An oft-forgotten, but heartbreaking, Cubs postseason defeat

(Photo by CURTIS COMPTON/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by CURTIS COMPTON/AFP via Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs fans have talked enough about postseason heartbreakers over the years: 1984 NLCS Games 4 and 5, 2003 NLCS Games 6 and 7 – seriously, the heartache from those games lives on even now. Even in a post-World Series drought era, those games are part of team lore and they once defined what it was like being a lifelong fan. When people bring up Cubs hardship, those are more often than not the first moments being mentioned.

However, there was another brutal postseason Cubs loss that often gets overlooked. This loss in particular was not a potential pennant-clinching game like the others previously mentioned, but it was a gut-punch in October nonetheless. It was the second game of the 1998 NLDS between the Cubs and Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Chicago was just two outs away from winning only their fourth postseason game since 1945 before everything went awry.

Chicago Cubs: Kevin Tapani’s near-postseason heroics

Trailing the series 0-1, the Cubs gave the ball to veteran righty Kevin Tapani to try to send the series back to Chicago tied. Tapani was 34 at the time and posted a career-high 19 wins in the regular season. His pitching stats on the year were pretty “meh”, 4.85 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 1.4 WHIP, 5.6 K/9 and two complete-game shutouts in 219 innings. His opponent was future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, who would win the NL Cy Young Award that year.

The first five innings saw nothing but goose eggs. Glavine was doing what Glavine did, and Tapani was keeping the potent Braves offense off the board just as well. In the sixth, however, the Cubs got to Glavine. Back-to-back singles by Mickey Morandini and Scott Servais, followed by a sac-bunt by Tapani set up an RBI spot for leadoff hitter Lance Johnson. On a groundball to second by Johnson, Morandini scored giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. That would be all the Cubs offense could muster.

Tapani gave up only one hit over the next three innings as the Cubs still hung on tightly to a 1-0 lead. Going to the bottom of the ninth, victory was in their grasp. Tapani was going for the complete-game shutout, something a Cubs pitcher had not done in a postseason game since Claude Passeau in the 1945 World Series. Tapani got Ryan Klesko to hit a routine fly to center for the first out. All was looking well…until Javy Lopez stepped in.

Lopez took a 1-0 Tapani delivery and belted it into the left field stands, about four rows deep. Game tied at one. While Tapani got the final two outs, the damage was done and it was off to extras.  In the tenth, the Cubs had their chance to take the lead back. Glenallen Hill walked, Gary Gaetti bunted him over and Morandini was intentionally walked. Former Braves All-Star Jeff Blauser pinch hit for Henry Rodriguez, and he eventually struck out while Morandini was thrown out at second trying to steal as the Cubs walked away empty-handed.

It ended in the bottom of the inning when Terry Mulholland came in for Tapani and gave up a walk and committed an error on a bunt to set up Chipper Jones, who singled to left to win it for the Braves. The series ended in a three-game Braves sweep at Wrigley Field.

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Because this was not a potential series-clinching affair, and the fact that the Cubs really did not have much of a chance to go deep with the team they had, it kind of makes sense why this game does not get talked about like 1984 or 2003. Had the Cubs had a 1-0 lead in the series to potentially make it 2-0 over a far superior Braves team, then maybe it gets talked about more.