A capacity crowd of 37,741 was on hand at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon to not only cheer their hometown Cubs to victory, but to see if a 15-year-old Cardinals rookie would get a hit in his first major league game. As it turned out, both of those outcomes were realized, as Springfield phenom Todd Benefiel laced a double in his first and only plate appearance, and the Cubs rode the 4-hit pitching of veteran Ray Burris to a 4-1 win over the visiting Cards, taking two of three games from their division rivals in a midweek series at Chicago.
The ‘new kid’ being Benefiel, whose major league debut came in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Rob Dressler with two out and nobody on. On a 2-2 count, the left-hand-hitting Benefiel laced a low pitch from Burris into the gap in left-center, which was chased by Dave Kingman and Bobby Murcer to the wall; by the time the ball made it back to the infield, Benefiel was on second with a stand-up double, the first Cardinals player to reach base since the second inning—a string of 18 batters mowed down by Burris. With time called, shortstop Ivan DeJesus flipped the ball to the freshman baserunner, who then tossed his new keepsake to the visitor’s dugout.
With the go-ahead run now on second base, Garry Templeton followed with a high fly out to Larry Biittner in right field, ending the inning and the St Louis threat. “That was cool of Ivan,” Benefiel said from his locker during post-game interviews. “I just wish my hit would’ve meant something. A double in my first at-bat at a packed Wrigley is more than I could’ve hoped for…but I’d trade it for a win in a heartbeat.”
The Cardinals opened the game’s scoring in the first, when Templeton led off with a double down the line, moved to second on a groundout, and scored when Keith Hernandez slapped a slow roller towards first, which Bill Buckner fielded and threw home, but not in time to nail the speedy Templeton. The Cubs knotted the score two innings later when Manny Trillo opened the frame with a base hit, advanced on a fielder’s choice to short, moved to third when Burris’ sacrifice attempt was botched by Hernandez, and when DeJesus hit a hard grounder to second, raced home ahead of the desperate peg by Mike Phillips.
The score would remain deadlocked until the last of the eighth, when Chicago broke the game open: an RBI single by Bobby Murcer scored one, and when Cardinals middleman Tom Bruno was replaced by Mark Littell, clean-up batter Dave Kingman greeted the right-handed ace with a titanic blast over the ivy in center field, good for two more runs and a 4-1 Cubs lead they would not relinquish. For Kingman, it was his 28th HR of the season, equaling his output for the actual 1978 season, but it still left him ten behind Reggie Smith’s league-leading 38.
Ken Holtzman then came on in the ninth to shut the door on the Cardinals, pitching a solid 1-2-3 inning and earning his second save while securing the win for Burris (7-9). For Holtzman, it was a much-needed boost after a rocky first four months of the ’78 campaign, where he went 1-4 with an 8.30 ERA through the end of July. “It’s about time I turn it around,” he said from the trainer’s table. “I think we can make a run at the Phillies, and I want to be a positive part of that when it happens.”
The win pushed the second-place Cubs a half-game closer to the idle Phillies; with a record of 52-54, Chicago is now 14½ games behind front-running Philadelphia in the NL East, with the Expos coming to town for a 4-game weekend set beginning Friday. The Cardinals, who had hoped to turn their frustrating season around with a new attitude heading into August, dropped to 41-67 and remain in the East cellar, 26½ games out of first.
“I still have faith in this club,” said St Louis manager Ken Boyer, “and I still like what I see. We may not finish first, but we sure as hell ain’t gonna finish last, either.”
For more notes from the game, and to see photos of game action, click here.