Earlier this month, we took a look at how the 1987 Cardinals overcame a slew of injuries to win the National League East Division Title, holding off a late run by both the New York Mets and the Montreal Expos. John Tudor would miss half of the season with a broken leg, newcomer Tony Pena a month and a half with a broken hand and long disabled list stints by Danny Cox, Tommy Herr, Curt Ford, Joe Magrane and Jack Clark. Of these, Clark’s injury hurt the Cardinals the most as he was their only legitimate power threat in the lineup. Behind the dual running threat of Vince Coleman and Ozzy Smith and the reliable bat of Tommy Herr, Jack Clark feasted on opposing pitchers. He put together one of the best offensive seasons since a guy named Stan Musial roamed in the right field corner at Grand and Dodier (Sportsman’s Park). That is until the sixth inning of the game in Montreal on September 9 when “The Ripper” tried to avoid a tag on an errant throw by Expos third baseman Tim Wallach and ended up tearing some ligaments in his ankle, ending his season. For many Cardinal fans, their hopes for post-season ended with that awkward slide.
Thanks to some late season heroics by Terry Pendleton and the pitching of Greg Mathews, Joe Magrane, Danny Cox and John Tudor, the Redbirds were able to hold onto the lead that they had built earlier in the season and would face NL West Champions, the San Francisco Giants, in the National League Championship Series. While the Cardinals limped into post-season, the Giants stormed into the series. A long winning streak in mid-September separated the Giants from both Houston and Cincinnati and the outcome of the division was really never in doubt after that. The Giants were also entering the playoffs with all of their regulars in the lineup.
Bad Blood, Lots of it
Not that post-season needs any more drama than the best-of-seven game series provides, this one featured just a bit more than the others in the decade. There was bad blood between these two teams, and a lot of it. It all dated back to a game the previous season. To be specific, a Tuesday night game in St. Louis on July 22, 1986. Both pitchers would get off to a rough start. Giants starter Vida Blue was being beaten up, one single at a time. At the same time, John Tudor could not retire the Giants in order and surrendered a game tying home run to Bob Brenly just moments after being given an early lead. It was going to be one of those kind of games.
Things fell apart for the Giants in the fourth inning when the Cardinals sent 11 men to the plate against Blue and relievers Mark Davis and Juan Berenguer. Andy van Slyke did most of the damage with a triple and a home run, but it was the aggressive base running of Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith that got under the Giants skin. By the time Berenguer got the last out in the inning, the Cardinals plated 8 runs for a 10-2 lead.
In the next inning, John Tudor would single with one out. Vince Coleman would ground out, forcing Tudor at second. With a 10-2 lead, Coleman was back off to the races and would steal both second base as well as third. The last straw came when Vince Coleman tried to score on a wild pitch to Willie McGee. Catcher Bob Brenly threw out Coleman and pitcher Juan Berenguer slammed the ball into the ground to show his displeasure of Coleman’s aggressive play with such a big lead. Both benches emptied, but nothing happened quite yet. Coleman added fuel to the fire when he tipped his cap to Berenguer in mock appreciation of his play.
You know what comes next, right ? Exactly. When Coleman comes up to bat the next time, he take his punishment – which in this case was a pitch in the rib cage, but not before the first attempt failed to hit the Cardinals speedster. Both benches were warned, but that apparently wasn’t a deterrent as Frank Williams’ next pitch hit Coleman in the mid-section, prompting an automatic ejection of Williams and manager, Roger Craig. That’s when the melee broke out, and a good one it was. Even Whitey Herzog got into the act when Jeffrey Leonard threw Cardinals pitching coach Mike Roarke to the ground. A huge mound of players exchanged blows with Tommy Herr getting the worst of it, receiving 8 stitches to the face.
The Giants would make the game more interesting by jumping all over reliever Ray Burris, but Todd Worrell would close the game out, preserving the win for the Redbirds. But the Giants would get their revenge, it just took a bit over 14 months for another opportunity to present itself.
NLCS Games 1 and 2
Even though the Cardinals had won 5 more game than their Western Division foes, injuries to Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton made the Giants the favorites in this series. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the series would start in St. Louis where young left-hander Greg Mathews won Game One with 7 1/3 innings of 4 hit baseball. Mathews would even drive in the eventual winning runs with a 2 out single in the sixth inning. Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley would bail Mathews out late in the game, preserving the win for the home team.
Dave Dravecky would even the series with the best post-season pitching performance since Jim Lonborg’s 1 hitter in the 1967 World Series. The Giants lefty would hold the Cardinals to just 2 hits as they pecked away at John Tudor for a 5-0 win. In this game, Jeffrey Leonard would hit his second home run in as many games. That was starting to get under the skin of the Cardinals.
While the first two games featured some very good pitching on both sides of the diamond, the first game at Candlestick Park looked to be more of an offensive battle. Whitey Herzog would give the ball to his star rookie, Joe Magrane. On the other side, Roger Craig would call on his big lefty, Atlee Hammaker. Hammaker had been a bit of a Ray Sadecki pitcher for the Giants. He had great stuff and could completely shut down the opposition, but for some reason could not get any run support. If the current group of baseball writers were voting for the Cy Young award in 1983, Hammaker would probably have won it. Even though he only compiled a 10-9 record, he led the league in ERA (2.25), walks per 9 innings (1.7) and K/BB ratio of almost 4. After missing the entire 1986 season with an injury, Hammaker turned in a solid 1987, finishing with a 10-10 record.
