their first National League pennant since 1945 is the stuff of legend, but the Giants had been out of the Fall Classic for a while themselves. Their last appearance was 1962. It was San Francisco who ended their drought with a five-game victory in 1989.

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You can read more about the paths each team took through the regular season and about their key contributors at the links below. This article will focus on the game-by-game narrative of the 1989 NLCS itself.


Chicago seemed to have the clear advantage at the #1 starter spot, with 23-year-old Greg Maddux going up against San Francisco’s Scott Garrelts. But it became apparent immediately that wouldn’t be the case in this series.

Brett Butler opened Game 1 at Wrigley Field with a single. He was bunted over and scored on a double by Will Clark. Then Kevin Mitchell, the soon-to-be NL MVP singled and Matt Williams picked up both runs with a double and it was 3-zip before the Cubs got to the plate.

Chicago didn’t waste time answering. Ryne Sandberg hit a one-out double and Mark Grace homered to cut it to 3-2. The Cubs appeared poised to tie it in the bottom of the second when Luis Salazar ripped a leadoff triple. But Garrelts struck out Shawon Dunston and Rick Wrona, and was able to escape.

Clark and Sandberg both had star power for each team and they played like it in this series. The San Fran first baseman and the Chicago second baseman traded solo home runs in the third. But in the top of the fourth, the Giants made the definitive rally of Game 1.

Pat Sheridan and Jose Uribe hit singles, and San Francisco loaded up the bases. With two outs, Clark came up to face Maddux, and Clark hit a grand slam. The game was all but over at 8-3, as the Cubs never scored again and Mitchell put the finishing touches on in the eighth with a three-run blast of his own. The Giants won 11-3.

The teams came back under the lights at Wrigley the following night, with these first two games of the series being the first night games ever played at the old ballpark. The Cubs turned to Mike Bielecki for a must-win game, while the Giants had Rick Reuschel—a former Cub in the late 1970s—as they tried to put an early stranglehold on the series.

Chicago attacked Reuschel right out of the gate in the first inning. Jerome Walton singled. Sandberg tripled, Grace doubled, and with two outs, Salazar singled. It was quickly 3-0, and the Cubbies weren’t done. Dunston singled and Reuschel was out of the game. Joe Girardi, then a 24-year-old catcher, drew a walk and Bielecki hit a two-run single and Walton finished the rally he’d started with a bloop single that made it 6-0.

San Francisco got two back in the fourth when Clark singled and Mitchell homered. In the top of the fifth there were runners on first and second with two outs. Clark was at the plate and Bielecki was removed for lefty Paul Assenmacher. If there was ever a sign of how much Clark was already controlling the series it was here.

How often does a team leading by four runs with its #2 starter pitching reasonably well in the fifth inning, make a change for a situational lefty to face one hitter? When that hitter doesn’t even represent the tying run? That’s not a second-guess of Cubs’ manager Don Zimmer, as much as it is acknowledgement of just how hot Clark was. It worked. Assenmacher got the out, left the game and the Cubs retained their 6-2 lead and Les Lancaster took over on the mound.

Chicago blew it open for good in the sixth, when Walton, Sandberg and Dwight Smith all loaded the bases and then Grace cleared them with a double. San Francisco made the score look respectable with a two-run homer from Williams in the eighth and a solo blast from Robby Thompson in the ninth. With the 9-5 final, the Cubs and Giants had traded blowouts and were heading to the Bay Area for a Saturday-Sunday-Monday run.

On Saturday evening, the Cubs gave the ball to Rick Sutcliffe, who won the 1984 NL Cy Young Award in pitching Chicago to this round and still a reliable starter. Mike LaCoss was on the mound for San Francisco

Once again, the fans didn’t have to wait long for scoring. Sandberg and Smith singled in the top of the first, and after a wild pitch, Andre Dawson delivered a two-out base hit that scored both runs. But the Giants answered immediately. Butler and Thompson started the inning with singles and moved up on a ground ball out from Clark. Mitchell was intentionally walked, and Williams picked up a run with a groundball out.

Another intentional walk, this one to Terry Kennedy followed. The strategy backfired badly on Zimmer, as Candy Maldonado worked a bases-loaded walk to tie the game and an infield hit by Jose Uribe made it 3-2.

Chicago tied it up in the fourth, aided by mistakes from LaCoss. After singles by Salazar and Dunston, the San Francisco pitcher muffed a sac bunt. Even though he got Sutcliffe to hit into a home-to-first double play, LaCoss then uncorked a wild pitch that brought in the tying run.

