Posted on 27 April 2011.
With the disappointing end to the 1985 World Series now a distant memory, Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals would travel to New York for an important three game series with their arch rivals, the Mets. Rainy weather would shorten the series down to just this one game, with the other two to be made up when the Cardinals return in August. Six games over four nights, perhaps in the heat of a pennant race, gave the schedulers and fans chills just thinking about it. Before worrying about those games, the Cardinals and Mets had one to play on April 14. It turned out to be a very long one.
Dwight "Doc" Gooden
For Mets manager, Davey Johnson, filling out the lineup card was a simple task. Not only were his regular eight position players set, so was his starting rotation. And what a rotation it was: reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera and Bob Ojeda. Add in the righty/lefty relief tandem of Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco, and you have a staff that was good for 108 wins and a World Series title.
Herzog’s pitching situation couldn’t have been more different. His starting eight were in relatively good shape, but the pitching rotation was a complete mess. John Tudor and Danny Cox were set as the number one and two, and veteran Bob Forsch would bring up the rear. It seemed like Whitey auditioned every pitcher for the remaining two spots before finally setting on Tim Conroy and Greg Mathews. Unfortunately, the Cardinals would be well out of contention by the time the rotation straightened itself out.
David vs. Goliath
This game took on an air of David and Goliath as the two managers turned in their lineup cards. Forget that the Cardinals were 5-1 on the young season, they would be facing one of the best in the game, Dwight “Doc” Gooden. On the mound for the Cardinals, Rick Horton. This was going to be a game of power versus deception, and the Mets had a significant advantage.
The game started out exactly as you would have expected. Gooden made quick work of the Cardinals the first time through the order. The contact hitters at the top of the order made contact, but they were harmless fly balls or sharp grounders hit right at the infielders. The big swingers in the middle of the order came up empty, and Gooden would record four quick strikeouts.
For his part, Horton was just as effective, perhaps even a bit better. None of the Mets managed to get solid contact the first time through the order. They didn’t the second or third time either. Horton’s ability to keep the ball down and vary speeds frustrated a very good offensive team.
The Mets would score the first run of the game in the home half of the third inning. A leadoff walk to Ray Knight came back to haunt Rick Horton when he would also walk the eighth place batter, light hitting Rafael Sanata. Dwight Gooden would lay down a nice sacrifice bunt, moving both runners into scoring position. Horton would then walk Len Dykstra to load the bases, setting up a double play opportunity. This would backfire when Tim Teufel hit a fly ball to right field, deep enough to score Knight from third base.
Turning the Cards
The Cardinals would tie the game in the top of the sixth inning on a play that we learned to love in 1985. With one out, Vince Coleman hit a line drive right between the center and right fielders, and it went all the way to the wall. The speedy left fielder turned that hit into a triple, and was in easy scoring position. Coleman would indeed score when Wille McGee hit a ground ball up the middle that split the two middle infielders. After a Tommy Herr fly out, McGee would show off his speed by stealing second base, and then moving on two third base when Gary Carter’s throw sailed into center field. A Jack Clark strikeout ended the rally, but not before the Cardinals got on the board and sent a bit of a message: they were going to run, and run, and run.
The Cardinals would take the lead in the game in two innings later. In the top of the eighth, Ozzie Smith blooped a ball over the infield for a single. Playing for a big inning, Whitey Herzog decides to pinch hit for Rick Horton, in spite of him only giving up two hits through seven innings. Clint Hurdle, now the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, would hit for Horton. That turned out to be the right move as Hurdle singles up the middle, allowing Ozzie Smith to go to third base on the play. After Vince Coleman pops up to the shortstop, Willie McGee steps up to the plate, and plays the role of hero. McGee hits a fly ball to left field, deep enough to score the speedy Ozzie Smith from third base. That would give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead with just six more outs to get.
Why Did He Do That ?
The first of those six outs would come very quickly as Ken Dayley took over in the eighth inning. When Dayley was on, he was one of the best in the game. He had an electric fastball with sharp movement and complemented that with a curveball that looked like it rolled off the end of a table. Dayley was on tonight, and he made quick work of the Mets in his first inning of work.
In the Cardinals ninth inning, Andy van Slyke gave the Cardinals a chance for a much needed insurance run. With one out, he would single on a swinging bunt. He would immediately swipe second base, to put himself into scoring position. Unfortuantely, Terry Pendleton and Mike Heath would fail to drive in young right fielder, and that would prove costly in a few moments.
The brilliance of the Mets batting order came into play in the ninth inning, forcing Whitey Herzog to make a difficult decision. Johnson’s batting order alternated left and right handed hitters through the entire lineup, making it tough on late inning relievers, especially the lefties.
