The Pittsburgh Pirates were at Wrigley Field on Tuesday June 22, 1976 to take on the Chicago Cubs in an afternoon tilt. The Pirates had a 35-26 record at the time, sitting 8.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the National League East. The Cubs were 28-37, just ahead of the last place Montreal Expos. The Pirates had Jerry Reuss on the mound, with his 7-5, 3.84 record in 12 starts, picking up a decision in each game. That streak would be broken in this contest. The Cubs sent out right-hander Bill Bonham, who was in his sixth season in the majors, just two years removed from leading the NL with 22 losses. Going into this game, he had a 6-3, 3.18 record. He too wouldn’t be around for a decision in this contest, and his previous outing turned out to be a high point for his season. Bonham went 0-6 during a four-week stretch after this game.
The Pirates lineup on this date had Frank Taveras at shortstop and leading off, with Rennie Stennett at second base, Al Oliver in center field and Willie Stargell hitting in the cleanup spot. The next four in the batting order were Dave Parker, Richie Zisk, Bill Robinson and Manny Sanguillen, with Reuss hitting ninth. The Cubs lineup did not have many names that would be familiar to the casual fan now, but they had Bill Madlock playing third base and batting third. He won the NL batting title in 1975 and he was well on his way to a second title by the time this game rolled around.
This game started with back-to-back one-out singles by Stennett and Oliver, which put runners on the corners for the power bats. However, Stargell and Parker couldn’t get the ball out of the infield. Pops popped up and the Cobra grounded out to second base. The Cubs had one hit in the bottom of the first and it was a single by Madlock.
In the second inning, Richie Zisk had a lead-off single, but he never made it to second base. Fly balls by Robinson and Sanguillen were followed by a ground out by Reuss. The Cubs basically repeated their first inning performance, as their only runner was a two-out single, this one by Steve Swisher.
The top of the Pirates order went down in order in the third, then this game got ugly for Reuss and the Bucs. The inning started with the last thing you want to see happen. Reuss walked the pitcher to start the frame. That was followed by an error from Reuss on a sacrifice attempt. He got a ground out from Jose Cardenal, then intentionally walked Bill Madlock, which should tell you something about the rest of the Cubs lineup when you load the bases for the cleanup hitter. That hitter was Jerry Morales and he made the Pirates pay, lining a two-run double that made it 2-0 Chicago. After another intentional walk to George Mitterwald, Reuss unintentionally walked Manny Trillo to force in the third run. He got Swisher to pop up for the second out, then Dave Rosello made it 4-0 with an infield single. Reuss struck out Bonham to end the inning.
The Pirates middle of the order had no answer back in the fourth, then Madlock made it 5-0 with a solo homer, his sixth home run of the season.
In the fifth frame, Manny Sanguillen reached on a one-out single, then Omar Moreno came in to pinch-hit for Reuss. This was the first big league game for Moreno in 1976. He debuted in 1975, playing six games for the Pirates, going 1-for-6 with a walk. Moreno laced a single to center field. A ground out by Taveras put both runners in scoring position with two outs. Stennett then made it 5-2 with a two-run single. Al Oliver also hit a single and Stargell walked to load the bases, bringing up Parker as the possible go-ahead run. Unfortunately for the Pirates, he flew out to center field to end the inning.
In a role that seems odd based on what you know now, Kent Tekulve came on in the bottom of the fifth and he recorded three straight ground outs. In the top of the sixth, Tekulve left for pinch-hitter Ed Kirkpatrick. The Pirates had one hit in the inning, but couldn’t get him home. Sanguillen singled to right field, then moved up to third base when Jerry Morales misplayed the ball.
In the bottom of the sixth, Larry Demery came on to pitch and served up a lead-off single to the eighth place hitter. Bonham sacrificed him to second base, then Demery walked lead-off batter Joe Wallis. He got a ground ball double play, which turned out to be a huge play for the Pirates.
In the seventh, Taveras and Stennett hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, which knocked Bonham out of the game. Veteran lefty Darold Knowles came on to pitch and got a big out, getting Oliver to pop out to first base. Stargell singled to center field, bringing in Taveras. After a Parker line out to right field, Zisk came through with some two-out heroics, scoring Stennett with a single to make it 5-4. That ended a quick day for Knowles and brought out Oscar Zamora to face Robinson with the tying run on second base. Robinson grounded a ball through the left side, which scored Stargell to tie the game. On the play, Zamora cut off the throw home, then threw the ball away trying to get Zisk at third base, which allowed him to run home with the go-ahead run. Manny Sanguillen was walked intentionally and Demery was left in to hit. He grounded back to the pitch to end the inning.
Madlock was retired for the first time to start the bottom of the seventh. Demery then served up back-to-back singles to Morales and pinch-hitter Champ Summers. Demery settled down a one-out threat again, getting a pop out to second base and a strikeout to end the inning.
In the eighth, Taveras hit a lead-off double. Stennett attempted to bunt him over, but instead reached on the play, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Lefty Buddy Schultz came on to face Oliver, who smashed a ball up the middle that hit Schultz on the left leg and brought in a run. It was a scary play, with Schultz being stretchered off and taken to the hospital, though x-rays turned out to be negative. That brought on Mike Garman, who took over with two runners on base, no outs, a 7-5 deficit and the heart of the order coming up. He could not get out of the inning unscathed. Stargell scored Stennett on a sacrifice fly. Parker singled, then Zisk doubled in Oliver and moved Parker to third. Another sacrifice fly, this one by Robinson, made it a 10-5 game in favor of the Pirates.
Demery retired the side in order in the eighth, then rookie reliever Bruce Sutter came on in the top of the ninth. The future Hall of Famer debuted in the majors just six weeks earlier. He allowed a one-out single to Stennett, but nothing else, sending the game to the bottom of the ninth with a five-run Pittsburgh lead.
Demery remained on and Tommy Helm replaced Robinson at third base to help the defense. Jose Cardenal singled to start the inning, then Demery struck out Madlock. Jerry Morales then hit a two-run homer to make it 10-7, which ended the day for Demery and brought on Bob Moose to attempt to finish things out. He gave up back-to-back singles, then walked Swisher to load the bases and bring up the winning run. After eighth place hitter Dave Rosello struck out, the Cubs went to lefty pinch-hitter Larry Biittner. The Pirates countered with veteran lefty Ramon Hernandez, which caused the Cubs to bat righty Mike Adams in place of Biittner. They were bringing on a .143 hitter, so the matchup still worked out well for the Pirates. Biittner was a career .228 hitter against lefties, so he was still probably the better choice at the time. Hernandez game a game-ending fly ball to center field for the 10-7 victory.
Rennie Stennett had five hits in this game and he credited the day to general manager Joe Brown, who changed his batting stance and approach at the plate. Stennett changed to a shorter swing, while also saying that Brown told him to focus more on the pitcher and lay off of the high pitches. Stennett said that he was always looking at where the fielders were playing him and not concentrating enough on the pitcher. The Pirates had 19 hits in the game, including 17 singles. Oliver and Zisk had three hits apiece. Stennett, Zisk, Stargell and Robinson each drove in two runs.
Here’s the box score and play-by-play from Baseball-Reference.