On this night, the fifth place Cardinals would play the West Division leading San Diego Padres in the second game of a four game series. Even though the Cardinals were in fifth place in the East, they were only 6 games out of first. Both divisions were up for grabs. The Cubs would catch fire later in summer and win the East while the Padres would hold on and win the West. None of that mattered right now, the Cardinals and Padres had a game to play.
The Cardinals were in the middle of a rough transition. Gone was Keith Hernandez, one of the best players in recent years. Terry Pendleton had yet to make his major league debut. The Cardinals pitching staff was decimated by injuries, especially among the starters. At this point, Danny Cox, Dave LaPoint and Bob Forsch were all injured and unavailable. Over the course of the next week, Kurt Kepshire would make his major league debut and Rick Ownbey (part of the Hernandez trade) would make his Cardinals debut. Neither would make much of an impact. Whitey Herzog was so desperate for starters that he was using Ken Dayley and Neil Allen, just to have somebody take the mound in the first inning.
A Promising Rookie
Younger fans may know Rick as one of the Cardinal announcers on Fox Sports Midwest. A very pleasant announcer with an ever present smile, Rick has become a very good broadcaster. He often speaks of his time pitching, always downplaying his abilities – especially his 82mph fastball. While that may be what White Sox and Dodgers fans remember, Cardinal fans know differently. Rick Horton was a very good pitcher for his first four years in St. Louis. And I mean very good. He didn’t have the flair of Joaquin Andujar. He didn’t throw hard like Ken Dayley or Todd Worrell. He couldn’t dominate game after game like John Tudor or Danny Cox. But Rick Horton was still a very good pitcher. He was crafty with a capital C. In those four seasons, Horton would put up a 24-12 record with an ERA that stayed under 3 runs per game, except when excessive mop up duty inflated it just a bit. He was used mainly out of the bullpen, but would be the occasional spot starter when needed. Tonight was one of those nights.
The 24 year old lefty made the team out of spring training. Up to this point, he had been used mostly in mop-up assignments. While not the most glamorous role, they gave him time to develop his major league game. At the same time, those appearances gave Whitey Herzog and Mike Roarke time to evaluate his talent. And there was plenty to be happy about. Horton would get his first start on June 12 and combine with Neil Allen for a nice win against the Phillies, picking up his second win of his short career. He would be hit a bit harder on his next start against the Mets, but together with Bruce Sutter, they would hold the Mets off for another win.
Rick would suffer his first loss on June 24 against the Cubs, although he pitched well enough to win. He had the bad fortune of facing Rick Sutcliffe in the beginning of his 16-1 run to his Cy Young Award (to go with his 1979 Rookie of the Year). Sutcliffe would shut out the Cardinals, striking out 14. Not a lot that the young man could do against that kind of performance. Very quietly though, Horton was putting together a nice season. His ERA to date was 1.75.
June 24 – St. Louis at San Diego
Rick Horton (3-1) would face the right hander Eric Show (7-5). Show was the Woody Williams of the 80s. Fairly durable, Show would throw a lot of innings but not a lot of strikeouts. He would win 15 games twice, and 16 in his best season, 1988. But he would never have that monster year that we thought he was capable of producing. How would he do tonight ?
Show was impressive from the first pitch. He would strike out the first two batters he faced. Willie McGee would end the inning grounding out to long time Dodger, Steve Garvey at first.
Although not as dominating, Horton was just as effective in his half inning, getting two fly outs and striking out Garvey to end the inning.
The Cardinal bats would wake up in the second inning. Darrell Porter would lead off with a double. He was unable to advance when Steve Braun flied out to left (Steve, you are supposed to hit the ball to the other side of the outfield with a runner in scoring position and less than 2 outs). Mike Jorgensen would single, but Porter was held up at third. With Art Howe at the plate, Jorgensen is caught stealing in a broken hit and run. It was so bad that Jorgensen isn’t even credited with a caught stealing. Howe then flies out to end the inning.
In the San Diego half of the second inning, Horton shuts down the Padres. The ball never left the infield. When Horton was on, he could nip the corners. With his ability to change the speed, hitters never got a good swing on anything near the plate. So far, Horton was in very good form tonight.
In the third, the Cardinals would put a run on the scoreboard. Ozzie Smith, hitting eighth at this point in his career, leads off with a walk. Horton bunts Smith to second. Lonnie Smith follows that with a single, easily scoring Smith from second. Show would limit the damage, but the Cardinals had an early 1-0 lead. Maybe that would be enough with the way Horton is pitching.
