Exactly two years later these two teams would meet on this same field and the outcome of the 1987 season would be determined. The tipping point for the 1985 season would come in two days, in a span of less than 15 minutes of the most exciting baseball that the Herzog era Cardinals would produce. But this was THE game of the 1985 season. A showdown between the two teams contending for the NL East championship and the two NL Cy Young hopefuls that did not disappoint fans of either team. This may be the best pitched game since May 22, 1968 when Bob Gibson faced Don Drysdale in a thriller that was decided on a single pitch. So too would this game, and it would take nearly 3 hours to get there.
The Cardinals had rebuilt their team following the 1982 World Series. Gone was Keith Hernandez and Bruce Sutter. In their place was starting pitcher Neil Allen and a closer by committee bullpen led by Jeff Lahti. Cardinal favorite Lonnie Smith would be sent to the Royals early in the 1985 season. Another Cardinal favorite, Silent George Hendrick would be traded for left handed pitcher John Tudor. A young Andy van Slyke would take over right field and dazzle us all year long with his defensive skills. Replacing the power in the middle of the lineup would be newcomer Jack Clark. The key to this game though was a deadline deal on August 29 that brought over veteran outfielder Cesar Cedeno to fill in for an injured Jack Clark. Cedeno would play the best 28 games of his career in a Cardinal uniform.
Fans of both teams held their breath as this game began. The Mets held a tenuous one game lead over the Cardinals. Dwight Gooden had put together an amazing season eclipsing his brilliant rookie season in which he won Rookie of the Year. Better than Jim Palmer’s amazing 1975 season, Gooden’s season will be mentioned in the record books along side Bob Gibson’s magical 1968. As would the season being assembled by Cards southpaw John Tudor as he was nearing the end of his amazing 20-1 run collecting shutout after shutout.
The game would start out at a feverish pace. From the opening pitch it was clear that both pitchers had brought their A game to this contest. The first base runner would be Willie McGee in the first inning but he would be quickly erased in a double play when Tommy Herr failed to execute on a hit and run. McGee would also be the next base runner in the top of the fourth. After an infield pop out, McGee would get his second single of the game. After a Tommy Herr strikeout, McGee would steal second base but would be left there as Andy van Slyke couldn’t connect against Doc Gooden and struck out for the second time.
The first Mets baserunner would come with a one out walk to Wally Backman. He would be erased in a force play that the Cardinals would unable to turn into a double play. Like Gooden in the top of the inning, Tudor would bear down and strike out Gary Carter to end the inning.
Both pitchers would retire the side in order in the fifth. At this point the only balls leaving the infield were a couple of weak fly outs. Gooden was racking up the strikeouts and Tudor returning the favor with infield grounders and pop ups to the middle infield. The third time through the order was not going to produce much more as both Gooden and Tudor had command of all of their pitches.
Light hitting Rafael Santana would lead off the bottom of the sixth with a single. The first of three that the Mets would get off of Tudor. After striking out his opposite number, the Mets would learn a valuable lesson. John Tudor had one of the best pickoff moves in baseball, and Santana would be another of his 1985 victims. Tudor would quickly strike out Mookie Wilson to put an end to whatever threat the Mets thought they were mustering.
Starting in the seventh inning batters were starting to catch up to both pitchers. Strikeouts and weak pop ups were being replaced by louder outs. After a McGee strikeout to start the seventh inning, Tommy Herr caught the Mets napping and dragged a bunt for a single. It is easy to forget the speed of Herr when surrounded by Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Vince Coleman, but the Cards second baseman was a great base runner and would get more than his share of bunt singles. Van Slyke would fly out and a young Terry Pendleton would beat out an infield single putting another Cardinal in scoring position. But not tonight and not off Doc Gooden – Darrell Porter would fly out easily to Darryl Strawberry in right field to end the inning.
As they had been doing for most of the game, the Mets would go quietly in the bottom of the seventh.
