Thursday, August 3, 1978 at Wrigley Field
Game 1411 – 11/29/14

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.

“I felt good out there today,” Burris told C-SPAN Radio after the game. “Every pitch went where it was supposed to go, except for those two smacked by Tempy and the new kid.”

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 if I could.”

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 still leaving 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.”

CHI-N - Ray Burris pose

Game Notes

• The game was played in the afternoon at site AZ14 in Gilbert, Arizona, at the kitchen table while I listened to Who Are You by The Who.

• The game’s start time was 3:30 pm.

• This was the 27th played at site AZ14.

• This was the second game ever played on this date, and the first since 1988.

• Today was, of course, my debut as a St Louis Cardinals player in my SP78 Replay season, an idea I had brewing since the 1990s. The actual stats from my 1978 Continental League season with the California 1st Bank Cardinals were used to create my player card, using the formula supplied with the game to create minor league players. And yes, my numbers are fairly impressive: a Fast-Action card draw between 11-71 will result in singles, doubles, triples, walks, and hit-by-pitches, while my out numbers are limited to draws between 72-88. Not bad for a 15-year-old rookie from Sandusky, Ohio.

• And as mentioned in the recap above, my first major league at-bat resulted in a pinch-hit double; I drew a 10 against Ray Burris’ PB 2-5, then a random number of 28, which was a double to center field on my player card. The historic hit came at the 17-minute mark of the game, or at 3:56 pm real time.

• After my at-bat, I took over for Templeton at short for the eighth inning, which actually made logistical sense: I’d pinch-hit for reliever John Vuckovich in the ninth spot, and since Templeton made the final out of the inning, I stayed where I was in the order, while new pitcher Tom Bruno was placed in Templeton’s lead-off spot. Unfortunately, nothing was hit my way in the Cubs half of the eighth; second baseman Mike Phillips fielded the first out, Ken Reitz took a groundout at third for the second out, and Steve Ontiveros whiffed to end the frame.

• Originally, it was my plan to play in just one game—also against the Cubs at Wrigley Field—on September 17th, but I decided it would be a lot more fun if I was on the Cardinals roster for the final two months of the season.

• I made my debut on August 3rd of the SP78 season, which was also my friend Bob’s 15th birthday way back in 1978. His photo was there for the game, beyond the left-field edge of the game board in the bleacher seats of Wrigley Field.

• This was today’s featured game on Baseball Night on C-SPAN.

• Both Ray Burris and Ken Holtzman have PB 2-5 pitcher ratings, the lowest range possible, while Cardinal starter Rob Dressler has a 2-8, and losing pitcher Tom Bruno a 2-9. Yet, Burris and Holtzman dominated, which is what makes this game so much fun; any player, at any time, can be king for a day.

• I wanted some of my favorite Cubs players to be a part of the day’s festivities, so I added third baseman Steve Ontiveros, outfielder Larry Biittner, and catcher Tim Blackwell to the Chicago starting lineup for the game.

• The first photo below is a pre-game shot of the game board (with the mitt I used during my actual Continental League season of 1978 on the table), while the photo on the right shows my player card and the Fast-Action card draw of 28. Click on either photo for a better view.

SP78 Game #1411Benefiel 1st At-Bat

2 responses to “

  1. Cool write up! Thanks for sharing, congrats also on breaking up Burris’ best pitching stint ever; I’m sure he’ll never be the same. On a strategy/history note, Tom Bruno gave up 11 homers in his career, one of those was to Kingman. Littell, on the other hand, gave up more home runs in his career, but there were only two players who ever took Littell deep twice. You guessed it, Kingman was one of those two, Tony Oliva was the other. So pretty much the Redbirds were doomed when Kingman came to the plate other than giving him four wide ones, which I admit might have seemed odd. Littell did strike out the Sky King six times, so I suppose that could’ve been a possible outcome.

    • Hey, thanks for checking it out, and thanks for the congrats for ruining Burris’ day! I was about to make a wry comment about no pitcher serving up a double to a 15-year-old since the days of Joe Nuxhall…then I looked up his stats. For one thing, he was a pitcher, but good lord, check out that ERA! And check out that performance! I had no idea he only pitched 2/3 of an inning at 15…and didn’t play again ’til he was 23!

      Fun info on Kingman and Cards pitchers. In my game, if I had left Bruno in, Kingman would’ve tatered him as well: his homer was off a BD card, and since he’s a BD-1, that 36 I drew resulted in…GONE! If he can get ten home runs in each of the next two months, he’ll tie his personal record of 48 HRs hit in 1979. (And I just realized, commenting on Kingman’s homers in that last sentence brings a whole new meaning to the title of an Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte buddy cop movie from 1982).

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