The game stayed 3-3 into the seventh. Sutcliffe, having settled down, was allowed to bat for himself and he ripped a double. After a sac bunt moved him to third, Zimmer sent in the younger and faster Maddux as a pinch-runner. It paid off as a sac fly from Sandberg gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead.

Sutcliffe allowed a one-out single to Butler in the bottom of the inning and was immediately removed—a curiously short leash for a pitcher allowed to bat this late in a game. Lancaster, the team’s best middle reliever all year, came on and it didn’t work out. Thompson hit a two-run blast and San Francisco was up 5-4.

The Cubs got two on with two outs in the eight, but the Giants’ went to Craig Lefferts, who induced Lloyd McClendon, the current manager of the Seattle Mariners, to fly out. The rally ended and the game ended at 5-4.

On Sunday night, Maddux and Garrelts each came back on three days rest, and for the fourth straight game there was action in the first inning.

Sandberg doubled in the top of the frame, moved to third on a Smith single and scored on a Grace sac fly. In the bottom of the first, Thompson walked, Clark singled him over to third and a Mitchell grounder tied it. Salazar answered right back for the Cubs in the top of the second with a leadoff homer to make it 2-1.

In the bottom of the third, Butler beat out an infield hit and with two outs Clark doubled, setting up second and third. Mitchell was intentionally walked, but Williams hit a single back through the box to put San Francisco up 3-2. One inning later, Uribe doubled, took third on an errant pickoff throw and scored on a wild pitch.

Chicago bounced back in the top of the fifth with a two-out rally. Walton singled, Grace tripled and Dawson doubled in rapid succession to make it 4-4 and chase Garrelts in favor of Kelly Downs. The Giant reliever came up big, with four innings of three-hit ball and in the bottom of the fifth, Clark doubled and Williams homered.

The 6-4 win stood up for San Francisco, but not without anxious moments in the ninth. Chicago loaded the bases with two outs, setting up a battle between Giant closer Steve Bedrosian against Dawson. Bedrosian won it with a strikeout.

San Francisco had the imposing 3-1 lead in games, but Chicago still had two home games in their back pocket…if they could find a way to win Game 5. And with a noon start on Monday, they had to put the last two nights behind them quickly.

Reuschel and Bielecki returned on short rest and each pitched extremely well. There was actually no scoring in the first inning this time. It was the third when the Cubs got a lead. Mitchell muffed a Walton fly ball and Sandberg made it hurt, with an RBI double.

Bielecki escaped a jam in the fifth, with Williams on third and one out. The Cubbie starter struck out Sheridan and kept the 1-0 lead. But in the seventh, Clark tripled and then scored on a Mitchell sac fly to finally tie the game.

It was still tied in the bottom of the eighth, and Maldonado pinch-hit for Reuschel. Then, after pitching so well in such a big moment, Bielecki simply lost it. He walked three straight batters, which just happened to bring up Clark. Zimmer went to his young, hard-throwing closer Mitch Williams. Clark beat him with a two-out single and the Giants were up 3-1, and three outs from a pennant.

Bedrosian got the first two batters in the ninth when the Cubs launched their own last-gasp rally Three straight singled made it 3-2 and there were runners on first and second with Sandberg at the plate. As good as the Chicago second baseman had been all series he couldn’t do what Clark had done in this spot. A groundout to second got the party started on the Bay.

The 1989 NLCS was marked by the fact that the stars in the everyday lineup lived up to their billing. Even in defeat, Sandberg went 8-for-20, while Grace went 11-for-17 with four walks, a home run and eight RBIs. Mitchell went 6-for-17, homered twice and drove in seven runs. And no star was brighter than Clark, who went 13-for-20, drew two walks hit two home runs and finished with 8 RBI. He won the 1989 NLCS MVP.

It was Maddux who was the disappointment. In two starts, he only worked 7.1 innings and gave up eleven earned runs. He missed a chance, with more than adequate run support, to set the tone at home in Game 1 and to keep his team in the series in Game 4. When he didn’t pitch well, it removed the Cubs’ biggest advantage.

San Francisco went on to a Bay Area World Series against the Oakland A’s. It was a series marred by tragedy, as an earthquake interrupted play. The Giants were swept by the powerful A’s.


Both the Giants and the Cubs disappeared after this, and for the better part of a decade. San Francisco won the NL West in 1997, and both teams returned in 1998, meeting at Wrigley Field in a one-game playoff to settle the National League wild-card, won by the Cubs. Of course, the 21st century has been much kinder to San Francisco, winning four pennants and three World Series titles, while Chicago continues to search for that long-sought pennant.