The Cardinals best chance to break through on Gooden came in the top of the eighth. Veteran Mike Jorgensen would walk to lead off the inning. Newly acquired outfielder Cesar Cedeno would pinch run and take over first base. Ozzie Smith would draw a walk bringing in John Tudor in an obvious bunting situation. Unfortunately for Tudor, the best defensive first baseman was standing 90 feet away. Tudor bunted the ball and Hernandez made a quick throw to third retiring Cedeno for the first out of the inning. Then came the Cardinals only mistake in the game. Ozzie Smith thinking that (1) this may be the Cardinals best chance to get to Gooden, (2) Vince Coleman isn’t a good RBI man, and (3) Gary Carter doesn’t have a great arm behind the plate decides to steal third base and is caught by a strong throw from Carter. Unfortunate because the light hitting Coleman would catch up to a Doc Gooden pitch and rip a double that would have easily scored Smith. Not wanting to take a chance with McGee who had two singles already, Gooden walks Willie to load the bases. Tommy Herr would pop up to Ray Knight at third to end the rally and the best chance that the Cardinals would have against Gooden.
In the bottom of the eighth, Darryl Strawberry would lead off with a sharp single for only the second hit off Tudor. He wouldn’t be on base long as former Big Red Machine MVP (1977) George Foster would hit into one of the most exciting defensive plays in baseball: the around the horn 5-4-3 double play. And nobody did it better than the 80s Cardinals.
So we go into the ninth inning with no score. Gooden is still severely overmatching the Cardinals as he rips through our 4-5-6 hitters getting two weak grounders to second and a strikeout. Tudor is just as perplexing to Mets hitters as the Mets go 1-2-3 as well. But in the middle of this quick inning, Mets manager Davey Johnson would make the first of two mistakes by pinch hitting for Gooden. The second would come about 4 minutes later by choosing lefty Jesse Orosco to pitch the tenth inning.
The 1985 Cardinals were maddening for opposing managers as they would field five switch hitters night after night. The only regular non-switch hitters were power man Jack Clark, youngster van Slyke and whoever was catching that evening. Even Joaquin Andujar was a pinch hitter, although with a .104 average he wasn’t taken that seriously.
Jesse Orosco took the mound to face the Cardinals in the tenth inning. Leading off was Cesar Cedeno and as he did for 6 times in 28 games as a Cardinals, Cedeno hit a home run for the games only tally. In those 28 games Cedeno would hit .434 with 6 home runs, 19 RBIs. His slugging percentage would be .750 for a whopping OPS of 1.213. None were bigger than this one though as the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead. Ozzie Smith would then draw a walk. After a John Tudor strikeout, Smith would make his second mistake of the game, or maybe that was Gary Carter making the second sensational play of the game. Vince Coleman would strike out and Carter would snap a throw to Hernandez picking off Smith. We would see this repeatedly with Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols, but in 1985 this was a rare play indeed.
With a 1-0 lead, a tiring John Tudor would have to face the heart of the Mets order. Wally Backman would start things off with a single bringing all 53,000 fans in attendance at Shea Stadium to their feet. The noise was so deafening that it was hard to hear the radio broadcast. But that noise would be quickly silenced as Keith Hernandez rips a line drive to Tommy Herr and Herr is able to double up Backman who was too far off of first to get back in time. With two outs, Gary Carter would hurt the Cardinals for the third time. He would draw a walk bringing the winning run to the plate in right fielder and slugger Darryl Strawberry. The tall power hitter had one of the prettiest swings in all of baseball. And twice he would hit 39 home runs, including 1985. But he was not to hit 40 this year, and the Mets were not to win the NL East as Tudor put the ball where big Darryl could not handle it, striking him out to end the game.
3 hours and 3 minutes of a pitching duel that has not been seen many times in history. This one would favor the Cardinals. In three weeks, the Mets would return the favor in nearly a mirror image of this gem with Ron Darling dueling Tudor into extra innings. And like Johnson, Herzog would go to his bullpen and they would surrender one run, which was one too many.
Perhaps even more significant than the pitching heroics, the Cardinals had just tied the Mets for the lead in the NL east with less than a month to play. The back breaker would come two days later, but we’ll save that for another time.
Box scores for this game at http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN198509110.shtml