The Dodgers’ midwest road trip continues this week with a three-game stop at Wrigley Field. After taking 3 of 4 from the Brewers, 2 of those wins coming on improbable homers off Josh Hader, Los Angeles has momentum as they face off against a Cubs squad that’s starting to heat up.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) April 20, 2019
I would hesitate to call their history together a rivalry. Even with three playoff meetings in recent memory, there doesn’t seem to be much animus between the teams and fanbases. Aside form the Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals (and, once upon a time long ago, the Cincinnati Reds) are the team that can best lay claim to being a hated foe.
Still, there’s no denying that the shared history between the Bums and the Cubbies is a very extensive one. With that in mind, here’s a quick look at some of the more notable parts of the Dodgers and Cubs’ history with one another.
Head-to-Head Record and Koufax Perfection
The Dodgers and Cubs franchises have both operated for more than a century, with Chicago opening up shop in 1876 and the Dodgers eight years later in 1884. As a result, they’ve played a LOT of games against each other. 2,106, to be exact, before this week’s series kicks off.
Given the Dodgers’ consistent winning since 1941, and the Cubs’ infamous futility from 1945 to 2016, one would think the Bums have an overwhelming edge head-to-head. While they do have the edge, it’s a minuscule one, with 1,052 wins against 1,040 for Chicago. This is likely due to the fact that the Cubs were contenders from the turn of the century through the ‘30s, during which Brooklyn was mostly irrelevant.
Without a doubt, the one contest of these 2,106 that stands out the most was the one that took place on September 9, 1965. On a perfect fall night at Dodger Stadium, Sandy Koufax became the eighth pitcher in MLB history to throw a perfect game. He struck out 14 Cubs, with at least one strikeout in all nine innings (the only perfect game in which this has happened). It stands, along with Matt Cain’s gem for the Giants in 2012, as the most dominant perfect game in MLB history.
In addition to its statistical dominance, Koufax’s perfecto has taken on an almost mythological status. Jane Leavy’s acclaimed biography of the pitcher is structured around a re-telling of the game, while Vin Scully’s radio play-by-play earned a tribute article from Salon. In 1995, it was selected by the Society for American Baseball Research as the greatest game ever pitched.
Ron Cey Trade
Chicago and Los Angeles aren’t just bound by the many games they’ve played against one another. In 1983, they agreed to a trade that turned out to be one of the worst in Dodgers history. Ron Cey, the six-time All-Star, co-MVP of the 1981 World Series and third baseman of “The Infield,” was dealt to the Cubs in exchange for prospects Vance Lovelace and Dan Cataline.
The move couldn’t have been more lopsided. Not only did Cey help the Cubs reach the playoffs for the first time in 39 years in 1984, but he delivered consistently good play for them over four seasons. As for Lovelace and Cataline… well, there’s a reason those names aren’t familiar. The two ended up being nothing more than minor league players.
In a truly strange twist, Cey would be joined by his former infield mate Davey Lopes during the 1984 season after Lopes was traded from Oakland. However, their hopes of playing in the World Series for the Cubs were thwarted in the NLCS by another fellow Infield legend, Steve Garvey.
The clubs have met three times in the postseason, each one a catharsis of some kind for the victor.
Surprisingly, the first was in the 2008 NLDS. The Cubs were overwhelming favorites, winning a National League-best 97 games. The Dodgers, meanwhile, won an unimpressive 84 games to emerge first in an incredibly weak NL West. The Cubs were overwhelming favorites to cruise through the NLDS on their way to a championship 100 years in the making.
As the saying goes… that’s why they play the games. Los Angeles bombarded Chicago with home runs by Manny Ramirez and James Loney in the first two games, the latter mashing a go-ahead grand slam in game one that silenced Wrigley Field.
The action wrapped up at game three in Los Angeles, where Hiroki Kuroda twirled a gem to set up a 3-1 victory. The Cubs’ championship drought officially hit a full century, while the Dodgers celebrated their first playoff series victory in 20 years.
The next face-off was in the 2016 NLCS, once again with the Cubs as dominant favorites. Yet Los Angeles had hopes of pulling off the upset, and were likely the only team in the NL capable of usurping Chicago in October.
The Cubs took game on on a pinch-hit grand slam by Miguel Montero, but the Dodgers responded in game 2 with a dominant start from Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers took a 2-1 series lead on an emotional effort from Rich Hill and big homers by Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner. But the Cubs won 103 games for a reason, and their superlative offense exploded the next two games to take a 3-2 lead heading back to the North Side.
With the season on the line in game 6, it was up to the GOAT to save the season. Despite some commendable heroics that October, the Kershaw Playoff Narrative reared its ugly head once again. He was torched for homers by Wilson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo. His opposite, Kyle Hendricks, didn’t allow a single run. With a game-ending double play off the bat of Yasiel Puig, Wrigley Field shook to its core in euphoria as the first Cubs pennant since the beginning of the Atomic Age was finally secured.
The rubber match came right the next year in 2017, with the script flipped. It was the Dodgers who were the superteam toast of the league this time, while most of the Cubs’ headlines were about their underachieving World Series hangover season. Fittingly, the Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks to reach the NLCS with nonchalant ease, while the Cubs had to stave off the Nationals in a downright surreal game five.
The Dodgers kicked things off with a relatively easy game one victory. Clayton Kershaw labored somewhat through five innings, giving up a two-run homer to Albert Almora Jr., but the bullpen secured things as Chris Taylor and Charlie Culberson ignited an easy comeback win.
Game two, however, was far more suspenseful. The first eight innings saw just one run apiece from both offenses, a tie that stood until the bottom of the ninth. With two on and postseason veteran John Lackey on the mound, Justin Turner came to the plate. What followed was the franchise’s best moment since Kirk Gibson’s blast…29 years to the exact day, no less.
From there, it was only a matter of time. Yu Darvish carved up Chicago at Wrigley Field for a 3-0 series lead, aided by Chris Taylor and Andre Ethier home runs. A vintage Jake Arrieta gem kept the Cubs alive in game four, but that just set up an even better finale in game five. With Kershaw pitching far better than in game one, Enrique Hernandez went full Reggie Jackson and jettisoned three home runs into the Wrigley bleachers.
With incredible ease, the Dodgers had secured the thing that had eluded them for 29 years: the Warren Giles Trophy. After so many years of heartbreak and mediocrity, they were back in the World Series.
Unlike the 2016 Cubs, though, the Dodgers weren’t able to parlay their pennant into a drought-busting championship. As the teams meet again this week, the Cubs and their fans can take solace in having slayed the Billy Goat. Will Los Angeles end the Curse of Kirk (or whatever our novelty curse is) this October?
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