September 7. 1993. St. Louis at Cincinnati. A twilight double header.
Every baseball game has the potential for greatness. Even if the the two teams are well out of contention and have nothing to play for except pride and professionalism. Every once in a while something special happens, and you don’t want to miss it.
So it is with this game, or rather games. It was a twilight double header in Cincinnati. A Tuesday evening game between the 3rd place Cardinals and the 5th place Reds. Only a few fans were in attendance, but those that chose to come out were entertained beyond anybody’s expectation. Records would be set and broken in this game. And there were two plays, one in each game, that would determine how much history would be made.
The first game started out innocently. Rheal Cormier (the Jamie Moyer of his era) would start for the Cardinals. He would be followed by Rich Batchelor, Les Lancaster, Paul Kilgus, Steve Dixon, Mike Perez, Rob Murphy and finally Todd Burns. That’s right – 8 pitchers used by Joe Torre in this first game. What about Cincinnati ? John Roper would start and be replaced by Johnny Ruffin, Scott Service, Rob Dibble, Scott Ruskin, Jerry Spradlin, and finally Jeff Reardon. That was seven for the Reds. Both teams would combine for a record 15 pitchers in this game. Didn’t anybody realize that there was a second game to be played ?
We sort of knew it was going to be a long night. Both Roper and Cormier were hit hard in the first inning. St. Louis native Bernard Gilkey failed to drive in Ozzie Smith after Smith single and stole second base. In the bottom of the first, future Cardinal Reggie Sanders singled hard to right field and advanced to second on another hard line drive single by Chris Sabo. Tim Costo would hit one deep into the gap and fortunately for the Cardinals it bounced hard on the Cincinnati artificial turf and over the wall for a ground rule double. Joe Oliver would hit a harmless pop up stranding two runners in scoring position. This would not be the end of the scoring, but any measure.
Roper would breeze through the second inning, giving up an infield single to Erik Pappas (one of the few Cardinal catchers not to win a Gold Glove). Cormier would have to work hard in his half inning, but did not surrender a run. He would start off by hitting Juan Samuel and then a single to shortstop Jeff Branson. Roper would bunt the two over with a nice sacrifice. Playing the odds, Torre walked the Reds leadoff man – one of those unintentional intentional passes. And Hal Morris did the Cardinals a favor hitting the ball to Luis Alicea who turned a nifty 4-6-3 double play.
Roper got into a bit of a jam in the third. With one out he would walk Ozzie Smith and give up a single to Gregg Jefferies. Todd Zeile would hit a 3 run homer to give the Cardinals the lead. One that would last about 5 minutes as the Reds returned the favor with their own 3 run homer off the bat of Juan Samuel.
Then the strangest thing happened. Both hurlers would retire the side in order in the 4th inning. The only time either pitcher, or any pitcher in this game would do so.
In the fifth, Ozzie Smith would get an infield single. The Reds would fail to turn a double play as Gregg Jefferies hustled down the first base line to beat the throw. This would be significant as Jefferies, who had much better speed than most people thought, stole second. Not wanting to mess with Todd Zeile who already had a home run, Roper pitched around him eventually walking the Cardinal third baseman. Bernard Gilkey would make up for his first inning failure and smack a double over the head of Jacob Brumfield scoring both Jefferies and Zeile. The Cardinals had a 5-4 lead now – it was up to Cormier to hold the lead. Unfortunately he wouldn’t. After two quick outs, a single and double by the Reds would tie the game at 5.
Leading off the top of the sixth, another St. Louis native, Lonnie Maclin hit a single to left field. This would be the only hit of his career. Ironically, Maclin was drafted by the Reds and chose not to sign in favor of his home town Cardinals. Sadly nothing would come out of this and the inning ended with Geronimo Pena being thrown out at home. Never make the last out at home. Never.
Pena had pinch hit for Cormier in the sixth, so it was now up to the bullpen to win this game.
Rich Batchelor would be the first to try. He would not fare too well. In his first inning of work he would give up 2 hits and 2 runs. But it was how the runs were scored that was frustrating. Thomas Howard would lead off with a double to left and advance to third on an infield hit by Brumfield. Hal Morris would hit a sacrifice fly scoring Howard. Then Brumfield would take advantage of the Cardinals backup catcher by stealing both second and third base. Wait a minute – this is supposed to be what the Cardinals do – not the Reds. Oh, but this is the Joe Torre era, and Whitey Ball was well in the past. Reggie Sanders would hit a deep fly scoring Brumfield. The Reds now led 7-5. Could they hold the lead ?
