It had been three years since the Whitey Herzog managed Cardinals shocked the baseball world by beating the seemingly invincible Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series and St. Louis was once again in the postseason. While those ’82 Cardinals were labeled as the Running Rabbits, they were a balanced lineup compared to what Herzog had to work with in 1985.
Upgrades, Downgrades and Stuff We Don’t Want to Talk About
The once dependable position of catcher turned into a huge liability for the 1985 Cardinals. Injuries and declining offensive production from the hero of 1982, Darrell Porter, gave rookie Tom Nieto an opportunity. He’d been impressive in a pair of call-ups in 1984, showing off a good bat to go along with some stellar defense. He became the number 2 catcher when Glenn Brummer was released at the end of the season, perhaps in fear that he might start stealing bases again. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, neither Nieto’s bat, glove, nor arm showed up for most of 1985, leaving a rather unproductive platoon situation at catcher.
Leaving under somewhat of a black cloud in a trade that ranks among the worst in Cardinals history, the Cardinals had lost one of their stars when Keith Hernandez was traded to the Mets for Neil Allen. A former NL MVP and perennial Gold Glove winner, Hernandez was one of the best at his position, playing exceptional defense to go along with some of the best gap-to-gap hitting in the major leagues. George Hendrick had initially taken over for Hernandez and played well, but started showing signs that his best years were behind him. In the spirit of Branch Rickey’s motto, “Always trade a player a year too soon, rather than a year too late” , Hendrick would be traded to Pittsburgh for a left handed starter named John Tudor – more on him later. Prior to the start of the 1985 season, the Cardinals made a blockbuster deal with the San Francisco Giants, sending four players for the slugging first baseman, Jack Clark. Just as with Orlando Cepeda nearly two decades earlier, Clark had been bitten by the injury bug that caused him to wear out his welcome in San Francisco. And like Cepeda, when healthy he became an offensive juggernaut in St. Louis, driving in runs at a frightening pace. Injuries would interrupt all three seasons Clark was in St. Louis, but in two of them (85, 87) he still managed MVP caliber performances.
A young switch hitting Terry Pendleton was the new third baseman but had yet to match Ken Oberkfell’s offensive production. He would prove his worth many times in 1987, and several more times with the Atlanta Braves, but in 1985, Pendleton was a young man learning how to play in the majors. He played well, but not as well as his predecessor.
A youngster named Andy van Slyke was the new right fielder, and while a defensive star, his offensive numbers were a big step down from the former right fielder, George Hendrick. He would eventually wear out his welcome in St. Louis and be shipped off to Pittsburgh for key piece to the ’87 championship team, catcher Tony Pena.
There were a few notable upgrades though.
If Lonnie Smith had been a catalyst at the top of the 1982 batting order, Vince Coleman was a herd of charging buffalo. Even though he was a light hitter and susceptible to striking out, when he did get on base exciting things happened. And generally very quickly. Coleman’s 110 stolen bases terrorized pitchers and catchers throughout the National League and led to a Cardinals trademark of scoring a first inning run without the benefit of a hit. The top of the lineup featuring Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr and Jack Clark gave many pitchers in the National League the yips.
The other notable improvement was in the pitching staff, both starters and the bullpen. With two 21 game winners at the top of the rotation, and Danny Cox not far behind with 18 wins, the Cardinals seemed well equipped to play a short series but unlikely to be able to withstand the tests of a long season. What seemed like a liability when the season started, suddenly became one of the most feared bullpens when Todd Worrell was called up just prior to the postseason eligibility deadline. The hard throwing Worrell would complement one of the best lefties in the game, Ken Dayley.
The Cardinals had battled the heavily favored New York Mets all season long. Thanks to the amazing 19-1 turnaround from John Tudor, the Cards outlasted the rivals from New York and won the division by 3 games with an unbelievable record of 101-61. Thanks to the season long fight, this Cardinals team learned how to win – in every way imaginable. That would come in handy as the Cardinals were about to face the biggest adversity of the season, if not the decade.
A Rough Start
In the National League Championship Series, just expanded to a best of seven format, the Cardinals would face the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though the Cardinals had won 6 more games than the boys from Hollywood, the Dodgers were heavily favored in the series. The Cardinals were supposed to be just a speed bump on the Dodger’s road to the World Series.
As the series opened in Los Angeles, it appeared that the experts might be right. The Dodgers won the first two games rather convincingly. Both Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser seemed to be invincible, and their bullpen didn’t even break a sweat.
The series moved to Busch Stadium and the Cardinals hung on to win game 3. The Cardinals got to Bob Welch early and a combination of Danny Cox, Rick Horton, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley kept the Dodgers at bay.
This brings us to a Sunday night game on October 13, 1985. Every one of the 53,000 in attendance knew the importance of this game. A win and the series is tied. A loss with as many as two games to be played in Los Angeles would be a very difficult hill to climb. It was now or never time for the Cardinals.