The Padres third inning was much like their second, nothing leaving the infield. Three up and three down. One time through the order and Horton retired all nine.
Show settles down in the fourth. Steve Braun would fly out. Mike Jorgensen would single, but Art Howe would hit into an around the horn double play: 5-4-3. In the Padres fourth, nothing. Tony Gwynn and Steve Garvey finally got something out of the infield, but the ball fell safely into the gloves of Cardinal outfielders.
The Cards would stir up trouble in the fifth. Ozzie Smith would ground out to start the inning, but Ricj Horton would follow that with a walk. Walking the opposing pitcher is always a bad idea, and it generally comes back to haunt the other team. Lonnie Smith would fail to advance the runner, flying out to right. Tommy Herr would single, bringing free swinging Willie McGee to the plate. Show would throw a pitch to the backstop, moving the runners to second and third. Willie McGee would would single to left, scoring both Horton and Herr. McGee would advance to second when Carmelo Martinez misplayed the ball. Darrell Porter would end the inning with a strikeout, but the Cardinals now led 3-0.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Padres would get their first base runner when the just victimized Carmelo Martinez leads off with a walk. He is quickly dispatched when catcher Terry Kennedy hits the ball back to the pitcher and Horton starts a nifty 1-6-3 double play. Not only had Horton been getting it done with his arm and bat, now he is showing off a bit of leather. Kevin McReynolds would ground out to end the inning.
More trouble for Show in the sixth inning. With one out, Mike Jorgensen would walk and Art Howe would hit a single. Ozzie Smith would single home Jorgensen. Once again, Horton lays down a good bunt, moving the runners to second and third. The young lefty was putting on quite a clinic tonight. Lonnie Smith would follow with a single, scoring Howe. Ozzie Smith would be thrown out in a close play at home. The Cardinals now led 5-0.
Absolutely nothing was happening in the bottom of the sixth. Another solid Horton inning. A pop up to short, a pop up to second and a ground out to short. Three batters, nothing leaving the infield. Through six, no Padre hits.
Andy Hawkins was in to replace Show, who had been lifted for a pinch hitter in the previous inning. Hawkins did what Show had not been able to do – retire the Cardinals in order. The bottom of the seventh was a repeat of the sixth. Three Padre batters, two infield grounders and a strikeout. Nothing left the infield. Through seven innings, Cardinals 5, Padres 0 – and no Padre hits.
The Cardinals went fairly quickly in the eighth. Two singles, a fly out and rarity: Ozzie Smith grounding into a double play.
Horton Hears a Hit
Rick Horton takes his no hitter into the eighth. He strikes out Carmelo Martinez and gets Terry Kennedy to pop out to third. With two outs, Kevin McReynolds ends Horton’s no hitter with a clean double. A disappointed Horton gets Graig Nettles to ground out to short, preserving the shutout.
The Cardinals go quietly in the top of the ninth. A very tired Rick Horton takes the mound, working on a one hit shutout. He gets Garry Templeton to ground out to his opposite number for the first out. Pinch hitter Kurt Bevacqua walks. Leadoff man Alan Wiggins would get the Padres second hit, with Bavacqua stopping at second base. Tony Gwynn, one of the games greatest hitters, would end things by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play.
What an amazing performance by the young lefty. A 2 hit shutout against the West leading Padres – a team that would go on to the World Series. Horton was four outs from throwing a no hitter in his fourth major league start. Only five balls would get out of the infield, the two hits and three harmless fly balls. This was as masterful a game as Cardinals fans had seen in a very long time.
The Rest of the Story
Horton would finish his rookie season with a 9-4 record, posting a modest ERA of 3.44. He would be equally impressive in the next three seasons, going 3-2/2.91 in ’85, 4-3/2.24 in ’86 and 8-3/3.82 in ’87 (with 67 appearances, 61 in relief).
Horton would be traded to the White Sox, along with speedster Lance Johnson after the 1987 season for Jose DeLeon. DeLeon was an amazing talent that no pitching coach had been able to figure out. The Cardinals would soon be added to that list as DeLeon gave us 4 1/2 frustrating years. Horton failed to impress the White Sox and he was dealt to the Dodgers in a last minute deal before the end of post season eligibility. Horton would return to the Cardinals in 1989 and retire at the end of the 1990 season.
Lance Johnson would go on to be one of the better hitters in the American League. He would routinely lead the league in triples as well as stealing 30 or more bases a year. That’s one we sure wish we had back.
The next time you hear Rick Horton talking about his pitching days, know that he is being modest. Horton was one heck of a pitcher. And on this night he almost pitched his way into the Cardinal record books.