Johnny Ruffin would take over for Roper in the 7th. Ozzie Smith leads off with one of the most exciting plays in baseball, a triple. There are few plays as exciting and few players that run the bases like Ozzie Smith. Jefferies follows that up with a sharp single to center, scoring Smith. Jefferies would play a little Whitey Ball of his own and steal second base for the second time in the game. The Cardinals would fail to capitalize, but had cut the lead to one run. 7-6 Reds.
This is where things got really really sloppy. And sadly this would not be the last time. Batchelor fails to record another out, giving up two hard singles to right, putting runners on the corners. Les Lancaster comes in and throws a pitch to the backstop allowing Gary Varsho to score and putting Joe Oliver at second. He then gives up a wicked double to Juan Samuel scoring Greg Tubbs who was pinch running for Joe Oliver. Paul Kilgus relieves Lancaster and would finally bring an end to this painful inning with a popup, Samuel being caught stealing third, and finally striking out Brumfield. The Reds lead had grown to 9-6.
As sloppy as the bottom of the seventh had been, it would soon be forgotten as the Cardinals would send 12 men to the plate in the top of the 8th. Cincinnati would use four pitchers, three of whom would not record a single out. Scott Service would be the first Cincinnati hurler to be victimized. He would give up a single to Erik Pappas and a walk to pinch hitter Rod Brewer. Then a double in the right field corner by Luis Alicea would score Pappas and put runners at 2nd and 3rd with no out. Ozzie Smith would ground out moving pinch runner Tripp Cromer to third. Rob Dibble would be the next Cincy pitcher and it went from bad to worse. Dibble was one of the most feared relievers at one point in his career, but this was a different Rob Dibble. He was at the end of his short career and arm troubles were affecting his location and velocity. Gregg Jefferies would single home Alicea and Todd Zeile would walk. A wild pitch would put both runners in scoring position. Dibble would walk the bases loaded. That was the end of the evening for Rob Dibble. But it wouldn’t get any better. Scott Ruskin would walk Mark Whiten with the bases loaded. The next batter, Stan Royer, would hit a single to right scoring Zeile and Gilkey with Whiten advancing to third. The fourth Cincinnati pitcher of the inning, Jerry Spradlin would come in and give up a double to Erik Pappas, scoring Whiten. Tripp Cromer, who started the inning as pinch runner would get a turn at the plate and ground out. Luis Alicea would strike out and the inning would be over, but not before Cardinals had taken a 13-9 lead. Now, would that hold up ?
Steve Dixon would try the Cardinal lead. But not for long as he gave up two quick walks. Next would be Mike Perez. Perez would give up an infield single to load the bases. All three would come home on a single and sacrifice fly. The lead was down to 13-12, Cardinals. With one inning to play, would that hold up ?
Jeff Reardon would be called on to hold the game where it was. Reardon was one of the most dominant closers in the 80s. He was near the end of his career but he could still pitch. And tonight we would see some of that Reardon magic as the Cardinals would threaten, but he would not give in. Gregg Jefferies would try to be the hero again as he steals his third base after an infield single. Reardon was not going to let this game get any farther out of reach, no matter how hard Jefferies was playing. He would retire Todd Zeile and Bernard Gilkey with Jefferies in scoring position, to end the inning. The Cardinals had a slim 13-12 lead. And no closer.
The bottom of the ninth would start off right as Thomas Howard would ground out to Ozzie Smith. Then the wheels would fall off the bus as the game would end without another out being recorded. Jacob Brumfield would double, Hal Morris would walk. With the winning runs on base, Torre would make one last bullpen move, bringing in Todd Burns. He would face one batter – Reggie Sanders. Sanders would hit a ball in the gap that Mark Whiten misplays allowing both runs to score. Sanders would be credited with a triple and Cincinnati would win 14-13. A record 15 pitchers used, nearly 4 hours of baseball and an exciting end to the game, albeit not the one we had hoped for. Would Mark Whiten be able to atone for his game ending miscue ?
Wow – how could this be topped ? It couldn’t, could it ?