Herzog left Ken Dayley in to start the inning. He would walk the right handed hitting Tim Teufel. Dayley then got a very tough left handed hitter to ground into a force out, retiring the runner at second base. With Gary Carter coming up to bat, and another left handed hitter, Darryl Strawberry, on deck, Herzog goes to his bullpen and brings in Todd Worrell.
Worrell was a late addition to the Cardinals in 1985, just before the post-season roster eligibility deadline. While we remember him exploding onto the scene in September and October, with a dazzling fastball and video game slider, the truth was that he struggled at first. He had only recently been converted from a starter to a max effort reliever, and he had a few misfires before becoming the closer that we all remember. Because Worrell was such a late callup, he did not pitch enough innings to qualify as a rookie, so 1986 was his official rookie season.
In his first two appearances this season, he had been good enough to convert them into multi-inning saves. He did struggle a bit with his control, and would continue to do so for another week or so, but he was two for two in save chances. He would not fare as well in this game.
The first batter Worrell would face is the right handed hitting Gary Carter. Worrell had a high leg kick and long stride in his deliver, and Wally Backman, running for Keith Hernandez, took advantage of that and stole second base. Worrell would then lose the righty he was brought in to face when he walks Carter, putting the winning run on base.
Does any of this sound familiar ?
At this point, Herzog probably wishes he had left Dayley in the game because the next hitter was Darryl Strawberry, one of the most dangerous left handed batters in the game. Strawberry delivers with a line drive single, easily scoring Backman from second base. The game is now tied, and the young right hander has just blown his first save on the young season.
Worrell would retire George Foster and Howard Johnson to end the inning, but the damage had been done and the game would now go into extra innings.
A much different Roger McDowell took the mound in the tenth inning. He made quick work of the bottom of the Cardinals order, including Todd Worrell who took his at-bat, remaining in the game.
Todd Worrell also toughened and survived a two out single and stolen base in the tenth inning and a one out walk in the eleventh.
The Cardinals would get the next big chance in the top of the twelfth inning. Now facing Jesse Orosco, the Cardinals would take advantage of his wildness and draw a pair of walks to start the inning. An Ozzie Smith bunt backfired when the Mets were able to get the force out at third base. The inning would come to a quick end with no more runs on the scoreboard.
The new Cardinals pitcher was Pat Perry, and he made quick work of the Mets in the twelfth inning, working around a walk and a wild pitch.
The game would be broken open in the span of about 30 seconds in the top of the thirteenth inning. Willie McGee would start things off by beating out a weak grounder to second base. Tommy Herr bunted McGee to second base, but the Mets were unable to make the play, allowing both runners to be safe. Davey Johnson goes to his bullpen and brings in the big right hander, Bruce Berenyi.
Berenyi would pitch around Jack Clark, eventually walking him to load the bases. That would prove costly when Tito Landrum hits a ground ball to Howard Johnson and he boots it, allowing McGee and Herr to score a pair of go-ahead runs. The Cardinals would again load the bases, and Ozzie Smith delivered the knock-out blow when he doubled home two more runs. The Cardinals now led 6-2 and all of the enthusiasm had drained out of the Mets dugout.
Pat Perry made quick work of a now devastated top of the Mets order in the thirteenth inning, and earned a nice extra inning win. Although it was Berenyi’s meltdown that led to the Cardinals rally, Randy Niemann had put the first two men on base and would take the hard luck loss.
Lost in this story is a blown save from Todd Worrell. Also lost were several scoring chances that the Cardinals could not turn into runs.
The Rest of the Story
Fortunately for Worrell and the Cardinals, there was no social media technology in 1986. Bloggers did not analyze every pitch and Twitter users did not immediately demand Worrell be sent back down to Louisville. Aside from a few call-in sports shows, nobody commented on Worrell’s early season trouble. Whitey Herzog certainly did not over-react. He threw Worrell back out for the next save opportunity, and the young right-hander converted it with little fanfare. Or effort – he only faced a single batter.
Sadly, the Cardinals were about to go into a tailspin, falling 8 games out of first place before they knew what had hit them. That provided very few save opportunities for Worrell, and his next one he would not be able to convert. Still, Herzog did not over-react and remained supportive of the young hurler.
All of that was about to be forgotten as Worrell started pitching with authority in mid-May. He would finish his rookie season with 74 appearances, totally a whopping 103 2/3 innings. He would post a 9-10 record, which may be more about the poor Cardinals offense than his pitching ability. A sparkling 2.08 ERA is a better indicator, as was his league leading 36 saves. Although we will remember 1986 as somewhat of a lost season, it would very memorable for Todd Worrell as he took home the Rookie of the Year award.
What we can learn from this story is that one blown save does not a bad closer make, as Emily from the Cardinals Diamond Diaries points out in a recent article.
Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.