The Giants would draw first blood in this battle, getting all over Joe Magrane in the bottom of the second inning. A double by Chili Davis, single by Will Clark and double from the bat of Bob Brenly would give the Giants a quick 2-0 lead. That would lead would soon grow to 3-0 when Bob Brenly scored on a Magrane wild pitch to leadoff hitter, Robby Thompson.
What the box scores don’t tell you is that the Cardinals were being beaten on every aspect of the game. They were being out-pitched, out-hit and out-hustled. If something didn’t change, and soon, the series might not return to Busch Stadium.
The last straw for the Cardinals in this game came in the bottom of the third inning. Jeffrey Leonard would lead off with his third home run of the series. In front of the large home town crowd, Leonard took his time rounding the bases. As he did so, he ran with his right arm dangling limply – he called that his “one flap down.” It was a huge insult to the opposing pitchers, and that was not lost on Bob Forsch who was getting ready to enter the game.
Bob Forsch Knocks One Flap Down
The dean of the Cardinals pitching staff would take over for Joe Magrane in the fourth inning. After a failed bunt from Robbie Thompson and a sharp single by Kevin Mitchell, Jeffrey Leonard stepped into the batters box. In a bit of old school retribution, Bob Forsch puts a pitch right in Leonard’s rib cage. Leonard takes it like a professional and quietly takes his base. After some shaky infield play, Forsch closed out the inning without any further damage. But he did make a big statement – if the Cardinals bats could just show some sort of life, this could be a game again.
That would happen in the next inning. With two outs and Ozzie Smith on first base, Jim Lindeman, filling in for the injured Jack Clark, surprised everybody by blasting a 2 run homer. After tearing up spring training and making it possible for Dal Maxvill to deal Andy van Slyke to the Pirates for Tony Pena, Lindeman struggled through the regular season, finishing with a disappointing .208 average with 8 home runs and 28 RBIs. With this one hit, Lindeman gave the Cardinals some much needed life.
If Lindeman was feeding off Forsch’s efforts in the previous inning, Forsch in turn feed off the bats waking up by setting down the Giants in order without a ball leaving the infield. That put the Cardinals bats back into the game quickly, and they would break the game open against Hammaker and relievers Don Robinson and Craig Lefferts. Unlike the previous inning, the Cardinals did it this time by pure Whitey-ball: singles, stolen bases and sacrifices. Jim Lindeman, who drove in the first two runs, would drive in the last run with a sacrifice fly. By the time the inning ended, the Cardinals enjoyed a 6-4 lead and were standing much taller than they were an hour earlier.
Whitey Herzog would turn the game over to Todd Worrell for a 3 inning save. A 2 out home run in the 9th inning by Harry Spilman would make it a one run game, but Worrell would retire Kevin Mitchell to end the game.
Games 4 and 5
In Game 4, the Cardinals got to Giants starter, Mike Krukow, early but failed to tack on any more runs. Cardinals starter, Danny Cox, ran into trouble with the long ball as Robbie Thompson, Jeffrey Leonard and Bob Brenly would victimize the big right hander. Leonard’s game winning homer was his 4th in as many games. Fortunately, this would be the last we would hear out of Leonard.
Game 5 was a back and forth affair as each time the Cardinals would score, the Giants would come back and tie the game. San Francisco would have the final word, scoring 4 runs in their half of the fourth inning. Neither team would allow another run and the Giants would leave San Francisco with a 3-2 lead in the series.
Games 6 and 7
When the series returned to Busch Stadium, John Tudor pitched one of the best post-season games in his career. He gave the Giants fits, scattering 6 hits in 7 1/3 innings of work. Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley would retire the five batters they would face, three by way of the the strikeout. The only run in the game came on a Tony Pena fly ball that Candy Maldonado misplayed into a triple. Jose Oquendo would drive him in two batters later with a sacrifice fly.
Game 7 would feature Danny Cox against Game 3 starter Atlee Hammaker. In a complete reversal of fortunes from Game 3, it was Hammaker that would fall apart early. Three consecutive singles by Tony Pena, Terry Pendleton and and Willie McGee in the second inning would set up the big play of the game. Jose Oquendo would break the game open with a three run homer, giving Danny Cox a lead that he would not surrender. The Cardinals would tack on two insurance runs later in the game, but Cox didn’t need them as he would go the distance in the 6-0 shutout, further adding to his reputation of being a big game hurler.
As much as Jeffrey Leonard irritated opposing players and fans, he had a truly remarkable post-season in 1987. He would be rewarded by taking home the NLCS Most Valuable Player award, the first one given to a player on the losing team. Willie McGee and Tony Pena had a good series for the Cardinals, but nothing like the .417/.500/.917 that Leonard put up. He would finish the series with 4 home runs, but just 5 RBIs. Yes, he deserved the award more than any other player.
But one player deserves an even bigger award. Bob Forsch gave his team a much needed lift when he sent the series MVP down in the dirt at that pivotal moment in Game 3. He won’t receive any iron for that, but he should get the respect of Cardinals fans, young and old. If not for some old school payback, the 1987 NLCS might have ended in San Francisco.