At nearly 10pm the second game would start. With both bullpens consumed in the first game, the starters were going to have to carry the load of this game. For the Cardinals it would be Bob Tewksbury, who entered the game with a 15-9 record with an era approaching 4. The Reds would answer with tall right hander Larry Luebbers – a Adam Wainwright type of pitcher, but without Wainwright’s stuff.
The game got off to a quick start. Geronimo Pena would lead off with a walk. He would be forced by at second when the Reds tried to turn a double play, but speedy Lonnie Maclin beats the throw to first. Bernard Gilkey would fly out. Maclin would play heads up baseball and steal second, putting him in scoring position with two outs. Todd Zeile was the next batter, and he was a good hitter. Zeile would drive in over 100 runs for the Cardinals in 1993. Zeile walks and Gerald Perry would get an infield single to load the bases for Mark Whiten. With one swing, Mark Whiten would try to make up for his poor fielding play in the first game. Whiten hits a grand slam over the left center field wall for a quick 4-0 lead. Had Whiten atoned for the first game ? If not, just wait.
Tewksbury would give two of those runs back in the bottom of the first. After a leadoff walk and double by Jacob Brumfield, Hal Morris would hit a sacrifice fly scoring Thomas Howard. Brumfield would continue being a pest by stealing third base and scoring when the throw goes into left field. Those two runs would be the only ones given up by Tewksbury as he settles down and goes the distance. Like he really had a choice.
What about the Cardinals, and Whiten in particular ?
The next Cardinal run would come in the top of the 5th. A walk to the pitcher (those always come back to haunt you), a wild pitch and sacrifice bunt put Bob Tewksbury at third with only one out. Lonnie Maclin would hit a fly ball to center scoring Tewksbury. In the first game Maclin recorded the only hit in his major league career. In the nigthcap he would record the only RBI in his career – this sacrifice fly. This was a career day for young Mr. Maclin.
The next piece of damage would come in the sixth inning. With Mike Anderson now pitching for the Reds, Todd Zeile would walk as would Gerald Perry. Mark Whiten would hit his second home run of the game, this one a three run shot to the power alley in right field. With two hits, both home runs, Whiten has now driven in seven (7) runs. Is he done for the night ? Hardly.
In the next inning the Cardinals would again get to Anderson. With the bullpen depleted, Anderson was going to have to take one for the team.
After two quick outs, Bernard Gilkey would single. Todd Zeile would also single. Then came the play of the game – one that could have changed baseball history. On a ground ball to third, Gerald Perry beats the throw to first. Gilkey not knowing how the inning would play out, rounds third and scores on the play. It was tremendous hustle, the kind of play that coaches had liked seeing from the young man. If he knew what was coming next, he might not have been running quite so hard. For the second time in two innings, Mark Whiten would take Mike Anderson deep, again, A three run homer. Three home runs and ten (10) RBIs. And the Cardinals led 12-2.
Whiten was not done. Not by any means.
Rob Dibble would be called on to finish the game for the Reds. Since Dibble had been wild in the first game, he simplified things, throwing heat after heat. In a 12-2 game, it’s not like it’s going to be much worse, or so he thought. In the 8th inning Geronimo Pena would hit a home run making the score 13-2.
In the ninth inning, with a chance for baseball immortality, Mark Whiten steps into the batter’s box. With Gerald Perry on first base, Mark Whiten takes an 2-0 fastball from Dibble and deposits it over the wall for his fourth home run of the game. And his 12th RBI. Both would tie major league records. And if Bernard Gilkey had not scored on the Perry infield single, Whiten would hold the major league record for RBIs in a game. An amazing night. Lost in the Whiten assault was a nice game turned in by Bob Tewksbury. But the story was Whiten and his 4 homers. Less than 20,000 fans stayed around to see this piece of baseball history.
Now you might think that Mark Whiten was a home run hitter, given his performance on this night in Cincinnati. That was not the case.Whiten was a big guy to be sure, but he was not a power hitter. His two years in St. Louis were the best of his career, but he never hit more than 25 homers in a season (1993). Given that 4 of them came in one night, he only managed 21 for the rest of the season. He would never drive in 100 runs, although his 1993 total of 99 would be close. Again, given that 12 of them came in one night, Whiten was not an offensive juggernaut. He was a dependable player that would hit in the mid to high .200s. He did have a cannon of an arm that he would show off occasionally.
No matter, on this night, Mark Whiten was the best hitter in all of the major leagues.