On May 24, 2011, Tony Cruz made his major league debut in San Diego. It was a most memorable debut with the young catcher collecting three hits, including a double. Even though Cruz had gotten off to a slow start with the Memphis Redbirds (AAA), he had hit for a good average at every level. But three hits in his debut – how rare is that, really ?
It turns out that it is quite rare. Before Cruz, only 11 players have done that in their Cardinals debut. When you shorten that list to those players who were also making their major league debut, only three names remain: Creepy Crespi (1938), Ernie White (1940), and a young third baseman who would make his debut in this game. Before getting to him, it should be noted that Ernie White was a pitcher who also threw 7 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the win, to go along with those three hits.
July 18, 1984 San Francisco at St. Louis
When the Giants came into Busch Stadium for this mid-season matchup, neither team figured to be in a playoff race. The two would meet in post-season in 1987, and do battle over seven exciting games with the Cardinals prevailing in the decisive game.
The starter for the Giants would be the same pitcher who took the loss in that 1987 NLCS Game Seven, Atlee Hammaker. Hammaker was a tall lefty that had dazzled the National League the previous season, leading the league with a 2.25 ERA. He was a control specialist, and when he was on his game, he was invincible. In his second start in 1983, he retired the first 21 Cincinnati Reds batters before Johnny Bench led off the 8th inning with a single. In his next start, he would hold the Chicago Cubs hitless until the sixth inning.
A sore shoulder would cut short his 1983 season. Off season surgery to repair his rotator cuff and elbow would cost him most of 1984 too. After recovering from those surgeries, he did manage to get in a few starts, and this game in St. Louis would be one of them.
On the mound for the Cardinals is the young rookie left-hander, Rick Horton. Horton had been working out of the bullpen for most of the season, but in June he was moved into the rotation. Two weeks earlier, Horton had thrown a gem of a game, earning the win in San Francisco. Cardinals fans hoped there would be a repeat in St. Louis.
Things started very quietly, until Jeffrey Leonard led off the second inning with a home run. This was not the first time he had done that to Horton. The first batter that Horton faced in the majors leagues was Leonard, and the result was the same. Leonard would only manage four hits against Horton in his career, but three of them were home runs. The other was a double. This was the 1980’s version of Albert Pujols and Ian Snell.
Horton limited the damage to just the “One Flap Down” home run. The Giants led, 1-0.
In the bottom of the second inning, a young third baseman named Terry Pendleton stepped up to the plate for the first time in his major league career. He would hit a single off the tough Giants lefty. Obviously, there is more to this story. Much, much more.
In the third inning, Horton got into a bit of trouble, but this time it was small ball that led to the Giants second run. Brad Wellman would lead off the inning with a single. He would be thrown out trying to steal second base, which turns out to be one of the key plays in this game. After a Hammaker ground out, three consecutive singles by Dan Gladden, Manny Trillo and Dusty Baker (yes, that Dusty Baker) led that another run. As he did in the previous inning, Horton limited the damage to just the one run, striking out Jeffrey Leonard to end the inning.
The Cardinals would get one of those runs back in the bottom of the third inning as Lonnie Smith doubles to left field. Jeffrey Leonard, while a juggernaut at the plate, could make left field somewhat entertaining to watch. He would boot the ball, allowing Skates to take third on the play. That extra base turned out to be important as Hammaker retired the next two batters, but the Tommy Herr groundout allowed Smith to score.
In the fifth inning, the Giants had the makings of a major rally. Two walks and a single would load the bases with just one out. As Jeffrey Leonard stepped up to the plate, Whitey Herzog went to his bullpen for the fidgety hard throwing Jeff Lahti. Lahti retired both Leonard and Bob Brenley to end the threat. The Giants still led 2-1.
The Giants threatened to break the game open in the sixth inning. With one out, they would again load the bases. This time Jeff Lahti would not be as fortunate as a Dan Gladden single drove in two runs, making the score 4-1.
If there was a bright spot for the Cardinals, it would be that Atlee Hammaker is out of the game, being lifted for a pinch hitter the previous inning. Hammaker had been very good in his short outing. In five innings of work, he allowed just one run (unearned on the Jeffrey Leonard error) on three hits. He struck out seven while walking nobody. This was the Hammaker that we had seen in 1983, and if he could keep pitching like this, teams in the NL West were going to be in for a few long summers.
Fortunately, the Giants bullpen was not as good as their starter, and the Cardinals jumped all over Jeff Cornell in their half of the sixth inning. Back to back doubles by Lonnie Smith and Tommy Herr would cut the Giants lead in half. With Tommy Herr still at second base with two outs, up steps Terry Pendleton and he would deliver with a single, driving in the first run of his major league career. The Giants lead was down to a single run at 4-3.
Neil Allen would pitch a scoreless seventh inning for the Cardinals, and Bruce Sutter would contribute two more scoreless innings, setting up a ninth inning thriller.
It would be up to Greg Minton to preserve the win for Atlee Hammaker. Minton had been shaky in the eighth inning, and would be so again in the ninth. With one out, Lonnie Smith would single and steal second base. He would take third on the wild throw, giving Tommy Herr a chance to tie the game. Herr delivers with a single, tying the game at 4.
Ralph Citerella would pitch a quick tenth inning for the Cardinals, retiring the bottom of the Giants order, 1-2-3.
Greg Minton was still in the game for the Giants. The first batter he would face in the tenth inning was Terry Pendleton. And for the third time, Pendleton would single, earning him a place in Cardinals history, now shared with Tony Cruz. Nothing would come from Pendleton’s single, so off to the 11th inning we go.
John Rabb, pinch hitting for Greg Minton, starts things off for the Giants in the eleventh inning with a single. He would be bunted into scoring position, with just one out. Manny Trillo would follow that with a single, and Rabb decided to test Andy van Slyke. That turned out to be a bad decision, and the rest of the league would soon learn of van Slyke’s arm. Rabb would be thrown out at the plate. Momentum had just shifted sides to the home team with that pivotal play.
Tommy Herr would lead off the Cardinals half of the eleventh inning with a double. Andy van Slyke would follow that with a grounder for a sure out, but the Giants spent too much time worrying about Herr. Both runners were safe. George Hendrick would follow that with a rocket of a single. With nobody out, the Cardinals played it safely, holding Herr at third base.
After a David Green pop out, Terry Pendleton would step up to the plate. If this were a fictional tale, Pendleton would drive in the winning run, cementing his major league debut as one of the greatest in Cardinals history. But it is not, and Pendleton grounded out, forcing Herr at home plate.
Walk Off in Grand Style
What happens next is one of those things that stays with you for a couple of decades. Walk-off hits are great, but they happen frequently enough that they all sort of blur together. Walk-off home runs are more precious and tend to stay with you a bit longer. But they too begin to fade into all of the other baseball memories after some time.
But walk-off grand slams ? Now, those stay with you for a long long time. And this would be one of them. As Darrell Porter steps to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, he is thinking only one thing – hit it hard, and some place where they can’t catch it. He did exactly that by hitting the ball over the outfield wall for a walk-off grand slam. The Cardinals fans went home deliriously happy with a most improbable 8-4 win. Dave Von Ohlen would earn the victory with one inning of relief. Darrell Porter was the immediate hero, somewhat overshadowing van Slyke’s heroic outfield assist in the top of the inning.
When you look back at this game, it is Terry Pendleton’s three hits in his major league debut that really make you smile. The smile gets a bit bigger when you think of all the players who made their debut in the 27 years between Pendleton and Tony Cruz, and none of them accomplished what these two did.