Before the game even started, things took a turn for the worse. No, not worse – the unthinkable. A light rain had started falling and a decision was made to cover the field to keep the infield dry. Vince Coleman failed to notice the automatic tarp rolling onto the field and one of his legs got caught underneath the heavy roll of tarp and machinery. He would suffer a badly bruised leg to go with a chipped bone and would spend the rest of the playoffs on crutches, supporting the team from the dugout.
That hill the Cardinals needed to climb just got a lot higher.
The Rough Inning
When the game finally started, Whitey Herzog would call on John Tudor to turn things around for the Cardinals. Even though he had taken the the loss in Game 1, the lefty had pitched well and there was no reason to think he would not be able to do so again tonight. In the first of a series of questionable managerial decisions from Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers would counter with former Cardinal and St. Louis native, Jerry Reuss. Reuss had some success in Los Angeles, and while not a top of the rotation guy, he was a solid fourth starter.
Cardinal fans were way more engaged in this game, and it suddenly had less to do with it being the pivotal game in the series. Expectations had been high when Reuss broke in with the the Cardinals in 1970. The tall blonde lefty had been a star in high school and had become an ace at AAA Tulsa. His fortunes with the Cardinals were much different as moments of brilliance were overshadowed by struggles with the strike zone. We had hoped for a second Steve Carlton, but instead got a right handed Mike Torrez. As Reuss enjoyed success with the Pirates and Dodgers, our desire to see the Cardinals beat him increased. Since this was the 17th season for Reuss, there was a lot of pent-up frustration that needed to be released. Throw in a bit of “Win one for the Vincer” and you now have the makings of a huge game.
The Cardinals would erupt in the second inning, one of their most productive in postseason history. After a scoreless first inning, Jack Clark and super sub Cesar Cedeno would lead off the home half of the second inning with singles. Tito Landrum, filling in for the injured Vince Coleman, would single Clark home. The Dodgers made a huge defensive error in letting Pedro Guerrero’s throw go to the plate as it allowed both Cedeno and Landrum to take the extra base. That turned out to be significant when Terry Pendleton grounds out to second base in what would have been an easy double play. The Dodgers only had one play, retiring Pendleton at first, and the Cardinals would score their second run of the inning.
Next up is the light hitting Tom Nieto and he would walk in front of ninth place hitter John Tudor. The Dodgers hoped for an inning ending double play and an end to the rally, but instead dug themselves into a deep deep hole. The Cardinals sensed that this was an opportunity to break the game wide open. Forget the Ozzie Smith “go crazy folks” home run in game five and the three run Jack Clark bomb to win the series in game six, what happened next was the play of the series.
It was not if, but when would Herzog would put on the squeeze play. Aggressive base running is what got the Cardinals this far, and it would have to carry them to the World Series. Everybody in the stadium knew it was coming. The Dodgers were certainly expecting it. Everyone except Reuss. With Landrum running from third, Tudor lays down the bunt and Reuss is unable to field it and everybody was safe. The Cardinals had a three run lead, had been given yet another out, and the Dodgers were clearly rattled. This is when the Cardinals really poured it on, ending the post season career of Jerry Reuss.
In a rare productive out, leadoff hitter Willie McGee would hit an opposite field line drive which would allow Tom Nieto to move up to third base. That turned out to be important as Ozzie Smith followed that with a ground ball deep in the hole at short which scored Nieto. Tommy Herr followed that with a single, scoring Tudor. That would be all for Reuss and the Cardinals fans gave him a sarcastic ovation as he left the field.
Future Cardinal Rick Honeycutt would come in to try to end the rally. Honeycutt was the fifth starter who was sort of an odd man out in a short series. He would face four hitters and fail to retire any of them. Jack Clark would single, Cesar Cedeno would walk, and both Tito Landrum and Terry Pendleton would get their second RBIs of the inning with singles. Both Landrum and Clark were 2-2 in the inning. Tommy Lasorda would go to his third pitcher of the inning, the right hander Bobby Castillo. With a blowout in the making, Castillo was going to be in the game for a long time so that the Dodgers didn’t wear out their bullpen in case they were needed tomorrow afternoon for Game 5. Castillo finally gets the last out by striking out Tom Nieto to end the inning, but not before the Cardinals had a 9-0 lead. With John Tudor pitching, it might as well have been 200-0.
John Tudor did not disappoint as he pitched seven strong innings, allowing just three hits. The lone blemish was a meaningless home run by Bill Madlock to lead off the seventh inning. Tudor would be lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh, saving him for a possible return in game seven, if needed. Rick Horton and Bill Campbell each pitched an inning to seal the 12-2 victory, and the once over-matched Cardinals were beginning to look like National League champions. That would come later with two dramatic late inning home runs, but Cardinal fans knew that with this victory, the series was all but over.